Taking Christ to Our Hispanic Neighbors
According to the Census Bureau, the 50+ million Hispanics in the U.S. are the largest minority ethnic group in the country (Ennis, et al., 2011, p. 2). This growing number is not only a part of the diverse culture of the U.S., but it is a part of “all the nations” and “every creature” the church is commanded to reach with the Gospel (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16). But, how do we reach our Hispanic neighbors? And, what do we need to know?
Obviously, Hispanics are different from Americans; we are usually darker, shorter, and like to eat tortillas. But when reaching Hispanics with the Gospel, there are more important differences to consider than skin color, height, or taste. We can find differences in:
- Language communication. Spanish is the second most spoken language in the U.S.; up to 75% of Hispanics speak mainly Spanish (Ortman and Shin, 2011, p. 10). Therefore, learning Spanish is a clear advantage to those reaching Hispanics. When the apostle Paul spoke to the Jews in their own language, they listened and “kept all the more silent” (Acts 21:40-22:2). This still produces a similar effect today.
- Religious background. Some researchers suggest that 75-90% of the Spanish-speaking world is Catholic (Clutter and Nieto, n.d.; Perl, et al., n.d.). Although it is not advisable to spend a lifetime learning the teachings of men, knowing some main Catholic doctrines will help those reaching Hispanics to better guide them to the truth (cf. Acts 17:16-34; Pinedo, 2008).
- Educational level. The U.S. is the most advanced country in the world, with the most advanced educational system. Although Hispanics are smart and learn very fast, due to education, language, and religious backgrounds, some foundational truths may need to be presented in a simple manner till they gradually arrive to a higher level of understanding biblical truths (1 Peter 2:2).
DEALING WITH OBSTACLES
Every worthy endeavor has some obstacles to face; when reaching the Hispanics, it is good to be informed about some of them in:
- Financial status. All Hispanics need an open Bible, but some of them may also need an open hand and pocket. They may need transportation to services; just ask them. They may need the pantry; stock up on some beans, tortillas, and don’t forget the rice! Financial problems may also mean less “zeros” in the offering count of a Hispanic congregation and some limitations in activities, events, and finally owning a building. Be ready to spend (2 Corinthians 12:15).
- Immigration status. About 1,000,000 people make an unsuccessful attempt to illegally cross the U.S. borders every year. An additional 400,000 are successful “crossers” or become illegal by overstaying in the country without valid documentation (Pinedo, 2009, pp. 5-6). Many of them are Hispanic, and they still need to hear the Gospel. Proper teaching and repentance will produce a change of mind and heart. Complying with God’s will for a Christian in connection with his/her responsibility to civil authorities (Romans 14) may require a spectrum of decisions based on the status of each individual (Pinedo, 2009, pp. 53-63).
- Family and marital status. A good number of those who cross the border or overstay illegally also make the unfortunate decision to leave their loved ones in their native countries. Of course, this is not God’s plan for the family (1 Corinthians 7:10-11; Ephesians 6:4). Others have developed illicit relations in this “free” country. In fact, family and marital dysfunctions are at an incredibly high rate within the Hispanic population in the U.S. Be ready to counsel with the Word to help them get right with God and their families.
USING AVAILABLE TOOLS
There are not many tools in the brotherhood to reach Hispanics, but here are some recommendations:
- EB Global’s bilingual site offers a variety of materials for a variety of Bible students. It also offers some printed materials for the Lord’s church.
- The Spanish House to House magazine is a great tool provided by House to House. This magazine is personalized for the Lord’s church, and is the most popular evangelistic tool in the brotherhood. HTH also produces tracts for evangelization and edification.
- Apologetics Press’ Spanish site is a perfect tool to study Christian evidences. Bible teachers may deepen their studies to adequately share the Gospel with those who do not believe in God or doubt the Bible’s inspiration.
- The Spanish workbook and DVD Searching for Truth from World Video Bible School is an attractive and efficient tool to evangelize to the Hispanic community.
- Students may additionally know about the Lord’s church by reading Mack Lyon’s booklet, “What Are the Churches of Christ?,” produced by Publishing Designs.
Have you discovered a tool in English that has been of great help in reaching the American community? Contact the company that produces the material and inform about your interest in having this material in Spanish.
Can you produce a personalized tool for your congregation’s needs? Yes. Write a “Welcome” tract about your congregation, and have it translated and printed. Use this tract and other tools in your efforts to reach the Hispanic community.
CHANGING A COMMON PERSPECTIVE
There are “a lot” of Hispanics out there; therefore, we should have “a lot” of them in our Hispanic congregations, right? Not necessarily. We should be careful about measuring success in numbers (cf. 1 Peter 3:20). American congregations hiring a Hispanic preacher and expecting to have a large Hispanic crowd may be disappointed or demanding. Hispanic preachers overly concerned about numbers and their “job security” may decide to shun part of the counsel of God in order not to stir the waters (cf. Acts 20:26-27; John 6:60-69); this is happening with subjects like marriage and remarriage, and responsibility to civil authorities.
Those reaching Hispanics need to define their goals and expectations. Their responsibility is to preach all the truth; God will give the increase (1 Corinthians 3:6). No doubt, one way the increase will show is in numbers, but there should be an increase in the desire and maturity to do God’s will within the flock (2 Peter 1:3-8).
Also, changing our perspective to find increase “here and now” will help us see the increase and potential “there and then.” Those who have left their families and/or may find themselves disobeying God’s ordained authorities and are touched by the mind transforming Gospel very likely will decide to go back to their native countries to reach their closest ones and secure a pleasing standing before the Lord.
A few years ago in Tennessee, a young Hispanic father touched by the Gospel decided to go back to his country to be right with God, his family, and civil authorities. After his arrival to his country, he taught the Gospel to the mother of his two children. She was baptized, and they got married about the same time. They shared the Good News with their neighborhood, and, in only one year, 10 souls were added to the church meeting in their house. He went to a Bible school, continued to preach, and later became a teacher in a Bible school. Now he trains souls’ seekers in his own country. Only God knows the spiritual, eternal benefits for the Lord’s church that will be gained in the future due to this faithful Christian and a loving American congregation who helped him every step of the way to reach such a high potential.
If you have given much thought to the previous ideas and others of your own, then you and your congregation will be more prepared to start the Hispanic reaching adventure. But…
- Where do we find them? They are everywhere! You can find them on the streets, trailer parks, and the mall. Look around in Walmart, especially in the “Hispanic” section. Yes, there are many of them in Mexican restaurants! Leave a business card or a tract with your “propina” (tip).
- How do we reach them? Hispanics may look different and have different culture and customs, but they are still reached the same old way—with love and the Gospel. Try different tools and methods to make your efforts more efficient.
- Does my congregation need to hire a Hispanic preacher? Not necessarily; they only need caring people.
- Do we need a complete organized Spanish service to start? No. You can start with a Sunday school class where you can have more interaction with them. They can meet for English worship services, and you can help them find scriptures and have the sermon outline translated for them.
- My congregation is not interested; what do I do? Just start; they will become interested when seeing their pews being filled with “different” people.
The launching process may be the most difficult part in any project. Starting a Hispanic missionary effort may prove the same. It may not produce what some consider “success,” but if we are faithfully preaching the Gospel to our Hispanic friends, we can count ourselves as successful servants of God. May God help us in our efforts to reach this growing part of our communities for His glory.
Clutter, Ann and Rubén Nieto (no date), “Understanding the Hispanic Culture,” Ohio State University Fact Sheet, http://ohioline.osu.edu/hyg-fact/5000/5237.html.
Ennis, Sharon, et al. (2011), “The Hispanic Population: 2010,” U.S. Census Bureau, May, http://www.census.gov/prod/cen2010/briefs/c2010br-04.pdf.
Ortman, Jennifer and Hyon Shin (2011), “Language Projections: 2010 to 2020,” U.S. Census Bureau, http://www.census.gov/hhes/socdemo/language/data/acs/Ortman_Shin_ASA2011_paper.pdf.
Perl, Paul, et al. (no date), “How Many Hispanics are Catholic?,” Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, Georgetown University, http://cara.georgetown.edu/Hispanic%20Catholics.pdf.
Pinedo, Moisés (2008), What the Bible Says about the Catholic Church (Montgomery, AL: Apologetics Press).
Pinedo, Moisés (2009), Illegal Immigration (Montgomery, AL: Apologetics Press).