Reaping a Spiritual Harvest
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Planting, tending crops, and harvesting is strenuous work fraught with dangers, ranging from chronic back ailments to cancer linked directly to ongoing exposure of agricultural chemicals. Workers’ families are often beset by alcoholism and domestic violence. Typically, the laborers have only a middle-school education. Minimal or no command of English limits their options for earning higher wages and securing a better life.
More than a quarter of the inhabitants of the town of Center, Colorado, live below the poverty line. It’s located in south-central Colorado’s six-county rural agricultural San Luis Valley region noted for crops such as potatoes, lettuce, and barley. Nearly a quarter-century ago, Raymond A. Hurtado says the Lord called him to the area to reach those in need, not only with the gospel, but also with ministries designed to extend them a helping hand.
“Their world of opportunity seems limited, and that’s the struggle — to understand opportunity is there if you go after it,” says Hurtado, 50. He is the associate pastor who, with his 75-year-old dad, lead pastor Raymond J Hurtado, ministers at Monte Vista Assembly of God, 20 minutes from Center and part of the AG’s Central District.
Both father, who received the call to preach in New Mexico while an adolescent shepherd, and son have themselves worked the fields and are intimately acquainted with the rugged life. That’s why they set out to provide opportunity to farmworkers to hear about the love of Jesus and compassionate care outreach.
“Coming from these roots, you understand the struggle and needs,” Raymond A. Hurtado says. “It helps you identify with what people are going through.”
It began with meeting the need for safe, affordable residences for migrant workers. As when Hurtado arrived, he found people living in ramshackle dwellings that typically lacked electricity and running water. The San Luis Valley Farm Worker Housing, which receives federal funding, is a community-based organization. Hurtado is its director.
“The living conditions they had actually lent themselves to higher crime and violence,” he says. “I always felt if the conditions were better, the people would better themselves.”
Anyone can access what the church offers in the community, including the Care and Share Food Bank, a bread ministry, a free clothing closet, and a rehabilitation ministry for those struggling with addictions to drugs or alcohol.
“Residents are welcome to get their spiritual and other physical needs met in the church,” Hurtado says, noting that clients of these outreaches and projects aren’t required to attend any service.
The church recently built a new worship center. Pre-COVID attendance averaged 130.
On the San Luis Valley Farm Worker Housing campus is a building used for the federal migrant education and the preschool program Operation HeadStart, a joint venture under the auspices of a local community college. In affiliation with the Salvation Army, Monte Vista AG also offers a rental assistance program. The church partners with the local public library to encourage parents to read to children and vice versa. Also, the farm worker housing program provides English as a second language instruction and help with homework.
Additionally, Monte Vista AG is part of the local migrant coalition of churches. Hurtado estimates that 550 people are served through Monte Vista’s array of programs. Every ministry points to the goal of providing what people need to improve their lives.
“We try to create avenues of opportunity,” Hurtado says.
Carlos Ibarra and his wife, Lupe, immigrated to the area from Mexico as children. Ibarra grew up in a Christian home, but strayed from God. Today, with the help of the church under the leadership of the Hurtados, Ibarra and his family are walking once more with Christ.
“The ministry in the congregation we have is very necessary,” Ibarra says, adding that he is a disciple of lead pastor Raymond J. Hurtado. “He’s unshakable in the path of following God.”