Celebrating Hispanic Leaders in the CRC: Part 2

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I was born and raised in Bogota, Columbia. From early childhood, I had a deep interest in God. Every opportunity I had, I sought out church events like retreats or conferences. It was common for me to be at all-night prayer vigils or go to a neighboring town for a youth event or conference. As I grew in faith, I began to have a deep sense of gratitude that moved me to serve the church. Every morning I would attend the 6 am mass and eventually served as an altar boy helping the priest in the worship ceremonies. I was also moved to help the poor by helping provide food or clothing at church events. I was born into a nation that embraced Catholicism. For many the Catholic Church was a cultural identity. For me it was the birth of faith in Christ.

For me it was the birth of faith in Christ.

While I was studying for my bachelors in economics, my parents moved to California for business. I stayed in Bogota and eventually started a graphics business. While in college I met my wife Yeny and we married in July 1990. We have 4 children: Paula, Luisa, Camilo, and Daniella. God has also blessed us with 2 grandchildren, Marcelo and Mia.

In 1996 I moved to join my parents in California and start another business. The move did not go as planned but in the process I began a new spiritual journey. Soon after arriving, I heard of Calvary Chapel in Pomona. I really liked the services so our whole family began attending. It was through this journey that I could see the thread of God’s sovereignty operating in my life. The Catholic church played a role in my faith formation but now in this new journey I was beginning to know the One that was forming me. It was a deeper spiritual maturity. I sensed a belonging to God. God was leading me. As I followed people followed along with me. The pastor began to delegate more and more responsibility to me. God was placing a call on my life. People were affirming God’s gifts and call on my life. Without formal training but with a lot of mentoring, I began to transition from a lay leader to an associate pastor.

It was through this journey that I could see the thread of God’s sovereignty operating in my life.

I still wanted formal training though, so I attended a two-year Calvary Chapel program and then received an M.Div and a D.Min from Fuller Seminary.

While completing my MDiv, a friend introduced me to Mirtha Villafane. She was recruiting Latino church planters for the CRC. Mirtha, who was working with Classis Greater Los Angeles and California South in partnership with Home Missions, helped me navigate the complex process of ordination in the Christian Reformed Church, along with people in classis and the denomination. I had to enroll in Ecclesiastical Program for Ministerial Candidacy, which oriented me to the history and polity of the CRC with a visit to Calvin Seminary and a few long distance classes. While the ordination was in process, I began gathering a worshiping community in my home and in the homes of other leaders.

I am so grateful for the embrace of leaders at the River CRC in Redlands. They cared deeply about the ministry that God was working in my life and the life of our new church plant called El Sembrador (The Sower). The help that leaders from The River gave during my ordination meant so much. Later they also mentored me and my congregation to gain organized status in the denomination.

I am so grateful for the embrace of leaders at the River CRC in Redlands.

As a Hispanic leader, I am grateful for the way the denomination has embraced me and my congregation. I have been in the denomination about 9 years. This year I accepted the leadership of the Consejo Latino, a group of Latino CRC pastors and leaders. Through this group I and others hope to create space for CRC Hispanic pastors to lead CRC efforts and for current CRC leaders to integrate Hispanic ministry into the denominational priorities. I am also grateful to be selected as one of the Council of Delegates for the denomination.

While I have felt very much at home in the CRC, I have heard many Hispanic peers express feeling isolated. They have a hard time connecting at classis and even more at synodical or denominational levels. God has always moved me to use my gifts to unleash His gifts in others. While Hispanics have become a majority in our country, less than 4% of our CRC congregations are Hispanic. Our denomination has expressed commitment to reaching the Hispanic community, but unfortunately the situation on the ground is quite different. I pray that serving in the Consejo Latino will be a fruitful effort that yields an increased harvest in Hispanic communities.

About 50 years ago, North American missionaries returning from Latin American assignments began casting a vison for CRC Hispanic ministry in US and Canada. Now there are 17 Hispanic congregations with organized church status and 18 "emerging" congregations, which are usually overseen by a neighboring church. Leaders from emerging congregations will not get a place in the decision making tables until they have met financial and congregational membership expectations (ie they become “organized”).

Very few Hispanic leaders in the CRC lead congregations with this organized status.

Very few Hispanic leaders in the CRC lead congregations with this organized status. The reasons are complex but two factors are common:

1) Hispanic pastors are immigrants working with immigrant populations. They don’t have the financial resources to sustain an organized congregation. Pastors are usually bi-vocational. Their members are young, mobile, and have lower incomes.

2) The CRC doctrine, theology, and polity is so much clearer and deeper than I've seen in other communities of faith. However, growth in Latino congregations has been challenging because pastors do not always connect with the egalitarian decision-making process  of our church polity. Immigrant Latinos tend to work from a  more hierarchical worldview.

The underlying view affecting both the allies facilitating Hispanic ministry and the pastors leading the efforts is an unhealthy codependent relationship. In the past, denominational leaders have cast vision tied to resources without allowing the vision to surge and create mutual partnerships that uphold the value of Latino leaders and prioritize the denominational resources to increase greater fruitfulness in Hispanic ministry.

The key is focusing on the organic way God is moving through diverse leaders.

The CRC has many gifts to offer Latino Leaders and the Latino community. The CRC community will also benefit greatly from receiving and celebrating the gifts of hospitality and faith found in the Latino people. The key is focusing on the organic way God is moving through diverse leaders. I have hope and trust leadership to create the necessary structures to support the organic growth and transition I am seeing in our churches.

We're marking Hispanic Heritage Month with a series about Hispanic leaders from diverse Hispanic nations in the CRC. Follow along on the Office of Race Relations' Facebook page all month! This is the second post in the series — find the first, celebrating Rev. Edwin Olguin, here

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