Serenading by Hector and Sherri Sanchez blessed everyone approaching Saint Paul UMC in Lincoln, Neb., to attend the Great Plains Hispanic Ministry lunch on Friday, June 12. Colombian harpist William Sanchez further blessed attendees as they gathered and proceeded through the buffet of pulled pork, potato salad and fresh fruit. Cesar Garcia Rodriguez and Miriam Peralta de Garcia welcomed everyone, alternating between Spanish and English. Among the nearly 200 attendees were the Micah Corps interns, CCYM members and other youth, Congregational Excellence staff and Bishop Scott Jones and Mary Lou Reece. A video highlighted each of the dozens of Hispanic congregations and outreach ministries across the conference and the pastors, evangelists and other people serving within them.
Corey Daniel Godbey, Hispanic ministry coordinator for the Great Plains Conference, invited everyone to either commit or recommit to a partnership with Hispanic ministry. Godbey noted that 180 Great Plains United Methodist churches are located in communities with more than 2,000 Hispanics, yet all churches are encouraged to “cultivate partnerships with the ministry founded in vital, fresh prayer in order to open doors, shorten paths, and accelerate processes for Hispanic Ministry.”
Partners are asked to pray regularly for ministry leaders, give their time, talent and treasure to the development of the ministry, attend a regional Partners for Hispanic Ministry prayer breakfast this fall, and invite at least one other church to join them in this partnership journey. After the lunch Godbey reported that about 35 churches committed today to being Partners, so they are on their way to reaching their goal of 100 Partners. If you are interested in being a Partner, contact Godbey at email@example.com for information.
When the Rev. Jorge Acevedo stood up to speak, he took a moment to explain that his parents chose to pronounce his name as “George” when they moved from Puerto Rico to “the Deep South.” Acevedo was not raised in the church but came to Jesus when he was 18 and started reading the Bible seriously at 19. “I read that Jesus called his disciples to ‘follow me and I will teach you to fish for people,’” said Acevedo who had a problem with this since he despised fishing. His family had moved to Orlando when he was a teenager, and his uncle took him fishing. They left at 5 a.m. to sit in the center of a lake in the hot sun, wrangled with baits and hooks, and at the end of the long day they had no fish. So when Acevedo read that Jesus wanted him to go fishing, he was torn between his love of Jesus and his hatred for fishing.
Acevedo’s understanding changed one day when someone explained the activity is called “fishing” instead of “catching” because the joy comes from the process, not necessarily from the result. Real fishermen love the environment and experience of fishing. Acevedo then noted the difference between fishing as a hobby and fishing as a profession, and referenced the reality TV show, “The Deadliest Catch,” where fishing is a matter of life and death.
“For some churches, fishing for people is what they do when there is nothing else going on, and it’s just a hobby,” said Acevedo. “Fishing with Jesus should be a matter of life and death for the church.” Acevedo then stressed, “If you don’t join Jesus in fishing, you’re not following Jesus.”
Everyone laughed when Acevedo said, “If all God wanted to do was get you to heaven, once you were saved he would kill you.” He went on to say, “God saves you so you can save others.”
As the lead pastor at Grace UMC, a multi-site congregation located in Southwest Florida, Acevedo shared his secret to growing a faithful and fruitful church: “When Jesus shows up, a crowd will show up.” Once a church is dedicated to having Jesus show up, they must practice what Acevedo calls the four Ws as they go fishing for people. Based on Mark 2:1-6, which is the story of the paralytic in Capernaum whose friends dug through a roof to reach Jesus, we should follow the example of the friends, by going wherever necessary to reach the needy and get them to Jesus. Wherever is the first W.
Secondly we should be open to whoever will come, and we do that by making them feel welcome. Acevedo’s churches have need-based ministries that are fruitful because, “People are open to God when they are hurting.” Acevedo cited examples of people who never would darken the doors of a church but are willing to participate in ministries where they feel wanted. Acevedo recommended looking at the ratio of ministries serving insiders versus those serving outsiders, suggesting that the church budget is a good indicator. How many ministries serve people in need? Those are people who need Jesus.
The third W is to do whatever it takes. Acevedo referred back to the story from Mark 2. “Four men destroyed a stranger’s roof because they were desperate to get their friend in front of Jesus. And this was in a time before homeowner’s insurance existed!” Acevedo said congregations need to ask themselves what they are willing to do to get people in front of Jesus. At his church when they changed the music to appeal to a younger demographic, some people left to go to a different church. “I was OK with that,” said Acevedo, “Because we are fishing for people.” He feels the average age of 45 is still too old for their community. “We’re too white and too old,” Acevedo said, but they are working on it.
When fishing with Jesus, in addition to going wherever, being open to whoever will come, and doing whatever it takes, churches must do it all without compromise. In the story, Jesus did heal the paralytic who then walked away, but that is not the miracle. Jesus first and foremost saved the man by forgiving his sins. We must share the radical message of God’s love without compromise, which is the fourth W. Acevedo closed by affirming that the people in the room had enough leadership to take Kansas and Nebraska by storm, and underscored the gravity of the need. “People are literally dying to hear the God of the universe loves them.”
Photo: Hector Sanchez is a local pastor appointed to Nueva Vida (New Life), Evangel UMC, in Holton, Kan. Juan Espinoza is a local pastor serving at Centro de Alabanza y Adoración in Gering, near Scottsbluff, Neb. Sylvia Romero is a local pastor with Grace UMC in Olathe, Kan. César Garcia Rodriguez is a local pastor at Resonate in Papillon, Neb., and Miriam Peralta de Garcia is a Certified Lay Minister serving Grace UMC in Omaha, Neb.