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Photo: Chris Meehan
From left: Andrew Navarro, Harold Caecido, and Paula Navarro
Photo by Chris Meehan

Workshops ranging from topics such as the basics of good worship to a history of the Christian Reformed Church in North America and from building a team to help assure the safety of people in your church to a look at the practice of listening prayer took place during Inspire 2019, which ran Aug. 1-3 at the St. Claire Centre for the Arts in Windsor, Ont.

A primer on and an assessment of the state of Hispanic ministry in the CRCNA was one of these workshops at the denomination’s second binational gathering.

In it, Harold Caicedo, pastor of Iglesia Cristiana El Sembrador  (“Church of the Sower”) in Fontana, Calif., called on the Christian Reformed Church to build stronger relationships with Hispanic congregations and to help develop ministry leaders in CRC.

Currently Hispanic congregations are few and scattered across North America — and many feel alone and left out and are seeking help in meeting the challenges of ministry, Caicedo said in his workshop titled Latino Ministry 101.

Chief among the challenges the CRC faces, said Caicedo, is finding ways to help the 40 Hispanic churches and the ministry leaders in the CRC to meet the many needs of Latino people — and especially new immigrants — in their communities.

“We see so many Latinos coming to North America, and yet we are not bringing them into our churches,” said Caicedo, who moved to the United States more than 20 years ago from Colombia with his family. “There is something wrong about this. People feel they are not welcome. This is something we need to try to understand and address.”

Now a leader in Hispanic ministry in the CRC, Caicedo said it is important to realize that Latinos who are members of CRC congregations come from many places and cultures. They are not the same; they have different traditions and ideas about what it might mean to be and live as a Christian, especially in a Reformed framework.

“As leaders, how do we allow our Latino identity to play into our ministry? People coming to the U.S. must constantly adapt to a new place, and we need to help them to do that,” he said.

Caicedo’s church, which now has about 200 people worshiping on Sundays, was organized in 2008. He began a radio ministry that he has used to connect with the growing population of Latinos in Fontana, which is about 110 miles from the U.S. border with Mexico.

“Our congregation, like any other in the southern United States, is very diverse. We have people from more than 14 different nationalities,” he said.

Among other things, they have started a community project through which they visit the families of the community.

“We believe that the church must have an active presence in the surrounding community, and that is why we participate in different activities in the city,” he said.

Being a Latino ministry leader in the U.S. today represents a great challenge, he said, but at the same time it provides a great opportunity to reach a large segment of this growing population.

“We [Latinos] have a lot of really good things to share. Our human warmth, our family sense, and other characteristics identify us. . . . We want to have pastors who do everything; we are passionate — and when we meet, we eat; we love parties, etc.”

But the work of ministry can be hard. So it is important as part of developing and raising up ministry leaders to help them learn about and to support them in facing the challenges of their work. For instance, they need to be able to connect and walk alongside families who are suffering and have come to the U.S. without proper documents.

Meanwhile, church leaders, he said, must be willing to open up to and speak out about the struggles of people who are caught in a national debate over immigrant rights.

“Our denomination must be part of the solution. This is an important issue to confront.”

Paula Navarro, Caicedo’s daughter, helped with the workshop presentation, and she works as an elementary school teacher in a school just outside Fontana. In her eighth-grade classroom alone, she said, she finds a wide diversity of people who are Latino. In her most recent class, groups from various countries were represented. They spoke different languages and had different styles of learning and behaving.

Ministry leaders need to know, she said, that “we are all very different in how we have been brought up and in our traditions.”

She recalled taking a college class called Latino Studies that turned out to be entirely about Mexico.

 

“Latinos get all clumped together,” said Navarro, who works with the youth at her father’s church. “When this happens, people get pushed away. They feel like they don’t belong.”

Also participating in the workshop was Andrew Navarro, her husband, who is the youth leader at the church. “We want the church to grow, but we are losing our youth who could be leaders. These youth find it difficult to fit in as they become the second generation of their family to come here.”

Overall, he said, the issue of immigration and all of its clashes and concerns is the biggest thing affecting their ministry. For instance, his youth group might want to join with another church for an event, but the youth are unwilling to go because they are undocumented.

“These young people are fearful. Being in this country without documents creates a [vicious] cycle,” he said. “Without papers, you can’t get an education or a job, and then how can you support your family?”

With all of these challenges in mind, Harold Caicedo works with others to find better ways and support for programs that can train Hispanic leaders who can understand the needs of the people in their communities.

“With nearly 60,000,000 Hispanics currently living in the U.S., it is time for churches to focus time and resources to reaching them,” he said.

There is a troubling irony that he finds.

“Traditionally, Anglo churches have always been supportive of missions and evangelism in Latin American countries and have had great success doing so. The mission field has now come to their own backyard.”

But unfortunately, he said, churches in the U.S. do not seem to have the same desire to plant churches and build Christian communities within the American Hispanic population as in Latin America.

“For some reason, the church tends to think that reaching them is someone else’s mission, but this is not true,” said Caicedo.

In the end, he said, “We have a God-given chance to really represent the gospel to Latinos. Their community can be transformed if they know Jesus, just like any other community.”