Inside this issue:

 

The PCA is committed to reaching the nation’s fastest growing population by planting churches in Hispanic communities. For examples of progress, read about church plants in El Paso and Laredo, Texas.

MNA:  Reaching North America with the Gospel...
to Reach the World

Winter 2000 / 2001


Reaching a Growing Hispanic Population with the Power of the Gospel.

In a recent article entitled, “Latino Americans, The Face of the Future,” Newsweek reported that the current Hispanic population in the US is 31 million and projected to reach 96 million by 2050 — an increase of more than 200 percent. As early as 2002, Hispanics are expected to be the largest minority population in the US.

In view of this remarkable growth, MNA is thoroughly committed to planting many more Hispanic churches in the years to come. Such an endeavor, however, presents considerable challenge, not only because of the size of the Hispanic population, but even more because of the complexity of the culture.

Consider this: Hispanics in the US have roots in Mexico, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Central and South America. Even within these nationalities, there are further cultural and socio-economic divisions. For a glimpse of the Hispanic diversity, look at the contrasts between two border cities, Laredo and El Paso, Texas. Both have majority Mexican populations and both adjoin Mexico, yet their cultures and economies are quite different.

Laredo, in southwest Texas on the Mexican border, is home to nearly 200,000 people, of which 94 percent are of Mexican descent. Spanish is the primary language; the workforce is mostly blue collar and the median income is $24,000. A fast growing city, Laredo is recognized as an important manufacturing and trading center and expected to reach nearly 250,000 by 2010. While the Roman Catholic Church has a strong presence, Catholicism has more to do with the culture than with religion, and many “Catholics” attend worship only twice a year.

Hundreds of miles to the west is El Paso, three times the size of Laredo with a population of 606,000. Situated in the Chihuahuan Desert, adjoining New Mexico and Mexico, it is the largest international border community in the world. Seventy-five percent of El Pasoans are of Mexican descent (including many second and third generation); 23 percent are Anglo and 2 percent African American and Asian. According to PCA church planter Aaron Zapata, who leads a Spanish-speaking congregation in El Paso, nine different cultural sub-groups exist among the people of Mexican origin.

Since the 19th century, Mexicans have been community leaders. And while Mexico’s rich culture pervades everything in this colorful city, English is the chief language. El Paso, which boasts an economy with high potential and above-average median income, is the home of such industries as computer manufacturing, telecommunications, consumer products and plastics. The area’s largest employer, Fort Bliss, is the reason why most of the city’s Anglo population is transitory. Another is a large population of middle managers employed by private businesses and offices of major corporations.

El Paso and Laredo have three PCA churches that clearly demonstrate different approaches to planting churches in majority Hispanic communities.

Divine Providence in Laredo

Divine Providence is led by church planter Carlos Ireta who, with his wife, Adela, and young daughters, moved from Mexico in 1997. “When I prayed for the Lord to send us to the US, He chose Laredo,” says Carlos.

This Spanish-speaking congregation, which held their first public worship in June, 1998, now numbers about 40 members, the majority of them new converts. All are of Mexican descent, except for one Anglo who is married to a Mexican.

In spite of the predominance of Roman Catholic churches in Laredo, 80 percent of residents are unchurched. “I find it most rewarding,” Carlos points out, “to teach the Bible because many of these people lack knowledge of the Scriptures. Those with Roman Catholic backgrounds often say they don’t know what it is to be a Christian — they’re surprised to learn the truth of the Gospel.”

The Iretas say the church is so named because “Divine Providence has given us everything we have. The Lord deserves all the praise.” One example of God’s providence is a new church building. When Carlos approached a local construction company to ask about having a church built, the head man asked Carlos how much money he had to put down. “I have no money,” Carlos said, “but I have faith that if you build the church, we’ll have the money to pay for it.”

Impressed with Carlos’s faith, the man agreed to start construction. Four months later, the church had obtained a no-interest, one-year loan from Covenant Presbyterian in Harlingen, TX. Later, a loan was obtained from the 5 Million Fund, a lending source managed by MNA that makes loans to PCA churches to finance their initial building.

Last June, the new sanctuary was ready for the first service. In the following months, church members added rooms for children’s Sunday school and space for after-school tutoring, which is planned as a community outreach.

Concerned with creating unity among Protestant churches in Laredo, Carlos organized a city-wide event last year and invited pastors, staff, and members of all the churches in the metro area. A total of 1,500 assembled in the Civic Center to hear Carlos speak, and the response was excellent.

MNA multicultural ministries coordinator Tim McKeown says the greatest obstacle to planting Hispanic churches is the shortage of church planters of the reformed faith with the necessary training and gifts. “I receive calls every week from people who want a PCA church plant in their area. We need both English-language and Spanish-language Hispanic churches.”

Tim asks that you pray for more Hispanic church planters and for MNA to facilitate many additional churches to feed this growing population.

Report on church plants in El Paso.

Church planter Carlos Ireta (far left) and his wife, Adela (seated right), have been assisted by other PCA congregations in Texas. Shown here, members of Bay Area Presbyterian, Houston, who helped construct Divine Providence’s Sunday school building in Laredo.

 

The Spanish language congregation at Divine Providence is growing steadily, and Carlos is preparing four men to become elders.

 

Considered a "gateway city," Laredo is a principal port of entry into Mexico and operates four bridges across the Rio Grande. Each day, a large number of Mexicans cross the bridges into Laredo — some as workers in this thriving city and others as tourists.

 

Jointly with MTW, Divine Providence is starting a mission in Nuevo Laredo. Shown here, they worked with mission members in planning a vacation Bible school. The Laredo church also supports a PCA missionary in Houston and hopes to plant other churches in the city.

 

 

Within ten months after it started, Divine Providence had a building. Carlos convinced a construction company to begin work on the strength of his faith, rather than a down payment. In a few months, the church received a one-year loan from another PCA church and later a long-term loan from MNA’s 5 Million Fund.

 

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Campus Scenes


The Life of the Intern

Starting this past fall semester, 29 young men and women reported for duty on 21 university campuses to intern with Reformed University Fellowship (RUF). RUF interns fill an important function in assisting campus ministers, but the primary purpose of the internship is to learn. Through a study program as well as through firsthand ministry experience, interns increase their knowledge about who God is, about His Word, and about ministering for His Kingdom. It is an ideal way for a young man or woman to consider a call to full-time ministry, and to gain a strong 

Mississippi State University

biblical foundation for the future, whatever the ultimate career path.

“It is a blessing to witness an intern come to see the Lord’s impact in the lives of students and the privilege of being part of that,” said Jonathan Vaughn, intern administrator. “It is truly amazing to watch God mature and sanctify the interns through RUF; to see philosophy become reality as they work through faith to minister to college students.”

Each intern completes 15 hours of study per week, which is overseen by the RUF campus minister, and also ministers to students daily through one-to-one meetings, Bible studies, and other RUF events. A two-year term is ideal, although only a one-year commitment is required.

To qualify, a candidate must be a recent college graduate, member of a PCA church, and willing to raise his or her own support, which typically comes from individuals and the intern’s home church. Each candidate must be recommended by his or her pastor and undergo a comprehensive application and interview process.

Samantha Bryant, intern recruiter for Reformed University Ministries, attends RUF conferences to meet with interested candidates. “Over the past two months, we have been meeting with potential interns for fall of 2001,” she said. “It is exciting to meet with so many students who have developed a burden for ministry and a heart for the lost through their involvement with RUF as undergraduates.” Those interested should contact Samantha at RUF@pcanet.org or their campus minister for information.

Left to right: RUF interns David Simmons, Auburn; Charlotte Donell, South Carolina; Amanda Milton, Tennessee-Knoxville; John Sweet, NYU; Michael Craig, Clemson; Beth Dodson, Harvard; Dominique Eudaly, Mississippi State.

 

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El Paso: 
Two PCA Churches Serving Diverse Hispanic Cultures

El Paso has 348 churches representing 60 denominations. Two of them are PCA works whose mission is to reach Hispanics. The first began in 1996, when Aaron Zapata moved with his wife, Leticia, and their children, to this border city to start a Spanish-speaking church that now meets at an elementary school in a middle- to upper-income suburb in West El Paso. Over the past four years, the church has been forced to move several times. “Hispanics dislike relocating — they tend to identify with a building,” Aaron explains. “so we’ve lost a few members each time we moved, and we’re anxious to settle in a permanent location.” 

Currently, more than 50 attend regularly; 95 percent are of Mexican descent and about half are new converts to Christianity. Recently, Aaron has been encouraged by signs of more consistent growth and also by the formation of a steering committee of four men now preparing to become elders.

He’s also enthusiastic about a husband and wife from San Salvador, both psychologists, who joined the congregation last March. “They’re experts in working with young adults,” says Aaron, “and wonderful at leading our church’s youth group.”

In the past four years, several members of the congregation learned about the church through the youth group and were converted. Case in point: the Flores family who moved to El Paso from Juarez several years ago. Teen-aged daughter Liza began attending youth meetings and influenced her family to come for worship, including her mother, father, teen-aged brother and sister. All had been members of the Roman Catholic Church. “I had felt something was missing in my life,” said Liza, “now I have true communication with God, and my life has really changed.”

From the beginning, the church was called Iglesia Presbiteriana. Last summer, members added the word, Oasis, significant because it is an acronym for five Spanish words that mean prayer, adoration, salvation, instruction, and service. Aaron also relates the word to El Paso’s desert location and to the verse, “We find our rest in Him.”

The second PCA church plant in El Paso is Christ the King Presbyterian, an English-language church reaching non-Hispanics as well as Hispanics, particularly those who have lived in this city for most or all their lives. It began a year ago when Tom Johnson, his wife, Johanna, and their young daughter, moved to El Paso. Well-qualified for the job, Tom is fluent in both English and Spanish and has a strong background in the Hispanic culture.

 Although separate from Oasis, Christ the King meets in the same elementary school in West El Paso, which is home to about 80,000 people and almost a city unto itself. “Our vision is to become an anchor church with ministry resources to plant other English- and Spanish-speaking churches in cooperation with the Southwest Church Planting Network and BEAMM,” Tom explains. “Long-range, we hope to initiate five to six church plants over the next ten years.” Members of PCA churches in nearby Las Cruces and Alamogordo, New Mexico, Tom was told, had been praying 3O years for an English-language PCA church in the area.

 According to Christ the King’s Web site, the church had its start in spring, 1999, when several families gathered for a Bible study because they wanted “a church that was driven by the wonder and power of the Gospel.” The first public worship was in January, 2000. Now there are more than 60 committed congregants, including families and singles. Tom describes the congregation as “ multicultural and multigenerational.” Evangelistic community groups, modeled after Redeemer Presbyterian in New York City, reach out to unbelievers.

Ranging from the totally unchurched to people with various Protestant and Roman Catholic experiences, the congregation includes only two people with a PCA background. “What’s most exciting,” says Tom, “is that these people are growing spiritually and are hungry for the Word. We have the opportunity to change the lives of unbelievers, and we’re dedicated to developing evangelistically minded servants.”

 

 

The fourth largest city in Texas, El Paso is more affluent and more cosmopolitan than Laredo. Although the population is majority Mexican, the primary language is English. A large percentage of El Paso’s Mexican descendants have lived in the US for three or more generations and many are community leaders. But even within the Mexican culture, there is broad diversity.

 

Mision Presbiteriana Gracia y Paz (at right) was started by MTW in Juarez, just across the border from El Paso. Also in Juarez is Seminario Theologico Presbiteriana San Pablo, a seminary for Hispanics, which was jointly launched last August by BEAMM (Border Evangelism and Mercy Ministries), MTW and MNA. Aaron Zapata and Tom Johnson both teach at the seminary and often meet with BEAMM pastors.

 

 

The rapid growth of Hispanics in the Southwest was one major reason for establishing the Southwest Church Planting Network in 1997. “Through this organization,” says network director Brad Bradley, “30 PCA churches from three presbyteries (Southwest, North Texas, and South Texas) have made a firm commitment to plant many new churches and RUFs to reach Hispanics as well as other groups.”

 

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Church Plant Highlights

PCA Church Planters Conference: Praying, Planning, Worshipping

“The Church Planter: A Worshipping Leader” was the theme of the National Church Planters Training Conference sponsored by MNA last August. The meeting, held at Simpsonwood Conference Center near Atlanta, was attended by about 150, including church planters and their wives.

Keynote speaker Skip Ryan, (pictured above), senior pastor of Park Cities in Dallas, Texas, taught and preached each night. During the day, there were workshops and seminars led by veteran PCA church planters, with practical training on various facets of starting a new work. Rounding out the schedule were periods of worship, prayer, and fellowship for pastors and their wives.

MNA coordinator Jim Bland said, “It’s important to bring together church planters from all regions for a conference at least once a year. I am very thankful for the response of church planters to the keynote speaker, the seminars, and the workshops. Their enthusiasm for the work of the ministry was contagious.”


 

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Address comments to Fred Marsh, Managing Editor / Photographer. Assistant Editor:   Ashley Brown.  Design: Studio Supplee. Copy Editor/Writer: Joan Quillen. Material in Multiply may be reproduced with permission.