Sooner State Missionaries
Today, the Orellanas are senior pastors of Iglesia Pueblo de Dios (First Assembly-Spanish) in Norman. Last year the one-time church plant closed on a mortgage and moved into its own building.
Otto says the lessons he and his wife received from the Fitzgeralds, who earlier spent 16 years as Assemblies of God World Missionaries to Mexico, were invaluable. Mark and Nancy, as Intercultural Ministries missionaries, taught them ways to improve their preaching and teaching, to handle church finances, and how to care for their own family as a ministry.
“Through their example, we have learned how to be methodical, to persevere, to listen, and to share with others,” Otto says. “They helped us be more caring for the people we serve.”
The impact the Fitzgeralds have made in training Hispanics to plant and establish Spanish-speaking churches can be seen in another tangible way. When they returned to their native state in 2007, there were three Hispanic congregations in the AG Oklahoma District. Today there are 35 Hispanic churches and 20 preaching points.
District Superintendent Frank Cargill says the Fitzgeralds have helped attune AG leaders to the need for relevant ministry to Spanish-speaking immigrants. While less than 10 percent of the nearly 500 AG churches in the state, Hispanics represent a growing influence, he says.
“Mark and Nancy are as effective here as they were serving in another country,” Cargill says.
Although intending to return to Mexico after a season of fundraising, soon after the Fitzgeralds came home they sensed God tugging at their heart to serve Hispanics in the Sooner State. Mark says their goal has always been to train people called to ministry and then be there if they needed help.
“We saw around 350 graduate from Bible college in Mexico,” Mark says. “What God is doing here is so much bigger.”
There are just over 95 students presently enrolled at their training centers in Oklahoma City and Tulsa, an increase over the 80-plus who graduated last June.
Eighteen of the recent graduates are already pastoring or are on a church staff. More than a dozen new congregations have been established by school of ministry alumni during the past three years.
Those numbers are encouraging to Mark. When he prayed and asked God how to organize their school, he sensed the Lord telling him to follow the same methods they used in Mexico.
“I knew the key was training leaders and mentoring the men and women who feel called into ministry,” Mark says.
Nancy recalls that God promised if they would obey Him, He would use Hispanics to bless both Spanish and English churches with His love and mercy.
“I marvel at God’s faithfulness when we are sitting in a service and one of our former or present students is ministering,” Nancy says. “I cannot thank Him enough for all He has done.”
While Hispanics are the largest minority in Oklahoma, the district includes such diverse groups as Native Americans, Africans, Samoans, and a church of immigrants from Myanmar.
“We have attempted to say that we need to reach people as aggressively as we send missionaries to the foreign field,” Cargill says. “We make a mistake when we think missions is just across the sea.”
As a demonstration of that belief, the superintendent recently established a Spanish-language phone line at the district office for inquiries and requests for information. A bilingual employee staffs it.
No matter what language one speaks, though, the Orellanas recognize the heart behind effective ministry that Otto says characterizes the Fitzgeralds.
“They were great mentors during different times of conflict in our ministry,” he says. “Mark and Nancy have always been there with their spiritual and emotional support.”