By Elvis Garcia, coordinator of Hispanic missions in Mississippi
According to the latest United States census, there are 50,477,594 people of Hispanic origin, the equivalent to 16.3% of the total USA population. Today Hispanics are the fastest growing ethnic group, and in the past eight years they have grown by more than 11 million. Previously limited to large cities, today Hispanics can be found in almost any part of this country, and Hispanic churches are also growing at an exciting rate in the United States. Statistics show that Hispanics are responding to the gospel at very high rates as well. According to Pew research, of every 100 Hispanics who come to the United Sates, 80 percent will join some church or religious group.
Most Hispanics are endowed with a culture of hard work and effort, and when transferring this to the Christian life, we have seen and learned from the early years of ministry that when people receive Christ and their lives are transformed, these new Hispanic believers become not only assistants, but are largely active in leadership roles. In the work and ministry of the churches of Mississippi, it is the norm after a day’s work to find many families very late at night preparing for church activities, special events, evangelizing or working in the church building.
A strong sense of family unity and community is another characteristic of Hispanics. Hispanics work hard at forming large family ties and are accustomed to celebrating all social events primarily in the church and with their families. In the Hispanic work in Mississippi, this is very important as well. The local church becomes your family. The church is like a small community where the participation and enthusiasm of all is palpable. The experience and sense of family in Hispanic congregations is a place that attracts others who are looking for that warm family that they had in their own countries. The church creates a strong bond, making the churches establish themselves in a significant way.
God allowed me to live in the city of Los Angeles for a short while when I was a child. It greatly influenced my life in every way. On my return to Guatemala I was impregnated with the idea that there was a world out there. I always thought about returning to the United States, and years later God would reveal his plans to us. As newlyweds, my wife Wendy and I served on a mission in an area in Guatemala City, and I found an old map that had been printed in the Gleaner. I ripped the map from the magazine and tacked it to the wall in the living room of our little apartment. When my wife returned from work as a kindergarten teacher I asked, “Where do you think God is going to send us? We have to pray because God will not have us much longer in Guatemala!” She jokingly replied, “Remove that map from my room, because it does not go with the decor.” I tell this as a joke, but since that time it was clear that we were not going to remain in our home country.
The Baptist Missionary Association of Mississippi had the vision of investing in the Hispanic work and the results have been wonderful. Through contact with our church pastor, Brother Eduardo Marroquín, Brother Rayburn Freeman (former director of missions) and Brother Marvin Lloyd, who had known our church because of his years as a missionary in Guatemala, created a synergy that brought about plans for Hispanic work in 2002. Bro. Marroquin was the first to arrive in Mississippi from Guatemala, and my wife Wendy and I arrived the following year. Since that time, we have been serving God in reaching out to Hispanics through BMA Mississippi.
After a few years, the first churches in Laurel and Ripley were organized, both of which have a Bible institute with theological and leadership training classes. From these churches, six missions have begun in key cities of our state, the first one in Biloxi, then Hattiesburg, Canton, Oxford, Tupelo and Olive Branch. The efforts of BMA Mississippi have been great. Our English-speaking churches have been instrumental in the development of this work as the Hispanic mission in Hattiesburg is meeting at the Westover Baptist Church facility in Biloxi. Another Hispanic mission meets at the facilities of Temple Baptist Church, and in Tupelo the mission meets at the facilities of Southgreen Baptist Church.
TO BE CONTINUED
Stay tuned in following weeks for updates from the individual Hispanic missions and churches that are operating in the state of Mississippi.