By: Christa Meland
In 2012, with the help of an Investing in Congregations grant through the Minnesota Conference, Simpson UMC in Minneapolis hired Jesús Purisaca Ruiz in an effort to strengthen connections within the Hispanic community.
Four years later, that outreach led to a new faith community that continues to minister to the Hispanic-Latino population, which numbers about 200,000 in the Twin Cities. Iglesia Piedra Viva, which currently meets inside of Simpson UMC’s building, baptized three and had 12 professions of faith last year alone. Worship services are entirely in Spanish.
“I want to become the living word of God in different contexts,” said Purisaca Ruiz, who was ordained in May. “I want people to understand that the gospel is not only the future but the present…My great hope is that every disciple becomes a follower of Jesus in practical ways.”
Witnessing to the love of Jesus
Iglesia Piedra Viva averages about 22 people in worship each Sunday, and 12 people participate in a weekly Bible study. When the faith community launched in September 2016, worship took place twice a month. One year later, September 2017, marked the launch of weekly worship. Piedra Viva offers a week-long “Urban Kids Camp” each summer that introduces new families to the faith community and an annual “La Posada” Christmas celebration that draws more than 100 people; it involves re-enacting the Bible story of Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem and their search for a place to stay.
Piedra Viva is especially focused on kids and families, and its signature ministry is a guitar program that gives young people the opportunity to learn a skill that might otherwise be cost-prohibitive. Through the program, instructors meet with students once a week over the course of a four-month-long “season.” Students are divided into groups based on skill level, and they practice reading music and get an introduction to music theory in addition to learning to play guitar. Students pay $50 for a season’s worth of instruction, and they can check out a guitar if they don’t have their own.
Purisaca Ruiz notes that guitar lessons are available exclusively to affluent families in most Spanish-speaking countries; Piedra Viva makes them accessible to everyone. The program began with four students, and 33 were enrolled last season. Some former students have now become instructors.
Earlier this year, Piedra Viva received $25,000 (half from The United Methodist Church’s National Plan for Hispanic/Latino Ministry and half in the form of a matching grant from the Minnesota Conference) to put toward its guitar program. (Read this article for further
Piedra Viva is also focused on social justice issues. Purisaca Ruiz and others recently marched for immigration reform at the Minnesota capitol.
“I want to witness to the love of Jesus,” said Purisaca Ruiz, a former lawyer who immigrated to the U.S. from Peru in 2003. “Love needs to lead to justice for everyone—all kinds of people.”
Evangelism and invitation
Purisaca Ruiz is bivocational, and he believes his work as a translator in the Minneapolis public school system has been key in connecting him with people in his mission field. His seminary professor once said, “Your best book is your community,” and he believes that to be true.
He says most Latino immigrants have experience with Catholic or Pentecostal churches. But he’s noticed that many are seeking something different. He’s working to introduce this group to United Methodism in addition to targeting the unchurched.
“Establishing relationships is very, very important,” he said. “How we are approaching people matters…I approach evangelism using the Wesleyan quadrilateral. I want everyone to know the love of Jesus and I do a lot of teaching about the means of grace.” (The Wesleyan quadrilateral is a methodology for theological reflection that includes scripture, tradition, reason, and experience.)
As a new church start, Piedra Viva is currently receiving support from Simpson UMC, Park Avenue UMC in Minneapolis, Messiah UMC in Plymouth, and the Minnesota Conference (through its Reach • Renew • Rejoice initiative). Within the next five years, Purisaca Ruiz hopes that it becomes self-sustaining, and he’d love to see it mentor and raise up a pastoral leader to reach the next generation. He also plans to engage others to work with him on a vision statement that the guides the faith community in welcoming and discipling new people.
“We are the church, but we are also the salt and light of the world,” he said.
Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
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