By David and Tricia Johnson
We moved to Austin, Minn., in January 2006 to pastor First Baptist Church. When we learned that our town has a sizable Hispanic population of 4,000–5,000 people, we were quickly burdened to start a Hispanic ministry. Since we did not speak Spanish and did not know the Hispanic culture, we didn’t know how to get started. But the burden remained—and we prayed.
In June 2007, our first Hispanic family visited our church one Sunday morning out of the blue. New to the area, they were looking for a church home. They had originally moved from Mexico to Missouri and had gotten saved through a Baptist Hispanic ministry in Missouri. This couple visited for a few months, then joined, and brought friends and relatives. Eight months later, we had about 20 Hispanics attending weekly! We did no demographics, no data gathering, and no research other than to note that a Hispanic population existed in town. Later that year we started a Spanish-speaking adult Sunday School class. (The children were already in the regular Sunday School classes, since they are bilingual.) Some of the adults stayed for the English worship service. Language was a real barrier. We had an interpreter for a month, but that did not work out, as he became swayed by the Pentecostals in town. We worked, prayed, and struggled with what we had.
After a number of months, one of the pastors from the Hispanic Baptist Mission in Missouri would occasionally come with a team to encourage the Hispanics and then preach in Spanish. We then arranged for one of them to come once a month to teach on Saturday evening and preach on Sunday morning. They always sent a team of 6–8 people. This helped ground our group in the Word, especially the ladies, most of whom spoke no English. Some of our ladies were being bombarded by charismatic Hispanics and being told that “they were missing something.” But through this we began to see many souls saved. Then we began to see our Hispanic members lead people to Christ on their own and start several different outreach ministries.
In 2009 the assistant pastor from the ministry in Missouri offered to move to Austin and lead this group, which had grown to more than 50 people. The congregation (English and Spanish) had him candidate as an associate pastor. They then offered him a unanimous call to join the ministry. A Hispanic pastor was vital to work with us, with them, and with their culture on a more consistent basis while keeping our two cultures integrated as much as possible. Their desire, as well as ours, is for all of us to be one multicultural church, not separate churches.
We have done many things to facilitate this. We translated the Sunday bulletin into Spanish, at both our desire and their request. We have also consulted with David Whitcher, coordinator of Hispanic Ministries with Baptist Church Planters, as a resource in understanding the Hispanic culture and seeking the best ways to minister to them.
Our infant nursery went from caring for one occasional baby to 6–10 babies on a weekly basis. Our toddler nursery, which previously had two children, was up to 15 every Sunday. All signs posted in the nurseries are now in English and Spanish too.
We have learned to get over our fear of the language barrier. One visiting interpreter told us that the language barrier isn’t as big as I think it is; they will know that we love them regardless of what language we say it in. We also learned that they fear making mistakes in English as much as we fear making mistakes in Spanish, so we are in the same boat.
We have held a bilingual children’s Christmas concert, several bilingual baptism services with an interpreter, bilingual communion services, and cross-cultural dinners. We now have Hispanic deacons, trustees, nursery workers, and committee members. All the children of all ethnic groups are in the same Sunday School. Our Spanish Sunday bulletin will soon have Spanish on the cover as well, as Cathedral Press now supplies its bulletins in Spanish. We communicate regularly, listening to the frustrations and concerns from both cultures as we continually seek to integrate as much as possible. We continually work to respect their culture and not try to Americanize them, while, at the same time, we remain in our own culture without apology. For example, the Hispanics are often late to events by means of their culture; they are not as time-conscious as Americans. But we start things on time and they are learning to come on time, just as they do in school and their jobs. However, when they do show up late, we don’t point that out or embarrass them in any way; we just continue with business as usual and include the newcomers.
Our full-time assistant pastor of Hispanic ministries, Moises Rodriguez, is helping to bridge the cultural and language gaps that we all deal with. He is now pastoring 75–80 people per week. Prayer is never far from our lips as we continually seek God’s guidance. When we see Hispanic people at the grocery store and around town, we smile and say, “Hola,” and they smile back and often say, “Hello.” Most of them have come to the USA for better economic opportunities but have found Jesus Christ and eternal life instead!
David Johnson is pastor of First Baptist Church in Austin, Minn.