When my wife, Linda, and I sold our law practice in Escondido, California so that I could attend Westminster Seminary California, we did not dream that we would be called to serve in the context of Hispanic ministry, nor did we dream that we would encounter such difficult cultural challenges, not in some exotic and remote corner of the earth, but here in Escondido, within walking distance of the Westminster campus. Hispanic ministry includes the full gamut of ministerial challenges that are addressed in the excellent preparatory classes given at WSC, and my own class notes have continued to prove an invaluable resource for teaching, counseling, and sermon preparation.
My preparation for this ministry began, unbeknownst to me at the time, through God’s providential leading when I was still a teenager living my summers in Mexico, learning to speak Spanish and later working in Colombia. Along the way, the Lord led me to many different types of jobs, from social worker in East Los Angeles to local attorney in Escondido, every one of which has provided me with learning opportunities I needed to serve Him in my call to Hispanic ministry.
When I began attending Westminster Seminary California in 1999, Dr. Dennis Johnson introduced me to a fellow student, Juan Arjona, from Mexico. Beginning in the Fall of 2001, I was privileged to begin working with Pastor Arjona as he developed a Hispanic church plant, Mision Vida Nueva, under the direction of the South Coast Presbytery of the PCA. I was blessed with the opportunity to serve with Juan during my seminary years, leading Sunday School and doing occasional preaching. There I was called to head up the development of a Spanish language church plant in Ontario, California under the direction of the Ontario URC consistory. Over the next year and a half, in conjunction with Westminster student (and recent graduate) Ruben Sernas, I preached most Lord’s Days in the morning service, counseled, visited the sick, and taught Sunday School and Bible studies. The Ontario Hispanic church plant was blessed with steady attendance and moderate growth during this time, and I was blessed with considerable additional experience in teaching, counseling, and preaching in the Hispanic culture.
In God’s providential care, He has brought me back to my home in Escondido, and has provided the opportunity to rejoin Pastor Arjona during an important and exciting expansion of Mision Vida Nueva into the Hispanic neighborhoods of Escondido, where I am currently assisting him, under the care of the South Coast Presbytery of the PCA. This is exciting and fulfilling work.
If you are interested in serving the Lord in Hispanic ministry, here are some advantages and obstacles to consider as you prayerfully request our Lord to guide your entry into His ministry.
Potential for church growth: This is a very large population, with lots of room for growth; however, these people are generally nominally Roman Catholic, frequently inculcated with the idea that baptism, the occasional confession of sin and penance, and a personal relationship with Jesus’ mother are the sine qua non of salvation. In addition, they are heavily impacted by the cults, to the point that many simply try to shut their ears to any new ideas. There is a deep and abiding suspicion that the church only wants their money, which is all too true of many of the cults bombarding them with claims of healing, divine knowledge, and revenge.
Language limitations: The ability to communicate well in Spanish is important. However, lack of fluency in Spanish is not a complete obstacle. While many Hispanics don’t know enough English to understand a Reformed sermon, many others don’t understand Spanish very well, either because they are second- or third- generation Americans, or because their native language is a Mayan dialect (Southern California is home to the largest Kanjobal-speaking population in the Americas). At Mision Vida Nueva we have many regular attendees who understand English well.
Diversity of audience: You will preach to an audience with a very wide range of backgrounds, including charismatic, Pentecostal, and Roman Catholic churches, as well as many cults and “faith healers.” In addition, your congregation will exhibit an incredibly wide range of knowledge of church teachings and information within each of those traditions, ranging from mere smatterings of terminology, to deeply thought-out understandings of various theologies.
Few, if any, of your listeners will have had any prior exposure to Reformed theology. What a thrill it is to express God’s pure and simple truth of salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ, to His own elect, to those who have not yet heard the gospel!