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Dreams of Fields

Hispanic pastor in Iowa commutes 90 miles on Sundays to fulfill Spanish-speaking mission.

The top employer in two small Iowa cities is Swift & Company meatpacking, which has attracted many Hispanic immigrants from Mexico, Central and South America, and the Caribbean.

Iglesia Evangélica Belén, Ottumwa’s only Spanish-language Assemblies of God congregation, has long been ministering to the Latino community.

Victor Valdez Jr., the church’s pastor since 2000, led Belén into a season of growth, in part by encouraging those in the congregation to pray for friends, co-workers, or acquaintances, asking the Lord for opportunities to invite them to church.

Prayer at 7 a.m. every Sunday plus Wednesday devotionals fueled the outreach. Soon the church transitioned from district supervision to becoming a General Council church.

In 2013, Valdez launched a district Bible school of ministry for Spanish-speakers called LADSOM (Latin American District School of Ministry), with classes that meet monthly. LADSOM has helped equip and empower Belén’s leadership as Valdez encouraged many in the flock to take courses.

We’re seeing a movement of God in Iowa,” Valdez says. “We’re in the midst of a change of (spiritual) atmosphere here.”

“There’s lot of work to do, but Iowa is a field of opportunities,” says Valdez’s wife, Toni.

The church in Ottumwa, a city of 25,000, has grown to 80 regular attendees. But Valdez felt a burden for those in Marshalltown, a two-hour journey north. Marshalltown, a city of 27,600, had no AG Spanish-speaking congregation.

Drawn by a cost of living much lower than that of either coast and by work that provides families with a living wage, the Hispanic population of Marshalltown doubled from 12 percent in 2000 to 24 percent in 2010. Meanwhile, Latinos in Ottumwa nearly quadrupled from 3 to 11 percent of that city’s populace.

So, Valdez, 40, and Toni, a teacher’s aide and one of four Ottumwa middle school Spanish-language interpreters, decided to do something about it. After a year of prayer, they launched Camino de Vida church in a Marshalltown hotel conference room. After Belén’s Sunday morning worship ends in Ottumwa, Camino’s services 90 miles away starts at 5 p.m.

Beyond prayer, fliers, and word of mouth, Belén has raised funds to broadcast Valdez’s sermon twice weekly on a secular Spanish FM radio station that reaches Marshalltown.

It’s a hard field, as Marshalltown Hispanics largely hold to traditional religious beliefs they brought from their homelands, mainly Michoacán, Mexico.

“Victor Valdez is a very patient, very loving pastor,” says Midwest Latin American District Superintendent Clemente Maldonado Jr. “He cares deeply about his people.”

Deann Alford

Deann Alford is a journalist and author. She attends Glad Tidings of Austin, an Assemblies of God congregation in the Texas capital.