Nobody told Aquiles Acosta that you can't reach the world from a remote church in an economically depressed area of Los Angeles. Nobody told him that you can't do it without a big budget, a swollen staff, or fat facilities. He just looked at the Word and believed that it really meant "go into all the world," and so he set about training lay people to become church leaders and encouraging them to support mission churches across the globe.
With a congregation of less than 200, this modern day Shubal Stearns has led the people of El Camino Truth and Life Baptist Church to plant or enhance 62 churches. Although they have a modest budget and an unpretentious building shoehorned into a lower income neighborhood, El Camino financially supports church planters and congregations as near as other parts of LA and as far away as Greece.
"I would quit tomorrow if I could," said Acosta. "But it's a deep calling of God to do this. I have done like Jeremiah and said we would do no more, but then something happens inside of me, and I have to do this."
Many of these churches are pastored by men trained by Acosta at El Camino. "They get to a point where I feel they are going to stop growing here," noted Acosta. "Then, the only choice I have is to persuade them that to stay means they wither — or we can send them out to do some work."
The pastor modestly says these lay-leaders-turned-vocational ministers develop "naturally" within his congregation, but that shrouds the three-year Bible training course Acosta has developed specifically for training people for ministry. The "Bible Institute" covers two years of theology and one year of homiletics and hermeneutics with weekly hour-long tests.
Although he has 27 students currently enrolled, not including some auditors, Acosta says he never thinks in terms of big numbers. "My goal is to train three people each course," said Acosta, defining course as the full three-year program. "If I train three people each course, then we will be able to plant one church a year."
Internationally, El Camino assists churches in Mexico, Argentina, and Greece. Acosta particularly has a burden for the lack of Christian witness in Greece, the very cradle of Christianity, and the wall outside his office provides a crash tour of the churches Paul planted in Greece. The writings and pictures of ancient and modern Greece serve as an exhortation that Christian congregations need to rise up to replace the churches, now dead, that Paul once planted.
The church also has Friday night worship in lieu of a Sunday evening service so that members of the congregation can have that time free to preach and lead worship at other fledgling churches in Southern California. "We have done this with the help of the local association, where they have existing churches that want to begin Hispanic ministries," said Acosta. "We give them a few of our people, or our teachers will go there, our worship director will go there, and help them with their service."
And with all this activity, the congregation put its own needs on hold for fourteen years as they prayed for God's help in expanding their own sanctuary. When Acosta felt led by the Holy Spirit that it was the proper time to focus on their own needs, he stood in the pulpit of this East Los Angeles church and asked for voluntary offerings to remodel the building. In a congregation that already sends support to many other churches, $58,000 was given to improve the sanctuary.