By Sharon Mager, BCM/D Correspondent
CAMBRIDGE, Md.–Iglesia Camino de Esperanza meets in a small colorful building tucked in a residential community on a backstreet in Cambridge. It’s inconspicuous yet it’s making a huge impact in the Hispanic community. The church is reaching thousands of Hispanics in the area through family ministries, English as a second language classes, migrant ministry, clothing and food distributions and other outreaches. People are getting saved and discipled.
“Jose’s ministry is very different from other Hispanic churches across Maryland and Delaware because he knows the uniqueness of the area,” said Rolando Castro, BCM/D missionary for Hispanic church planting/evangelism and language churches.
Jose Nater, pastor of Iglesia Camino de Esperanza, is passionate about his ministry and has deep compassion for his congregation as he sees their day-to-day struggles.
“Often they’ve left their families in Central America or Mexico. Some of the younger ones don’t have their parents here. They’re facing a new world and culture and they get lost. They get easily impressed and they fall into temptation,” Nater said.
Nater believes ministries to strengthen families are urgent and helps provide the foundation his congregation needs.
One of the most effective outreaches is a bi-monthly couples’ night, drawing up to 16 couples for an evening out. Most of the couples do not regularly attend church.
“We set the mood. We lower the lights and play romantic music and set the tables up like a banquet hall,” Nater said. The church also provides free childcare during the dinner.
Another well-attended outreach is a monthly women’s group. Seventeen women from the community, mostly in their 20’s with small children, come for information and fellowship. The church provides childcare while the women relax and are free to talk about contemporary issues including domestic violence and child abuse.
And there are often crisis situations.
Many Hispanics become victims of crime, Nater explained. They are sometimes beaten for their money and taken advantage of, but they don’t press charges or seek medical treatment because they’re afraid of the police and other officials. To address the problem, Nater partnered with the local police department, inviting the police to speak at the church to ease the Hispanics’ fears and teach to teach them how to respond when they are assaulted or threatened and when they need help.
Iglesia Camino de Esperanza also helps Hispanics by offering free beginning and advanced English as a Second Language classes through a partnership with Chesapeake College.
Worship services are on Friday nights, which allow easier access for the many seasonal workers in the area. Bible classes are on Sunday afternoons. Church members travel over 40 minutes to Hooper’s Island to pick up workers and bring them to the study.
Nater is bi-vocational. He works full-time as an engineering supervisor and he is humbled that God is using him to lead this church and at the blessings God has poured out upon it.
He and his wife Mayra grew up in Puerto Rico and were high school sweethearts. Jose majored in mechanical engineering in college and Mayra majored in childhood development.
They were both heavily involved in volunteer work with a church when God called Jose to pastoral ministry. He struggled with the decision. When a position opened up for a mechanical engineering supervisor in Cambridge, the couple prayed and believed God wanted them to make the move. There, the Naters began working with a church plant in Easton with church planter, Wilfredo Rodriguez, minister to Hispanics at Immanuel Church, Easton, and Church Planting missionary, Chad Cravens. As the church began to grow, Rodriguez asked Jose to become the pastor.
God began moving as Jose and Mayra prayed for an answer. A couple moved to the church where the Naters were ministering and were able to fill the vacancies perfectly. Jose found that his supervisor was a Southern Baptist who encouraged him to follow God’s leading and to delegate his on-call needs. And his family was 100 percent supportive.
“It was a miracle,” Jose said.
The Naters have two sons, Josean, 21, and Joam, 17. Jose said both are “boldly involved in the ministry.” Josean works with the music, playing a variety of instruments including acoustic and bass guitar and drums. Joam translates from Spanish to English via a wireless radio transmitter and receiver system during worship services for those who don’t speak Spanish.
Jose said God has given him big plans. He hopes to continue to lease the building the church is in for three years then he sees the church owning their own land and building. Meanwhile, Nater said church planting efforts in Easton are in motion.
“We want to multiply what we’ve done here,” he said. Nater said the Hispanic population is growing by at least 26 percent each year.