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Reaching Hispanic Dairy Workers

Rural church plant focuses on an often-overlooked demographic.
Michael M. Sanchez has been planting Hispanic churches around the upper Midwest for a decade, basing his ministry around a unique demographic: dairy farms.

According to an industry-sponsored study, more than half of dairy workers are immigrants, and a large population of those employees come from Hispanic backgrounds. In South Dakota, where most communities are predominately Caucasian, Sanchez says many workers feel isolated and alone. Having grown up in Puerto Rico, Sanchez can relate.

This is his mission field.

An evangelist at heart, Sanchez, 52, has a tried-and-true approach for ministering on dairy farms. He contacts farm managers, sets up a time to meet with workers, shows the Jesus film, and builds ongoing relationships with Hispanic farm workers. Sanchez makes his case to farmers by showing his worth.

“I tell managers that if their workers are in the gospel and hearing from God, they’re going to avoid a lot of problems,” Sanchez says. “The managers won’t have to call the police. They’re not going to be paying fines for illegal activity. When they involve the Bible in their operation, it is better for everyone.”

In 2021, Sanchez’s calling evolved when he felt God urging him to plant a church in Bryant — a South Dakota community 30 miles from his home with a population of 454. Amid initial hesitation, Sanchez sensed the Lord tell him to stop being like the reluctant prophet Jonah and preach the Word to Hispanic people in the rural town.

When Evangelio de Fuego Bryant (Gospel of Fire Bryant) launched in September, 141 people walked through the doors. Five weeks in, a consistent group of native Spanish-speakers had committed to making it their home church.

Sanchez’s call to Bryant is an answer to prayer for many, including Bryon Noem, South Dakota’s first gentleman, a Bryant native.

Since his wife, Kristi, became South Dakota’s governor in 2019, Bryon Noem has been highlighting small communities across the Mount Rushmore State with a mission to bring attention to the “hidden gems” found in small, rural towns. He says Sanchez’s decision to start a congregation in his hometown demonstrates the heart behind his initiative.

“God moves in small towns,” Noem says. “Whether that’s through a new church or a new business, I believe the Lord is doing a new work in some of our most rural communities.”

To support the mission of Evangelio de Fuego Bryant, Noem donated a laptop and some funds to help bring momentum to the new congregation. He says this is a way he can help advance the mission.

“We’re all different parts of the Body,” says Noem. “I’m not called to minister in that church, but I can play a role. When we don’t put God in a box, He uses us in unique ways, and if we’re obedient, He will use our roles and circumstances to move and bring people closer to Him.”

Sanchez says he is blessed by the generosity of Noem and the support he’s received from the community and regional churches.

With a strong start and steady momentum, Sanchez is working to further develop efforts to minister to more English-speaking and bilingual families. He aspires to bring in a professor to teach English classes. He wants to bring in lawyers to help people who are pursuing immigration. For him, the church isn’t only a place to worship, but a resource center that welcomes people, helps solve everyday problems, and shows people the hope of the gospel in their own language.

“God has called me to preach the Word, and I know He has put me in a place where I can reach people that others might not be able to reach,” says Sanchez. “I will be obedient, I will trust Him, and I know He will do the rest.”

Kristin Wileman Sheldon

Kristin Wileman Sheldon is a writer who specializes in faith and rural development topics. A graduate of North Central University, she has written extensively for high-profile government and business leaders, and has created content for The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and Worldview magazine. Wileman lives in central South Dakota.