Hispanic leadership council ready to advance unity

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (BP) -- Unity among Hispanic Baptists continues to gain momentum.

Spanning diverse cultures and countries of origin, the newly formed Southern Baptist Hispanic Leaders Council is sponsoring "Celebrating Our Diversity and Unity in Christ," a June 10 gathering in Birmingham, Ala., prior to the June 11-12 SBC annual meeting.
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It will be evidenced again when Hispanic pastors and leaders gather for "Celebrating Our Diversity and Unity in Christ" June 10 in Birmingham, Ala., prior to the Southern Baptist Convention's June 11-12 annual meeting.

"What a timed moment to talk about unity when the theme of our SBC annual meeting is 'Gospel Above All,'" said Jonathan Santiago, chairman of the newly formed 23-member Southern Baptist Hispanic Leaders Council, which is sponsoring the gathering.

"When we talk about unity, we are talking about the Gospel being above all because, as Jesus said in John 17, if we are one the world will believe the Father sent Him," said Santiago, Puerto Rico director for SEND Relief, the mercy and compassion arm of the North American Mission Board.

"It is not just about us finding ways to relate to one another, but that our unity has eternal implications."

Jonathan Santiago
 
The June 10 Hispanic gathering, from 5:30-8 p.m., will be held in the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex's Forum Building in Rooms G/H/I on Level 3.

The program will include messages by Felix Cabrera, "A Call to Unity," and Daniel Sanchez, "Hispanic Reality."

Cabrera is the SBC's second vice president, executive director of the Puerto Rico Baptist Convention, lead pastor of Iglesia Bautista Ciudad de Dios in San Juan and co-founder of the Hispanic Baptist Pastors Alliance. Sanchez is distinguished professor of missions at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.

Also slated:

-- a panel discussion on preventing sexual abuse led by Ramon Osorio, ethnic relations director for the North American Mission Board.

-- posthumous recognition of two Hispanic pastors who were among the early leaders in leading their churches to affiliate with Southern Baptists: Daniel Sotelo, who served churches in several California cities and later worked with the California Southern Baptist Convention's Hispanic churches, and Walter Montalvo of Iglesia Bautista Peniel in Queens, N.Y., an Ecuadorian native who also planted three Kichwa-language churches in the Bronx and Spring Valley, N.Y., and Irvington, N.J. Sotelo died Jan. 31 at age 84; Montalvo died on Aug. 27 of last year at age 74.

-- an overview of LifeWay Equipa by Ariel Irizarry, director of training for LifeWay Global. The interactive platform offers nearly 20 courses in such areas as leadership, discipleship, biblical worldview, small groups, women and children.

-- "Growing our churches through cell groups" led by Freddie Noble, pastor of Primera Iglesia Bautists Hispana de Manhattan in New York and author of "Iglesia Siglo XXI" ("21st Century Church), published by B&H Español.

Others who will be on the program in various ways are, in alphabetical order: Carlos Gomez, president of the Alabama Hispanic Baptist Fellowship and pastor of Iglesia Bautista Center Point in Birmingham; Robert Lopez, co-founder of the Church2Church fellowship of Hispanic Baptists in the Southern Baptist Convention and Hispanic pastor at Highland Baptist Church in Ocala, Fla.; Pablo Moscoso, secretary of the Alabama Hispanic Baptist Fellowship and pastor of Iglesia Agape in Birmingham; David Perez, president of the Florida Baptist Hispanic State Fellowship and pastor of Iglesia Casa de Bendicion in St. Cloud, Fla.; Victor Pulido, pastor of Iglesia Bautista del Sur El Calvario in Turlock, Calif.; and Estaban Vasquez, campus pastor for Champion Forest Baptist Church's campus in Conroe, Texas.

A good path

Ramon Medina
 
Ramon Medina, vice chairman of the Southern Baptist Hispanic Leaders Council, noted the clarity of Scripture's declarations that all people are "a creation of God."

"When we are in diversity we are practicing for when we are in heaven," said Medina, pastor of Hispanic ministries at Champion Forest Baptist Church in Houston.

Hispanic churches can be "a strong help to the convention," he said. "The United States now is completely different than 20 years ago," with Hispanic churches reflecting the cultural shift.

"The Hispanic congregations are more a part of the vision of the convention now," Medina said, voicing appreciation for "a good path" of heightened involvement in the SBC of Hispanic and other ethnic leaders.

Hispanic Baptists can be involved "not just as church members, but in the leadership," serving on various SBC boards and committees, Medina said. "They can bring the new reality of America," helping Southern Baptists understand "ways that all these millions of Hispanics think and some strategies to reach all these Hispanic families" -- those who speak Spanish and second and third generations who primarily speak English.

"We are convinced that when we work together we can reach more Hispanic people -- and not just Hispanics.... We must go outside the United States to reach people for Christ," Medina said.

Clara Molina
 
Clara Molina, a member of the Southern Baptist Hispanic Leaders Council and a conference speaker and author in Fort Worth, Texas, noted, "Even though the [council] exists, the Hispanic Baptist community still needs to leverage more of our contribution to the body of Christ, including our diversity, family values, resources, cultural heritage and obedience to the Great Commission to engage in fruitful ministry."

In continuing toward unity, Molina underscored such initiatives as:

-- "Gathering as leaders to pray (2 Chronicles 7:14).

-- "Building each other up, keeping in mind 1 Corinthians 12:12: 'For as the body is one and has many parts, and all the parts of that body, though many, are one body -- so also is Christ.'

-- "Focusing on evangelism/discipleship training (Matthew 28:16-20, Ephesians 4:1-5).

-- "Focusing on reaching young families and the youth.

-- "Combining resources to support churching planting and training.

"The Hispanic population is growing rapidly," Molina said, "and Hispanic Baptist leaders need to unite in order to be ready to meet their spiritual needs."

Creating the council

Bobby Sena
 
The Southern Baptist Hispanic Leaders Council was formed during a Nov. 1-2 meeting last fall in Atlanta.

In attendance, from diverse cultures and countries of origin, were leaders from across the U.S., Puerto Rico and Canada, including representatives of Hispanic Baptist Conventions in Texas and New Mexico as well as national and state Hispanic fellowships such as the National Hispanic Fellowship of Southern Baptist Churches, Hispanic Baptist Pastors Alliance and Church2Church fellowship.

"It is a new day, new spirit and a new mindset for Southern Baptist Hispanics," said Bobby Sena, Hispanic relations consultant for the SBC Executive Committee. Having worked in Hispanic ministries as a pastor and missionary on the state and national levels for more than 50 years, Sena said, "Never have I sensed, felt and seen the unity we are experiencing."

The council, Sena said, will provide a platform for Hispanics to speak to Southern Baptists toward initiatives "that will enhance the Kingdom and strengthen our convention."

"When Dr. Ronnie Floyd was serving as president of the Southern Baptist Convention a few years ago, he asked me late one evening via text the following question: Bobby, do you have a national Hispanic Southern Baptist organization of pastors and leaders that you could deploy at any given moment?" Sena recounted.

"I pondered for a few minutes, then I responded in total transparency: No, Brother Ronnie, we don't. That was a sad day for me. That question and other factors served as the impetus for me and other leaders to confess that while we were all serving in ministry -- everybody doing their thing -- we weren't moving together in spirit and mission," Sena said. "The establishment of the Southern Baptist Hispanic Leaders Council is allowing Hispanic leaders to function and serve as one. If Dr. Floyd, our new president and CEO of the SBC Executive Committee, were to ask me the same question now, I would shout, Yes, we do!"

The new council adopted seven declarations during their meeting:

"We join the Southern Baptist Convention in condemning the sexual abuse of children and we call on every Southern Baptist Hispanic Church to immediately establish a system and rules to secure the safety of our children in our churches. Furthermore, we recommend that all churches utilize the Spanish Language Guides and Steps recommended and provided by LifeWay online free of cost.

"We believe that the laws of our state and nation should be respected and followed, yet we believe that all people, regardless of their language, culture, country of original or legal status are loved by God and that we have the responsibility to share the Gospel in their heart language.

"We believe and are committed to the Bible as God's Word; that our mission and responsibility is to share the Gospel of Christ with all people.

"We believe that one of the most effective ways to practice and promote Cooperative Missions is through the Cooperative Program. We encourage all our existing and new churches to commit to and give to the CP. We acknowledge that this program has provided the funding for a great percentage of our new churches and ministries. We thank God and the Southern Baptist churches for their faithfulness in giving to mission causes.

"We are committed to the equipping and training of our pastors and churches.

"We affirm and support the planting of new churches; we believe it is a very effective evangelistic strategy."

Sena said the declarations reflect "basic tenets" within Southern Baptist life and "we agree with all of them."

Art Toalston is senior editor of Baptist Press.
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