Reluctant Missionary to the North
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Early on, doors to music opened for the Mexico-born Martinez, 30, who earned a degree in music performance from the Autonomous University of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, his home city. In contrast to many who dream of life in the nation to the north, he never wanted to go to the United States. He identified more with his parents’ Guatemalan roots and longed to minister in Central America. Prophetic words spoken over him through the years uncannily agreed: God is going to give you people from every nation.
Throughout Martinez’s youth, mission groups frequented Ciudad Juarez. One such AG group constructed Shekinah, the Assemblies of God church where his father, Marvin Martinez, pastored. As his dad spoke no English, he enrolled his then 6-year-old son in English classes to talk to the builders. Josue resisted, but complied.
After Josue married Miriam, who grew up 20 hours away in Monterrey, Mexico, he learned she had received the same prophetic word. With that, Martinez grasped that God would send them to the nations, “probably not to sing, but doing missions,” he says.
In 2016, Martinez preached at a Dallas conference attended by Latinos from many countries. There, a pastor’s word for him coincided with direct revelation.
“All my life, I thought God was going to send me to the nations,” he says. “But God was sending the nations to me in the United States.”
In 2017, that calling led Martinez and his family, now including daughter Natalia, to Pine Bluff, Arkansas, 45 miles southeast of Little Rock. He serves as media pastor of Pine Bluff First Assembly. He believes his presence in the city that has a dwindling population of 41,400 is by divine appointment. Deacon Gene Hughes had been in the group that built the sanctuary of the Ciudad Juarez church Martinez’s father pastored.
“I’m here at Pine Bluff First Assembly because I’m the harvest of this church,” Martinez says.
Additionally, Martinez leads the church’s Hispanics in the Spanish-language congregation Centro Cristiano de Pine Bluff, which is part of the AG’s South Central Hispanic District.
He notes that besides a widespread poverty problem, the city has an outsized per-capita murder rate. It’s far from the common paradise perception many Latin Americans outside the country hold.
“God wants us here because nobody wants to come here,” Martinez says. The city’s population has dropped by 14,000 since the turn of the century.
Less than 1% of Pine Bluff residents are Hispanic, most of whom are Central American and Mexican migrant agricultural workers. For the most part, they are unchurched, have elementary educations, and are marginally literate even in Spanish, their only language.
The city’s Hispanic population is not technologically savvy. The Martinezes have taught congregants how to use their phones for more than calls and texting. With tutelage from the couple, adherents have learned how to download and use free apps such as Zoom, the written and audio Bible resource YouVersion, and “The Chosen,” a popular television series about the life of Christ.
“It’s beautiful to see the elderly on social media sharing the service, Bible verses, and devotionals on church pages,” Martinez says.
Building Hispanic congregants’ understanding of technology helps get the word out about Jesus and strengthens their walk with Him. Martinez says there is a fire inside his wife and daughter that they need to preach the gospel in the area.
“This is where the adventure starts: develop the vision of multicampus,” he says. Two years ago, Martinez planted a parent-affiliated church in Lake Village, 90 miles southeast of Pine Bluff, which meets on Mondays. He’s burdened especially for rural youth who haven’t heard the gospel in their language, whether English or Spanish.
“We’re desperate to plant more campuses, making connections between Hispanic and American districts,” he says.
First Assembly lead pastor Gary M. Bell is supportive of the Martinezes.
“They are motivated, they are hardworking self-starters, and they have a strong Kingdom focus,” Bell says.