Case Study: Reaching Hispanics in Iowa

Recently, we had the opportunity to interview Pastor Jerry Vanhooser who is an associate pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in Mount Pleasant, IA. Their church has just recently taken the plunge and have begun to reach out to Hispanics in their county. Their example provides much insight and incentive for other churches considering taking such steps.  

Reaching Hispanics: When did Calvary Baptist initially begin to feel the burden for Latinos in their community?
Pastor Jerry: We have talked about Spanish ministry for several years.  It was one of those issues that we always considered the possibility of without knowing what the needs were.  We just knew that with the influx of Spanish people, it would be something we would need to address at some point in time. 
Reaching Hispanics: What was the factor that prompted you to begin the ministry?
Pastor Jerry: In the spring of this year when we started targeting new move-ins to town we found that the people who were genuinely new move-ins (not just those moving across town or from the outskirts into city limits) were 25% Hispanic.  Because of the language barrier, we could not communicate with them.
Reaching Hispanics: So where did you go from there?
Pastor Jerry: That intensified the burden and we started talking more about needing to do something but we still were not actively pursuing anything. It just became much more evident that we needed to. Back in June we had a call from a community based organization trying to help Hispanics moving in wanting to know if we had anything that ministered to Hispanics.
Reaching Hispanics: What was the response of the church leadership and the congregation?
Pastor Jerry: By the time we talked to the deacons, Pastor Crawford had worked through a scenario of how this could work.  When talking to the deacons we knew that we needed to pursue this because it was a door that the Lord had opened.
Reaching Hispanics: O.K., so what was the scenario?
Pastor Jerry: One thing we needed to do was to have ESL classes that we began right here in our own church.  We have a young lady in our church that teaches ESL in the public schools so finding a teacher was not an issue for us.  She may speak a little Spanish but is not fluent in Spanish.  Actually we have only one family in the church that speaks Spanish. 
Reaching Hispanics: That is interesting, you have one Spanish speaker in your church, but the one teaching the ESL does not speak much Spanish.  How would you respond to churches that say something like, “no one speaks Spanish in our church so there is nothing we can do to reach Hispanics?”
Pastor Jerry: Oh, do I have a story to tell churches that are in that situation!  A month into our ministry a Hispanic family visited the class who are believers. They have lived in town for six years without having a Spanish work to plug into until they heard that we had a ministry. They and their children speak perfect Spanish. Their English is rough but they are excited and want to work in the ministry.  After their first week attending the ministry they invited five or six people for the second week!  If we had not taken the step in starting it, this would not have been a possibility.
Reaching Hispanics: Is there a Bible study before or after the ESL class?
Pastor Jerry:  We had Dan Whitcher come for the first two Sundays and he led in a John study.  We then turned the Bible study over to the Puerto Rican in our church to lead it.  Unfortunately, he is in the military so he only led the study for one week and now he is away for two months.  We were advised not to worry about the Bible study for a while.  We were told to take our time and establish relationships by simply sharing our testimony and such. So, currently we are emphasizing the ESL, sharing testimonies, and having refreshments.  We have child care and a children’s program during the classes so that the parents are free and available.
Reaching Hispanics: How many people in your church, English-speaking laypeople, volunteer or help in this ministry?
Pastor Jerry: We probably have 25 to 30 people working in it in one capacity or another.
Reaching Hispanics: I know that you are at the very beginning stages of this ministry but the important thing is that it has been initiated and you are seeing God’s blessing.  What advice would  you have to other churches that are still in the stage of considering doing something similar?
Pastor Jerry: I think the first step is to make some kind of contact with the Hispanic community.  Let them know that the church is there to help.  I realize that this opens the box sometimes where churches are afraid that they will have to provide such things as transportation or furniture. Yeah, what if they do!  Do anything to help.  Establish those relationships, and it will not take long before they will be talking to their friends.  Also, if you are offering an ESL class, that is just an easy way to get into it.