Waiting ‘with Open Arms’
During Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs from Sept. 15 to Oct. 13, in the United States, CRC News will be presenting weekly stories on Hispanic leaders in the Christian Reformed Church in North America.
Coming to the United States 25 years ago from Cali, Colombia, John Harold Caicedo and his family ran into tough times.
They appreciated being in the new country, but making a living and creating a new life proved to be a challenge.
“I went through different things not related to ministry,” said Caicedo. “But the Lord, I see now, was working with me, preparing me for being a pastor.”
Caicedo is now the pastor of Iglesia Cristiana El Sembrador Church in Fontana, Calif. He is also a member of the CRCNA’s Council of Delegates and serves as president of Consejo Latino, a group of Hispanic ministry leaders in the CRCNA.
Having grown up in the Catholic church, Caicedo said he didn’t know much about the evangelical church until he and his family started attending worship services in California and opened their “hearts for the Lord.”
It wasn’t long before he began serving in the church by operating the audiovisual equipment during worship services.
As he grew more involved, Caicedo said he became — to his surprise — more aware that God was nudging him to be a pastor.
“I never thought I’d be a pastor, never — my life was completely different,” he said. “But by working hard and not making any money, I saw suffering. Now, as a pastor, I know the suffering that people are going through — and I can help them.”
He eventually enrolled in Fuller Theological Seminary, from which he earned a master of divinity degree and a doctor of ministry degree. Currently he is finishing a Ph.D. in theology.
“This [radio] ministry has been good. It has brought many people, especially in our community, to God,” he said.
Evangelism is, in fact, crucial for him and his church, Caicedo said, which is made up of Spanish-speaking people from all over Central and Latin America.
The congregation regularly holds Bible studies and outreach events. In addition, Caicedo compiles a devotional guide for people in his church to use for prayer and reflection.
“As Christians, we are to bring Christ to the world. We are going to different places to do that,” he said. To this end, he said, he has been part of a movement of Hispanics and Latinos to plant Christian Reformed churches in such cities as Los Angeles, New York City, and Miami.
“These are plants that are not just for Hispanics,” he said. “These churches are for Anglos too.”
Although he loves the CRCNA, Caicedo said there are times when he believes that the denomination doesn’t support Hispanic and Latino ministries to the extent that he would hope. Even so, he and others in the Hispanic CRC community are moving forward with a certain demographic model in mind.
“We [Hispanics and Latinos] are growing so fast. With the right support, we can plant many more churches,” he said. “We see the future and want to be a part of that.”
But there are obstacles besides financial support, he noted.
In an interview published April 15, 2020, on The Network, Caicedo said: “Discrimination in the U.S. is a widespread generalized experience for Hispanics. In other words, a common view among Hispanics is that they are denied benefit or access simply for being Hispanic.”
Reflecting on this, he added, “It has never happened to me . . . not within in the Reformed Christian Church."
Still, discrimination is a reality with which churches must contend.
Because of the ongoing pandemic, Caicedo’s church has needed to meet online. Although fortunately none of his church members have died from COVID-19, several have lost relatives, he said, and that has been hard.
In North America there are more than 40 Hispanic CRCs. Most are small and have had to rent a place to gather for worship. Most of the pastors have to work two jobs to make ends meet.
As they are trying to gain a foothold, it can be easy to get discouraged, said Caecedo, but they know they can trust in the strength and love of God.
In one of the devotions he has written for church members, Caicedo sums up how he views the work of ministry and, to an extent, his own relationship with God, who has delivered much and has much more to give those who are faithful to him:
“Dear God, only you can promise me a happy eternity in your company. Thousands of martyrs gave their lives for this truth, and even in the last moments of their lives they did not deny, nor did they repent of their faith, because they knew that you, God of heaven, waited with open arms.”