By: Christa Meland
“If we had 100 Hispanic leaders in Minnesota and the Dakotas, what could God do? God gave me a word: more…We wanted to get you in a room together to learn and begin to live into the more. We have a heart to somehow develop the Hispanic ministry in the Dakotas and Minnesota.”
That’s what Rev. Dr. Fred Vanderwerf, Southern Prairie District superintendent, told nearly 40 Dakotas-Minnesota Area church leaders who attended a Hispanic ministry gathering in Monticello on March 13.
The four-hour event included lively worship led by Rev. Jesus Purisaca, who pastors Iglesia Piedra Viva in Minneapolis; a Q&A with several leaders of Hispanic ministries; a meal; and small group conversation.
Attendees pondered and discussed: Where do you see opportunity for Hispanic ministries from the Dakotas and Minnesota? Are there networks from which we can recruit leaders? What are the barriers in your context?
Jose (Angel) Franco shared his story of living on the streets and dealing drugs for years when God called him into ministry. Today, he leads a vibrant and growing Hispanic ministry that meets at First UMC in Worthington—a church that stepped out in faith when Vanderwerf asked its leaders to pray about housing a Hispanic ministry.
“From that moment on, we looked for reasons to say yes instead of no—and we thought of more reasons to say ‘yes’ and to welcome them into our community as sisters and brothers,” said Rev. Daren Flinck. “And our lives have not been the same since…One of the things I’ve learned about them in their expression of faith is their willingness to go out into the street to meet the people and bring the love of Christ to them. They teach me a lot even though I know very little Spanish.”
Meanwhile, Celia Navas—who says she, too, met Jesus in the streets—has helped plant 14 churches and is currently leading a Hispanic ministry called Isaiah 61:1. It’s part of First UMC in Monticello and has an outpost in Park Rapids.
“I always tell the Lord, ‘Wherever you send me, let me prepare people,’” said Navas, who has mentored and raised up several leaders within Isaiah 61:1. “If I have to move another place, I will always do it.”
Navas, who just recently became part of The United Methodist Church, said its Wesleyan theology strongly resonates with her and she appreciates being part of a tradition that loves people without exception.
Rev. Herman Perez also shared his story. After serving as a missionary in Guatemala and living in both Mexico and California, the Lord brought him to South Dakota to lead a Hispanic ministry. Unfortunately, many of the people he encountered didn’t understand Spanish culture and weren’t interested in partnering with him. But when he walked into Sunnycrest UMC in Sioux Falls on a Friday, Rev. Charlie Moore—its lead pastor—was already waiting for him. “God had already put on his heart that we were going to be there,” said Perez. “When we got there, he opened up the doors.”
Three days after that initial meeting, Perez led the first Hispanic worship service at Sunnycrest. The ministry has significantly grown and expanded to additional locations.
Perez explained that he wanted to get frustrated when Sunnycrest closed for about nine months amid the pandemic, but the Lord told him to use the time to raise up future leaders, which is exactly what he did. One of those leaders is about to become a pastor.
“God is good,” said Perez.
Several event attendees were English-speaking pastors interested in starting or expanding a Hispanic ministry in their churches.
Rev. Kathy Brandt serves Heron Lake UMC, a small town about 15 miles from Worthington that has a large and growing Hispanic population. “There is not a Hispanic ministry or outreach in Heron Lake and I have had a burden on my heart about that since I returned to serve Heron Lake UMC in 2020,” she said.
She said the need for a Hispanic ministry was recently reaffirmed: The director of a local program that meets in her church relayed a question that a man recently asked: “Is there a Spanish-speaking church here?” When he found out there wasn’t one, he said, “Well, someone should start one!” Brandt said that was the push she needed to get serious—and her next step will be meeting with Franco to discuss possibilities.
Meanwhile, Rev. Debra Schaffran, who serves Willmar UMC, said a small Hispanic group already meets within her church. “I am trying to gather information to be able to decern how best to partner with, align with, and support this small but faithful Hispanic ministry,” she said.
Vanderwerf and Rev. Ben Ingebretson, area director of new church development, hope to plan some additional gatherings to continue the momentum from this initial one.
“We know there is more opportunity, we know there are more resources, we know there are more of you, there is more possibility, there is more need for us to connect, there is more to this dream, there are more leaders yet to be identified, there are more contexts to send a Hispanic leader to, there’s more grace available to us, there is more power for the Holy Spirit, and there is more love by the Father through the Son,” said Vanderwerf.
Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
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