Luis and Marta are a very nice couple. They are both Mexican immigrants who met in Los Angeles a few years ago. Eventually, the pressure and lifestyle of the big city made them look for a safer and more peaceful place to live. That’s why they moved to the Maryland Eastern Shore.
The first time I met Luis and Marta was at a special outreach event of our church called “Couples Night.”
They had received an invitation from a church member. Both of them have children in Mexico from previous relationships that didn’t work out. Luis hasn’t seen his seven-year old daughter for five years. Marta, on the other hand, left her 12-year old son and five-year old daughter with her mother when she came to America. They both speak with the children by telephone every week.
So, the Couples Night gave me the perfect setting to engage in a meaningful conversation with them, which led me to understand some important principles about the practice of evangelism and church growth.
As a Hispanic/Latino church planter for a little over two years, I realize that the case of Luis and Marta is not the exception, but the norm in my “playing field.”
Family segregation, sex outside of marriage, relationships for convenience instead of love, guilt for leaving behind what you value so much, a chain of lies just to keep pace among a society that perceives you as an intruder, the quest for survival, the language barrier, the constant fear that at any time you can be removed from this land of opportunities and be deported: these are just some of the everyday pressures and lifestyle issues threatening immigrants who arrive in America. (And I haven’t even mentioned the typical hard-core, twisted religious backgrounds they bring with them!)
There are many strategies of evangelism and church growth that tell you how to “create the need” for Jesus Christ in a person, in order for them to find salvation and enter into a relationship with God. These strategies have their merits; but when it comes to applying the right approach to the life of a specific person you need what I like to call the “special ingredient.”
This special ingredient is something that you are not going to find in any evangelism program “pill” or a ready-to-use church growth system. We have all been there; “swallow this, it worked for me, and if it doesn’t work for you, it might be that you’re not using your faith.” Really?
I’ve learned that if you want to reach people like Luis and Marta, you need to get involved in their lives. This is where cultural relevancy comes into the picture.
Hispanics are warm people and family-oriented; we value the sense of caring and support. We love it when someone else stands side by side with us in the midst of uncertainty. Some other cultures might say “mind your own business,” but not ours.
Do you remember the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37)?
Nobody was required to help the man in need. Nobody had to do anything for him. In the eyes of his society, even to the religious people, his experience was just an example of misfortune. But someone made a difference in the life of that man. In fact, it was the most unexpected of results; it was truly a divine plan in action. That’s exactly the “special ingredient” that we need to find, too, in the lives of those we are seeking to reach.
There is no greater satisfaction for me as a church planter and as a pastor than to see how God shows Himself in all sorts of circumstances, crises and dilemmas. The human side of me rationalizes the events involved, saying Luis and Marta are beaten by fear, shame, guilt, depression, disruption and uncertainty.
At the same time, though, the Holy Spirit becomes the special ingredient that creates the need for spiritual strength and closeness to the Giver of hope, peace and forgiveness.
The words of Jesus at the end of the Parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:37 are “Go, and you do the same.” Help other people. Get involved in their lives. Be a reflection of the love of Jesus Christ.
That’s exactly what a church planter should do, and for me personally, it has been the most amazing ride I’ve ever experienced in life.
Jose Nater is the church planter and founding pastor of both Primera Iglesia Bautista Hispana de Cambridge and Camino de Esperanza in Hurlock, Md. He can be reached by phone at (410) 463-5509 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.