People leave spiritual struggles to find Christ at Conn. church

by Karen L. Willoughby, posted Thursday, September 02, 2004 (13 years ago)

EDITORS' NOTE: Baptist Press will release a feature story on each church on the itinerary of the national bus tour of Southern Baptist Convention President Bobby Welch.

HARTFORD, Conn. (BP)--About 200 people from more than 20 nations worship each Sunday at Primera Iglesia Bautista in Hartford, Conn.

An inner-city church, Primera Bautista is stop No. 8 on Southern Baptist Convention President Bobby Welch's national bus tour to kick off "The Everyone Can Kingdom Challenge for Evangelism" -- setting forth a goal of "Witness, Win and Baptize ... ONE MILLION!" by SBC churches in one year.

"I don't want this church to become a Hispanic church," said Abalberto Ortiz of Puerto Rico, who was called in June as pastor of the church founded two years ago. "I want this church to become multinational. We have second- and third-generation Hispanics here, and on top of that we have other English-speaking people. When I preach I switch back and forth [between English and Spanish] just in case somebody is kind of lost."

Primera Bautista is a church in the early stages of reinventing itself.

The pastor sees the need for a second service in which only English is used. He sees the possibilities for ministry -- daycare, maybe a school -- if the church acquires the two abandoned buildings next door. He sees the eternal benefit of reaching out to professionals who work in the church's neighborhood, where the city's largest hospital also is located.

"This building [the church] used to be a place where prostitutes and junkies would come in and do their thing," Ortiz said. "The people in the community realize it's good to have a church, especially where certain activities are not acceptable."

The pastor said he wants to build on the good feeling the community has for the church.

One way of doing that is a ceremony in October when he will be formally installed as pastor. The mayor of Hartford -- a fellow Puerto Rican -- and other city leaders will be invited.

"Things are happening here for a positive purpose," Ortiz said. "People are reconciling themselves to the Lord and to other people they have offended, and now they're coming forward to say they want to be active.

"At first it was hard to find workers but now I sense something different," the pastor added. "People want to work and to reach out to the community."

This desire is growing in the congregation because the members are receiving the solid biblical teaching they need to combat the spirit of oppression that hangs over Hartford, Ortiz said.

"I think Hartford is a great city, and a lot of things are happening here, but I have noticed ever since I got here in June, what I have been able to discern is there is a lot of spiritual struggle here," Ortiz said. "A lot of people are involved in spiritism, witchcraft and the occult."

He saw that firsthand when he went with a realtor to find a home he could afford to buy, the pastor said. The two houses they looked at both bore witness of unchristian activity, Ortiz said.

But within three months of his arrival -- time in which he, his wife and several church members have spent hours in prayer for the church and for Hartford -- already he's seeing a difference, Ortiz said.

"There's been a lot of rededication and commitments," Ortiz said. "People are reconciling themselves to the Lord and to other people they have offended. I have inherited a lot of problems, but God is blessing and every day I see a new face."


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