It is also an environment in which Moravians with this common concern are able to discuss related topics, share their own experiences in their local congregations and learn from the experiences of brothers and sisters of other denominations that already have an established Latino Ministry in their communities and churches.
It is wonderful to see how every year more participants are added to this special gathering since it began in 2010 at Bethabara Moravian in North Carolina. This year’s attendance more than doubled the first year’s numbers. It is somehow like Luke’s explanation in the book of Acts chapter 2 verse 47, of his understanding on what the Holy Spirit was doing with the church in his days. We could also say: “And the Lord added to their number… those that would be willing to reach out in Christ’s name to the Latino communities around them.”
Preparing for the Conference
The Latino Ministries Committee, including pastors Tripp May and Hilda Regalado, traveled to Georgia last November, to meet with Sister Leibia Willis from First Moravian of Georgia, to discuss and detail the plans for the third conference. Leibia was the event coordinator. By February this year everything seemed to be ready for First Moravian in Georgia to host the conference.
Teams of Moravians from Macedonia, Bethabara, Mayodan and King Moravian congregations in North Carolina and Rolling Hills and King of Kings in Florida, along with members of the Moravian fellowships in Tampa, Sarasota and West Palm Beach, Florida, all came to First Moravian of Georgia, just outside of Atlanta.
On Saturday morning, following a breakfast of traditional American fare along with delicious Nicaraguan tamales, the event began with a fully bilingual Opening Worship. Brother Lester Ruiz and the Praise and Worship Team from “The Bridge” Church at Lawrenceville, Georgia, led us with songs and hymns of Adoration. Brother Steve Weizs, Interim pastor of First Moravian, along with Sister Leibia Willis, led the Worship service, gave the words of welcome and introductions and read the call to worship. Bilingual songs and the liturgy of hope and communion prepared by brother Gregorio Moody, pastor of King of Kings Moravian, were read by brother Bill Hitz and sister Leibia Willis.
Pastor Tripp May, Interim Chair of the Latino Ministries Committee, and sister Hilda Regalado, committee coordinator, gave the Opening Words for the event. It was very moving to hear them speak about the call we have for the Latino Ministry and for this conference; and that despite the many situations and changes we go through life, God still enables us to carry out what he has called us to do.
“Mightiest Warrior,” was the theme shared by our keynote speaker, Brother Tito Ruiz, pastor of “The Bridge” Church. Tito, who was born in Nicaragua, has served in Latino Ministry for more than 15 years.
The text was taken from 1 Chronicles 11:11-19. He centered his message on the story and characteristics of King David and his mightiest warriors’ experience in taking back the city of Jerusalem. The message was thrilling and passionate, focusing on being “Guerreros” or “Warriors” for Christ, because the task for which we have been called and the vision we have been given for the Latino Ministry, is not an easy one.
Paul is the warrior of the New Testament, whose ministry Tito compared to ours. The church did not expect the community to come to them, but it went out to the community. It is the community that calls and invites us to share the message of Christ with them. He outlined to us the three spaces of ministry: ministry is about taking people in; ministry is faith being lived in community; and ministry is about the community taking you (us) in.
After our “Latino-Anglo Style” service and an early lunch, everyone was back at the sanctuary to hear more from Pastor Tito Ruiz. The theme was “A Vision from God,” and Tito explained how he struggled with the Lord, with himself and with others in this endeavor. He shared his experience at “The Bridge” Church, beginning a combined Latino-Anglo ministry.
The Bible texts chosen for his lecture were Isaiah 66:18-22 and Jeremiah 29:4-7 from the Old Testament, and Ephesians 2:10 and Hebrews 10:24-25 from the New Testament. “There are many Latinos coming to Atlanta (and to many cities all over the United States), who are not attending any church,” said Tito. “And as a result we find children without parents, couples and families being torn apart, marriages ending up in divorce, criminal activities going up, people without any legal documents walking and driving in fear of being arrested. There is a lot of uncertainty in our cities and our church needs to awaken to the call for ministry to these situations and to these people.”
Pastor Ruiz condensed his teaching in four basic principles, which could be useful in beginning a Latino Ministry, and any other ministry God calls us for:
1. Dedicate ourselves (and especially together with the senior leaders of the congregation) in a lot of fasting and prayer, because it is not an easy task we are called for.
2. Being tough skinned: “If you have a thin skin don’t ever think of going into the ministry, especially Latino ministry,” he said. He recalled the occasion when the senior pastor in his congregation was accused of “encouraging illegal immigration,” and the time when even leaders of the church were leaving because of the ministry they were fostering. “Some argued that the service was TOO LATINO for their taste,” he shared.
3. Being obedient to God’s call, even if we have no idea about why or what is it all about.
4. Being creative and working with what we have. Tito stressed that God is the most creative being in the whole universe and that just as he was so creative when he made us, he wants us to be creative also. He calls us to be creative for the ministry he has called us for. Pastor Ruiz recalled that at “The Bridge” Church, this even meant working for six years in a row with zero budget. This was not easy, but the Lord was there with them.
He concluded with the apostle Paul’s description of the standard for those aspiring for leadership in the church or those entering into ministry in the church, saying that this is an “honorable” ambition. Not because of the position or title or the importance of the name or function we are performing, but because of Christ. He explained that “honorable” for the early Christians meant “being willing to die for Christ, to face rejection, to go to prison, it meant being tortured, and even decapitated or killed because of the message of Christ.” That is what made leadership in the church an “honorable ambition.” “Are we willing to do so today?” he asked rhetorically.
“Multicultural ministry is what Moravians were doing in their prime times,” he said. “And they did it, not because they wanted to make a name for themselves, but they did it to exalt the name of the Lord.” And that is why they succeeded, many even gave their own lives because they knew how “honorable” a ministry was the one they were called for.
“What happened today at First Moravian in Georgia, is God’s doing,” he said, “and we should go forward, being tough skinned, following in obedience, prayer and creativity. “God has put us in the community where we are, and made us responsible for that community,” Tito explained. “As a church we need to work for the goodness and prosperity of the city we live in.”
And with the words of Jeremiah 29:4-7 he called all of us, the ministers to the Latino communities, and the Latino communities themselves, to work for peace and prosperity in the land or city where God has sent us, because our prosperity depends on the prosperity of the city we live in.
Five ideas for Latino Ministry
Our next afternoon speaker was the Rev. Lydia Villanueva, pastor of “La Sagrada Familia” or “The Sacred Family” Lutheran Church in Atlanta, Georgia. She is also coordinator of the Latino Ministry for the Southeastern Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
Lydia is from Puerto Rico and served as a missionary in Ecuador for eight years before she was called to be a pastor in the Lutheran Church. For the past nine years she has been the coordinator for the Latino Ministry for the southeastern synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
The main focus of her presentation could be summarized in five ideas:
1. Language is one thing that segregates the church. It shouldn’t be that way but it is and we need to do something about it.
2. When we worship, we worship with our soul and spirit, and when we do, we feel connected to God and to each other. But when we do not understand what is being done or said, that connection is lost, and the experience of worship is also lost. That is why we need to provide space and time for the Latino communities to worship in their language.
3. Training for worship is important, and we need to train those we reach out and provide the space for them to worship in meaningful ways. One of the outcomes from this effort in the Lutheran Church, is the “Escuela Luterana de Laicos” or the Lutheran School for Lay People which serve Latino leaders without legal documentation but are gifted for the ministries.
4. Setting goals are also important in the ministry. In the Lutheran Latino Ministry experience, this meant “To develop missions that will become Latino congregations, or to develop Spanish worship service as part of an established English congregation or church.” This step has not been easy since we face the dilemma between legality of individuals of the immigrant communities and ministry to and with them and the training of them for ministry to their fellow brothers and sisters.
5. We need to go one step further from being “multicultural” to becoming “cross-cultural.” Which means welcoming other cultural groups with their cultural gifts.
These and many other details of her ministry were shared, especially information on the immigrant Latino community in the U.S. Concerning this situation she quoted Leviticus 19:33-34 and pointed out that the church needs to raise a prophetic voice for the immigrants, so that those who make the decisions in our communities and in our country, who in many cases are also believers, could pass laws that are more just.
Pastors Tripp May and Hilda Regalado led the plenary session following Lydia’s presentation. The participants’ comments, opinions and questions were very energizing, overwhelming and enriching, that instead of going later to the small group activity, the committee got together during the next break at 4:00 p.m. and decided to continue the large group plenary. Discussions continued until almost 6:00 p.m.
At the conclusion of the conference we were served Nicaraguan “Carne Asada” (grilled meat) for supper, with beans and rice and fried plantains or “tajadas.” After supper, our brothers and sisters from Florida hit the road returning that same evening, while the rest of the crew from North Carolina stayed for more fellowship and worship together at First Moravian on Sunday morning.
This is our Third Annual Latino Ministries Conference at the Moravian Church Southern Province, and I would say I can see how God is shaping us up and giving form to that ministry for which he is calling us, which at the beginning seemed formless.
A call and an invitation to you
While in a short break during our Latino Ministries Conference at First Moravian, I was introduced by sister Leibia, to the pastor of a nearby Lutheran Church. He said he had read the sign outside the church about the Latino Ministry Conference and stopped by to see and learn on what it was all about. He said that his congregation was also beginning their own awakening to the Latino Ministry, and reading about this activity at a nearby Church, he couldn’t help but stop and inquire about it. He was impressed with the topics and discussions that were shared and was thankful for us letting him be part of it.
Just as this unknown pastor and brother jumped in and became part of this activity, we also invite you; if you have not been part of this call and would like to understand and reach out to the Latino people in your community, just jump in and let us follow together this journey our Conquering Lamb has called us for.
Gregorio Moody is pastor of King of Kings Moravian Church in Miami, Fla. and member of the Latino Ministries Taskforce since 2011. Photos by Charles Beaman.
From the May 2012 Moravian Magazine