Ministry to the Hispanic American Community


 Some years ago, the congregation I pastored in Franklin Square, Long Island, NY, had a Spanish speaking mission church that met about a mile from what I’ll simply call “The Mother Church.”

Then – totally unexpectedly – the pastor of the mission church was called to a pastorate in another country. That call was eventually approved by the group of churches to which the minister was accountable – and he was soon gone.

What do we do with the several dozen people who were now pastor-less?

It was at that time that my wife and I knew that the Lord wanted us to learn Spanish – not an easy job for people who were past the prime ages for learning a new language!

We began making use of one of our Hispanic young men to translate my sermons into Spanish and to assist the gathered Spanish speakers so that they could be part of our worship services as they met in the downstairs while the English speakers met upstairs. That worked reasonably well; but, as a pastor, I needed to be able to communicate with our Hispanic folks one on one.

That began one of the most interesting and enjoyable chapters of my over thirty years of pastoral ministry.   Our Spanish-speaking brothers and sisters became one of God’s greatest gifts to us as a church. And we probably would never have realized that if we had not been unexpectedly thrust together to function as one congregation, not as a mother church and as a daughter church.

Hispanics – people whose first language is Spanish – now account for about 11% of the United States population. 63% of US Hispanics are of Mexican origin. 14% are of Puerto Rican origin. 12% are from either Central America or South America; and 6% are of Cuban origin. (It’s interesting that there are now more Cubans in Miami, FL, than there are in Havana, Cuba!).   And while there are certainly cultural differences among the various national groups of Hispanics, there are common traits as well. We should be aware of these prominent characteristics of Hispanic-Americans. They are of inestimable help as we consider ministry to our Spanish-speaking friends and brothers and sisters in Christ.

  • Family is the centerpiece of Hispanic culture. And, as with other cultures that are far less individualistic than American culture, the extended family is included in that centerpiece: Grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins are all part of the family that begins with mom, dad, and children. The Hispanic family is an extended unit and it acts together. It’s not at all uncommon for individual Hispanics to put the needs of the family – the extended family – above their own personal needs.
  • As my wife and I learned (to our great joy!): Latin hospitality is second to none. Our Hispanic brothers and sisters, after long hard days of work, would prepare home-cooked meals (and superb ones!), and open their homes for pastoral visits, Bible studies, and just for relaxed times of conversation. We learned quickly that “El Pastor” and his wife were always special recipients of Latin hospitality. That both humbled us, and taught us many lessons about hospitality and self-giving service.
  • Personalismo”, i.e. Personalism, is hugely important to Hispanics. They want to get to know you personally. They want to enter into your life. They relate to individuals who open themselves up to them (and they’ll do the same with you.) That also applies to churches. Cold, impersonal churches are not good climates for anyone – but that’s especially true for Hispanics.
  • Connected with that, is what I can only describe as a Latino view of time. Anglos like me tend to be punctual. We value promptness and efficiency in our use of minutes and hours. Hispanics generally value relationships more than time (and I think we have much to learn from this cultural trait). It wouldn’t be uncommon to set a Friday night “Spanish Speaking Night” (which served the dual purpose of a meal, fellowship, and study time and also as a Spanish learning time for the English speakers who attended) – it wouldn’t be uncommon to set the meeting time for 8 p.m., but not get to the meal until about 8:45….and then to continue the meeting quite a bit longer than our set 10 p.m. time to conclude things. We usually went much later. And no one seemed to mind. We were building relationships as what I soon came to see was another extended family – an extended family of brothers and sisters in Christ.   It was beautiful!   (I should add that our Hispanic brothers and sisters did need to learn a few things about punctuality and ending meetings at reasonable times when most of us needed to get up early the next day – and they grew into that. But we Anglos also learned not to be so uptight about gatherings that really were family times and not business meetings.)

So, if you’re going to minister to the Hispanic community – think family!

As I’m sure you’ve already guessed, our topic for today’s Visit to the Pastor’s Study is Ministry to the Hispanic-American Community. My guest is one of the men who helped me understand more about the Hispanic mindset – and he’s here with me today to help you, too.

Bracey Fuenzalida was born and brought up in Chile, South America. Currently he is the Director of Information Technology at the King’s College, a private Christian college in Manhattan. But, in a moment, I’ll let him tell you more about himself. Remember: “Personalismo” – Bracey will open himself (and his service in the Hispanic community) to you!