Our Hispanic ministry started to start a year before it started. My husband and I had attended a workshop on ethnic ministries at the GARBC conference in Flint, MI, in the summer of 2006. At that workshop, a seed was planted. We both came away feeling like we were certainly in a position to start an Hispanic ministry since we had learned that our town had a sizable Hispanic population.
Fast forward nine months to April, 2007. My husband attended a pastor’s missions conference in Harrisburg, PA and, there, he was further challenged to start an Hispanic ministry. We were thinking it was going to come about through a local crisis pregnancy center that I was director of at the time, since it served a lot of Hispanic families. However, the Lord soon closed the door to that ministry and I had to resign as director. Back to square one, with no direction as to how to start an Hispanic ministry at all! To top it off, I speak only very limited Spanish and my husband none at all. We didn’t know how to get an Hispanic ministry started, so we didn’t. But, the burden remained……….and we prayed.
In June of 2007, an Hispanic family visited our church one Sunday morning. New to the area, they were looking for a church home. They had originally moved from Mexico to Missouri and gotten saved through an Hispanic ministry in MO. This couple visited for a few months, then joined, then began to bring friends and relatives. Eight months later, we had a full-blown Hispanic ministry! We did no demographics, no data gathering, no research, other than to note that we had an Hispanic population in town. They just came and people started getting saved and wanting to get baptized and serve in the church.
In the beginning of this ministry, their pastor from MO would occasionally come with a team to encourage and then preach in Spanish. Now, the group from MO comes up once a month with our financial support to make it possible. We pray for an Hispanic pastor who can work with us, with them, and with their culture, on a more consistent basis, while keeping our two cultures integrated as much as possible. Their desire, as ours, is for all of us to be one church; not separated.
We have certainly learned a few things along the way through this fast-growing ministry, and we‘ve had to learn them fast! The number one thing I have learned is that God is working ahead of us. While we’ve always known this, intellectually, we have seen His hand guiding this, quite obviously, all along the way. Each and every step has been precipitated by a prepared path. For example, one day the thought occurred to me that we could translate the Sunday Bulletin into Spanish. I do limited translation work, but the idea was just that – an idea; I wasn‘t necessarily looking to add to my already full schedule, nor did I really feel confident. All that changed when we met with our Hispanic group concerning the nursery policies. At the end of that meeting, one Hispanic man looked right at me and asked if we could please translate the bulletin into Spanish! (I had already translated a few things for them, hence he looked at me.) The Lord had planted the idea in my head and into their heads at the same time and I didn’t even know it! I started translating the bulletin that very week and now we have a Spanish bulletin every Sunday. I have sought assistance to improve my translation skills. Before David Whitcher, Coordinator of Hispanic Ministries with BCP, helped me, I was asking them to send their children to a tree nursery instead of a baby nursery! Obviously, I need help.
Adjustments in our nursery have been ongoing. We saw an immediate increase in the number of babies in our nursery, so we have all had to step up and serve more. This was hard in the beginning because of the language barrier. Our nursery workers were allowing older kids to come into the nursery, and, they were not leaving the babies in the baby nursery, but combining them with the toddlers and these older kids. While they thought they were doing a good thing by “not turning them away” they were actually adding to chaos that soon got out of control. We met with our regular nursery workers and restated the policies. Then we met with our Hispanic group, with the policies translated, and now the chaos is gone because everyone knows what to expect. All signs posted in the nursery are now in English and Spanish, too.
I have learned to get over my fear of the language barrier. One visiting interpreter told me once that the language barrier isn’t as big as I think it is; that they will know if I love them, regardless of what language I say or show it in. Given that encouragement, I have actively worked to get over my fear, which really was holding me back. I learned that they fear making mistakes in English as much as I fear making mistakes in Spanish, so we are in the same boat. Now, I try to say a few words in Spanish that will get my point across and I no longer worry about whether or not I have the accent right or wrong, or whether I even have the words in the right order. They get the meaning, just as I do when they stumble through a few English words. It’s working, and my Spanish is improving.
Last Christmas, we had a bi-lingual Children’s Christmas Concert. This wasn’t as hard to do as I thought it was going to be. The first thing I did was get some Spanish Christmas cds and learn the songs in Spanish. I listened to them over and over again, singing along, until I got them right. Then, I added the translated songs to the music and put them in a PowerPoint presentation so that we could use them during the concert. We taught the kids the songs in both languages during the SS opening for several weeks, then had several rehearsals. The concert went great! We had a great mixture of each culture represented that night.
Here are a few things that have helped us keep our focus as we seek to keep up with this fast-growing ministry. All these things are things we’ve learned along the way:
1) All the kids, Gringos and Hispanics, are in the same Sunday School.
2) We integrate the adults as much as possible, given the language barrier. One Hispanic man currently serves on our Advisory Board.
3) We translate our Sunday Bulletin into Spanish each week.
4) We now have women and men from both cultures working together in the nursery.
5) We communicate regularly, listening to the frustrations and concerns from both cultures as we continually seek to integrate as much as possible. I can’t emphasize open communication enough. It is vital and can be done, even through language and cultural barriers. We are doing it!
6) We continually work to respect their culture, and not try to “Americanize” them, while, at the same time, we remain in our own culture without apology. For example, they are often late to things by means of their culture; they are not as time-conscience as we Gringos! But, we start things on time and they are learning to come on time, just as they do in school and their jobs. However, when they do show up late, we don’t point that out or embarrass them in any way, we just continue with business as usual, and include the newcomers.
We have now had our first bi-lingual Baptismal service, a bi-lingual Children‘s Christmas Concert, and a joint cross-cultural dinner. We are currently working on having a bi-lingual Communion service with the right hand of fellowship for new members, both Hispanic and Gringo. All along the way, we’ve had to think fast on our feet to keep up with this fast-growing ministry that is exploding right before our eyes. Prayer is never far from our lips as we continually seek God’s guidance. And you know what? I find myself being more open in the community to the Hispanic people I see at the grocery store and around town. I smile and say, “Hola!” and they smile back and often say, “Hello!”
by Tricia Johnson