Influence

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Rich Legacy, Fresh Vision

The Hispanic AG at 100

Dennis Rivera on August 1, 2018

The mission of the Assemblies of God, as stated at the second General Council of 1914 in Chicago, is “to do the greatest work of evangelism the world has ever seen.” Hispanics were not present at the earlier organizational General Council held in Hot Springs, Arkansas, but because evangelism was a core value of the newly formed Pentecostal movement, by 1918 the AG had organized ministry and outreach to Hispanics. Hispanics today make up 23 percent of the U.S. Assemblies of God and nearly half the AG constituency worldwide.

In his book, The Silent Pentecostals, Victor De León wrote regarding the early days of the formation of the AG: “The Assemblies of God did not have plans to develop such a strong work among the Latin Americans in the United States, but by the very fact that the Holy Spirit was leading the movement, it happened.”

The Assemblies of God is the largest multiracial/multiethnic Pentecostal denomination in the U.S., and 2018 marks the Fellowship’s 100-year anniversary of Hispanic ministry.

It is important for leaders and pastors to be aware of what God is doing among Hispanics in the U.S. because statistics tell us Hispanics will play a very significant role in the future of the nation and will continue to be an integral factor in the growth of the Assemblies of God worldwide.

The Hispanic population has grown to 58 million, or 18 percent of the U.S. population. Even though immigration has slowed, this demographic will continue to grow. That’s because about one-third, or 17.9 million, of all Hispanics are younger than 18, and about a quarter, or 14.6 million, are millennials (ages 18 to 33 in 2014), according to Pew Research Center’s analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data. Altogether, nearly 6 in 10 Hispanics are millennials or younger. Pew Research projects that by 2060, the U.S. Hispanic population will be 119 million.

Hispanics no longer populate just the border states but have scattered across every state — including Alaska and Hawaii, where the AG has planted Hispanic churches. They are powering the U.S. economy and represent 70 percent of the growth in our workforce. Hispanics are attending colleges, universities and seminaries in greater numbers.

While Christianity in the U.S. is in serious decline, Hispanics are responding to the gospel, filling existing churches and planting new ones. Some people are asking the question: Is God using Hispanic immigrants from Latin America to revive the church in the U.S.?

Hispanics live in urban and rural settings, often revitalizing communities and schools that were in decline. They are your neighbors. Most importantly, they are people we must reach for Christ!

WHO ARE WE?

Who are Hispanics in the Assemblies of God? If you visit a Hispanic AG church, who and what will you find there? There are more than 2,800 churches in the 14 AG Hispanic districts.

In some cities, you will find many first-generation churches that are 50 to 100 years old, like Templo Cristiano in San Antonio (which H.C. Ball formerly pastored), or Healing Waters Ministries Church in Denver (a congregation Demetrio Bazan founded). After experiencing revitalization, many of these churches are ministering in both English and Spanish. Immigrant pastors planted the greatest number of Hispanic churches, beginning in the 1970s.

You might find a growing newly planted church in Iowa, California, Florida, Connecticut, Utah or Georgia, using a rented storefront or church building, with an immigrant pastor from Mexico or Central America. You might find a congregation comprising predominantly one nationality, such as Mexicans, Guatemalans or Dominicans, or a church reaching an international community.

You may also find a megachurch — like Templo Calvario in Santa Ana, California, or Calvario City Church in Orlando, Florida — conducting bilingual services that reach Hispanic Americans as well as first-generation immigrants. (The lead pastors of these congregations are Dan De León and Nino Gonzalez, respectively.)

If you are ever in the Chicago area, visit New Life Covenant. Wilfredo “Choco” De Jesús leads this congregation, which is the largest AG church in the U.S. Part of the Midwest Latin American District, it is reaching all ethnicities.

Hispanics are not a homogenous population. Many congregations include multiple international cultures, but the common factor is the Spanish language, or, in some cases, the English language. Many Hispanics are immigrants or children of immigrants from Latin America and the Caribbean.

According to Pew Research, the population of foreign-born Hispanics in 1960 was less than 1 million. By 2015, it had increased to 19.4 million. You cannot ignore a movement of so many people who crossed the border, documented or undocumented, and responded to the gospel of Christ.

Many of our congregations include undocumented immigrants who found Christ in a Spanish-speaking Assemblies of God church. No one asks about or considers immigration status when people walk through the doors of our churches.

I would strongly encourage churches that are not currently reaching Hispanics to connect with one of our AG Hispanic churches and learn more about the stories of immigrant families. Immigration issues become more personal when you get to know individuals they affect. These people are our brothers and sisters in Christ. In many cases, they are parents of U.S.-born children, and they live with fear and uncertainty every day. Their local AG church has become their greatest source of strength and comfort, as well as a place for them to belong and to use their ministry gifts to serve their communities and advance the kingdom of God.

Many immigrants, including the Dreamers, hope the greater AG family will keep them in prayer and advocate for sensible immigration reform. If the Dreamers receive legal status, many who are already Christians could become future AG pastors and missionaries.

Not all Hispanics are immigrants. U.S.-born Hispanics are 65.6 percent of the Hispanic population, as of 2015. Some are the children of immigrants. Others are Puerto Ricans, who have always been U.S. citizens. Many Hispanics from Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona and California are descendants of the Spanish colonization in the 1600s and, therefore, never crossed a border; rather, the border crossed them. Some in this group call themselves Spanish-Americans, Latinos or Chicanos.

You will even find non-Hispanics who have found a home in a Hispanic district church. Not all Hispanics speak Spanish, and even the children of immigrants are becoming predominant English speakers. Hispanics have truly brought color and culture to the Assemblies of God.

Josue and Mayra Rubio, pastors of Centro Cristiano Vida Nueva in Edwards, Colorado, came to the U.S. from Chihuahua, Mexico, in February 1999. They came to plant a Spanish-speaking church among the immigrants from Mexico and Central America working jobs in Colorado’s recreation industry. Today, they also minister to the U.S.-born children of immigrants at an English-language congregation in nearby Gypsum, Colorado.

In the coming years, many first-generation Hispanic churches will likewise have to offer English-speaking services if they hope to retain their children and grandchildren. This represents a paradigm shift in the Hispanic church. As Pentecostals, we have a God-given vision to reach beyond our culture and language. For most people, that is an uncomfortable direction, because when you open your church to people unlike yourself, you lose your previous identity to become what God is now creating you to be.

HOW DID WE GET HERE?

Hispanic ministry in the AG officially launched 100 years ago as a missionary endeavor of the Texas/New Mexico District. That’s when Henry “H.C.” Ball, a 22-year-old pastor of a Hispanic church in Kingsville, Texas, received a commission to organize Spanish-speaking churches throughout the U.S.

In January 1918, seven ministers representing six churches gathered in Kingsville to initiate a Latin convention, which later became the U.S. Latin American District Council (LADC). Hispanic ministries have thrived in the Assemblies of God for 100 years because of the spiritual visionary leadership of key foundational leaders, and because of the Fellowship’s missional strategy of the indigenous church. Our foundational leaders were deeply spiritual men and women of faith who followed the lead of the Holy Spirit. These true Pentecostals, who reflected the influence of the Azusa Street Revival, passed on to us a rich legacy of Spirit dependency.

The growth of the Hispanic church for the past 100 years has everything to do with the fact that Hispanic churches are still largely Pentecostal. The Assemblies of God leadership early on established a governance model that created a large tent with curtains we could stretch and cords we could lengthen (Isaiah 54:2). Hispanic churches formed their own identity, allowing them to self-organize, self-govern and self-propagate. This principle set the stage for the growth and multiplication of Hispanic churches and districts under the leadership of Hispanics.

Foundational Leaders

God raised up a dream team of apostolic leaders who laid the foundation for the growth of Hispanic churches. I use the term apostolic, because they were first-generation ministers who did the work of missionaries, crossing borders, cultures and languages, building foundations, and developing successors.

H.C. Ball is the iconic leader who Hispanics in the AG recognize for his strategic apostolic leadership role in organizing the Pentecostal pastors and missions who were reaching Mexican immigrants. At age 14, while living in Ricardo, Texas, he surrendered his life to Christ. Ten days later at a Methodist missions’ service in Kingsville, Ball felt a missionary call to reach Mexicans. By Sunday of the same week, he was planting a Spanish-language church.

Ball spoke no Spanish, but he went door to door greeting his neighbors, having memorized enough words in Spanish to invite them to the public school nearby. On Sunday, armed only with a few Spanish-language Sunday School lessons, a Spanish New Testament and a copy of a few songs from a hymnal, he rang the school bell twice, and two people showed up. God gave him converts, and Ball began learning the Spanish language as he pastored this small Hispanic Methodist church.

Hispanics today make up 23 percent of the U.S. Assemblies of God and nearly half the AG constituency worldwide.

At age 18, while still in high school, Ball received the baptism in the Holy Spirit at an AG tent revival. The Methodist leadership removed him as pastor because of his refusal to recant his newly espoused Pentecostal beliefs. On Jan. 10, 1915, Ball, then 19 years of age, became ordained with the Assemblies of God. He started a new congregation in Ricardo, and a breakthrough came on July 4, 1915, when nine people received the baptism in the Holy Spirit. That day ushered in a new season of revival and growth that marked Ball’s influence on the Hispanic AG.

Beginning at age 22, Ball led the Latin Convention and the Latin American District from 1918–39. His leadership was visionary; at a young age he recognized the need to print Spanish-language Pentecostal literature. Bruce Rosdahl wrote in Heritage Magazine, “Ball’s method in the beginning was simple: he saw a need and he took action.”

In 1916, Ball published the first edition of La Luz Apostolica (The Apostolic Light), which became the official magazine of the Latin American District Council, published monthly until 1971. After discovering there were no Pentecostal hymnals in Spanish, Ball published 1,000 copies of Himnos de Gloria in 1916. He and his wife, Sunshine, compiled the collection, which was mostly hymns translated from English to Spanish. To date, over one million copies have sold. In 1929, Ball opened Casa Evangelica de Publicaciones (Gospel Publishing House — Spanish) in San Antonio.

Alice Luce, the daughter of an Episcopalian minister from England, was serving in India as a missionary when she received the baptism in the Holy Spirit. Sensing God calling her to Mexico, she traveled to Texas where she met H.C. and Sunshine Ball. She became an ordained Assemblies of God minister in 1915.

Luce and Dr. Florence Murcutt, a Jewish convert to Pentecostalism, traveled to Los Angeles and opened a mission in the Placita (Olvera Street) area, reaching Mexicans.

Both Luce and Ball saw the need to train ministers and missionaries. They founded Latin American Bible Institute in San Antonio and San Diego, almost simultaneously in 1926.

Juan Lugo, originally from Puerto Rico, moved to Hawaii along with his mother to work in the sugar cane fields. In 1913, missionaries from Azusa Street visiting Oahu led Lugo’s mother to Christ. Because of her influence and the amazing transformation of a co-worker, Lugo became convinced and accepted Christ.

One week later, immediately following his water baptism at Waikiki Beach, Lugo attended an all-night prayer meeting. During the meeting, he saw a vision of Jesus calling him. A few days later, he received the baptism in the Holy Spirit.

Lugo went to San Francisco, where George and Carrie Judd Montgomery discipled him in Pentecostal doctrine. He also learned about divine healing attending services with Maria Woodworth-Etter.

Lugo received AG credentials in 1916, and, sensing the Spirit’s prompting, returned to Puerto Rico. God used Lugo to start the AG work in Puerto Rico, and later in New York City.

Second-Generation Leadership

Demetrio Bazan, who was Ball’s Timothy, became the second superintendent of the LADC, serving from 1939–59. This was a momentous change in leadership, as a Hispanic led the Latin American District for the first time.

Bazan was man of prayer, a good preacher, an excellent administrator and a hard-working leader. In 1932, he planted a thriving church in Denver, and under his leadership, many more churches launched in Colorado and New Mexico. His passion for evangelism was instrumental at a time when thousands of Mexican laborers were again crossing the border through the Bracero Program during World War II.

In 1956, the LADC founded the Spanish Eastern District. Bazan also began to promote General Council missions and encourage Latinos to consider going to the mission field. This was the beginning of a new life cycle of growth. In 1935, the LADC reported 80 churches and 4,500 members. By 1956, it comprised more than 300 churches with nearly 19,490 members. Bazan’s leadership paved the way for the third and last superintendent of the LADC.

Third Generation: A Vision for Restructuring

Jose Giron served as the LADC superintendent from 1960–71.

Born and raised in Del Norte, a small town in the San Luis Valley of southern Colorado, Giron grew up Presbyterian and was a sought-after Presbyterian minister — until he received the baptism in the Holy Spirit in 1932.

After receiving AG credentials in June 1932, Giron planted and pastored eight churches in Colorado and New Mexico. Giron’s leadership laid a foundation for the growth the Hispanic districts have experienced over the past 46 years. Giron believed the LADC needed more formal organization.

At the 1960 District Council, Giron required each conference to create and adopt its own constitution and bylaws. This helped create stronger ties between the Latin American District and the General Council, which began translating more books, literature and Sunday School material into Spanish. Under Giron, the LADC grew to 403 churches, 827 ministers and 25,000 members.

In 1970, at the 46th District Council in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Giron surprised everyone by resigning as superintendent. He gave three reasons: The LADC was not satisfying the needs of the people, and the district had too many ministers and churches for good supervision; it was time for a spiritual awakening in the nation, and that was where he wanted to focus his attention; and after a night of much prayer, he felt this was God’s will.

Giron’s resignation and courageous obedience to God forced the LADC to restructure. On Jan. 1, 1972, four new districts with newly elected superintendents began to function, with all privileges and rights according to the AG constitution and bylaws. They were the Gulf Latin American District, led by Josue Sanchez; the Central Latin American District, led by Nestor Bazan; the Midwest Latin American District, led by Zeferino Cabello; and the Pacific Latin American District, led by Giron.

Giron prophetically completed the life cycle of the Hispanic church Ball had started and Bazan had nurtured. Giron’s leadership gave rise to a new life cycle that began in 1972 and continues to the present day.

The Hispanic Assemblies of God saw exponential growth after 1972. In 1977, the six Hispanic districts reported 1,621 ministers, 757 churches and 78,790 members. In 2017, 14 Hispanic districts reported 3,858 ministers, 2,184 churches, 293,864 members and 373,380 adherents.

God sent a new spiritual awakening to the nation in the 1970s, preparing the Assemblies of God to evangelize millions of immigrants who were coming from Latin America in waves. Now nearly all AG districts (Hispanic and geographic) are opening Spanish-language churches and ministries. If our current rate of growth continues into the next decade, there could be 1 million Hispanics in the U.S. Assemblies of God.

WHERE ARE WE GOING?

For the first 53 years (1918–71), Hispanic ministry operated parallel to the General Council — largely at a distance, unintegrated and unrepresented in governance.

As a young man, Jesse Miranda asked Bazan, “Why are we Latinos with Springfield, being that they speak English and we speak Spanish?”

Bazan replied, “We are close enough to learn from them, but far enough to do our own thing.”

This all began to change after 1972 and accelerated in 1995 when Miranda became a member of the Executive Presbytery, a position he held until 2017. Around the year 2000, the gap began to close even more as a new generation of Hispanic district executive officers began attending General Presbytery meetings.

Showing up has been a vital step in the integration of Hispanics into the mainstream of AG organizational life and ministry. In 2006, General Superintendent Thomas Trask opened the Office of Hispanic Relations, appointing Efraim Espinosa to lead it. Espinosa, my predecessor, served in this office for 10 years before retiring in 2016.

The future of the AG Hispanic church is integration and cooperation at every level of ministry development. We are no longer the mission field, but we are the missionaries. We are no longer the scattered church (Acts 8:1) but the sent church (Acts 13:3). Hispanics are now at the table in AG governance, mission and vision. Together, we are helping shape the future of the Movement. Jesse Miranda defines our narrative as both/and — both bilingual and bicultural.

The AG Fellowship is stronger today because it has made room at the table for ethnics. Under the leadership of newly elected General Superintendent Doug Clay, the national office and ministry departments are continually looking for new ways to produce more resources for the AG Spanish-speaking constituency.

The AG website is now live in Spanish — another indicator that Hispanics are becoming fully integrated into the organizational life and ministry of the Assemblies of God.

Hispanics are showing up in large numbers at General Councils, Church Multiplication Network (CMN) conferences, Kidmin conferences, Fine Arts/National Youth conventions, and Acts 2 Journey training. They are accessing all of the AG resources they can get their hands on.

A new Hispanic church planting task force is now in place as a part of CMN, providing training for church planters. The Hispanic districts set a corporate goal of planting 100 new churches in 2018, as part of the vision of planting 10,000 new churches in the Assemblies of God.

Hispanic churches are more involved in AG missions than ever. Hispanic districts now have 31 AG World Missions missionaries, 33 district foreign missionaries, and 10 U.S. missionaries. God is calling Hispanic missionaries to go to difficult places throughout the world.

PARTNERSHIP AT EVERY LEVEL

What can your church do to reach out to Hispanics? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Get to know the Hispanic AG pastors in your area.
  • Partner with Hispanic districts and churches to reach Hispanic immigrants in your communities. Consider planting a Hispanic church together.
  • Recognize that language and culture are factors in reaching Hispanic immigrants, and that translation alone is usually not enough. Consider adding and mentoring a Hispanic immigrant staff member.
  • Respect the work each Hispanic church or district is doing in your city. We are not in competition; it’s no longer them and us. We are us!
  • Pray for the Hispanic church to fulfill its prophetic purpose in the Great Commission.

We are committed to the challenge of praying for, reaching and retaining the next generation of Hispanic youth, who are bilingual and increasingly college educated. We believe a spiritual awakening is upon our nation, and that Hispanics, and especially millennials, will be catalytic leaders, igniting revival with a renewed Holy Spirit emphasis in the Church!

This article originally appeared in the July/August 2018 edition of Influence magazine.

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