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Rising Hispanic Influence

Southeastern University taking proactive steps to educate Latino population interested in ministry.
LAKELAND, Florida — Hispanic Pentecostals tend to take a holistic approach to ministry, and that’s a key reason why Gabriel and Jeanette Salguero have added an educational element to their already busy careers.

The Salgueros serve as co-lead pastors at The Gathering, a multiethnic Assemblies of God congregation in Orlando. The couple also are leaders in the National Latino Evangelical Coalition (NaLEC), an Orlando-based interdenominational national organization they founded that is comprised of over 3,000 churches, pastors, and nonprofits.

It’s no surprise that the Salgueros — who have two teenaged sons, Jon-Gabriel and Seth — last fall agreed to take the helm of the Carrión Hispanic Leadership Center at Southeastern University, an hour’s drive down Interstate 4 in Lakeland. Jeanette is executive director and Gabriel is distinguished professor. Both are 49-year-old ordained AG ministers.

“We do not have a bifurcation view of ministry, it is not compartmentalized,” says the impassioned Gabriel. “The university is part of the Church. We have a holistic ecclesiology, still pastoring while at Southeastern.”

NaLEC already had forged a connection with the Carrión Center before the Salgueros accepted their roles. The center’s goal is to equip more Hispanic students for leadership positions in ministry. There are 62.5 million Hispanics in the U.S. Jeanette notes that many churches are adding Spanish-speaking services to accommodate the fastest-growing ethnic group in the U.S.

The center is named for Assemblies of God Hispanic pastor and organizational pioneer Adolfo Carrión Sr., who served as superintendent of the Spanish Eastern District for 32 years. Carrión also proved instrumental in the formation of the AG’s Florida Multicultural District and Puerto Rico District. Carrión, who died in 2014, also served as NaLEC’s founding chairman.

“We see the vision of the Carrión Center providing accessible and attainable education for Latino and Latina students to partner with the Hispanic church in preparing servants in every field, especially for pastoral ministry,” Gabriel says. “It’s empowering the Latino church through education.”

Such learning experience isn’t confined to the classroom. For example, Jeanette points out that the center, in conjunction with Southeastern’s Missions Department, connected students to an urban missions trip to New York City. Southeastern students evangelized children, teens, and the elderly in the Bronx. Such evangelism opportunities, with contextualized ministries, are ongoing with partner Pentecostal Hispanic churches around the U.S.

A spring break mission trip in March will involve five Southeastern University teams visiting five New York City boroughs — Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan, Staten Island, and the Bronx in partnership with entities such as the New York School of Urban Ministry, Brooklyn Adult & Teen Challenge, and New York City Dream Center.

One of the center’s overarching goals is for bilingual graduates to impact the nation through careers at church or in government. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services last year hired four Southeastern interns through the Carrión Center and NaLEC.

The Carrión Center also isn’t just geared to residential students. Pastors currently in the pulpit attend lectures on such topics as leadership development, immigration, and church planting. The center has awarded three graduate scholarships.

“It’s about recruitment, retention, and partnership,” Gabriel says. “These are the future scholars and academicians of Hispanic churches.”

A $1 million Lilly Endowment grant awarded in 2022 to Southeastern is designed in part to enhance the school’s efforts in providing competency-based, contextualized graduate education for current and aspiring Hispanic ministers.

“The grant provides for a competency-based education modality, which allows students to bring in what they’ve learned in their ministry journey,” Jeanette says. “Some of the people in the master’s program already have been pastoring for 20 years, and that experience means something.”

Many Hispanic pastors are bivocational. Those who are engaged in multiple ministry efforts, such as the Salgueros, have learned to build capable teams and delegate responsibilities so they don’t burn out.

“Team building makes us stronger together,” Gabriel says. “The load becomes more manageable.”

Another goal of the Salgueros is to see that Southeastern is designated as a Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI), which the government determines is reached when 25% of the student body crosses the threshold. The AG’s Vanguard University in Costa Mesa, California, is such a school. Currently, Hispanics account for 23% of Southeastern’s undergraduates, which makes sense considering 27% of Florida’s population is Hispanic.

“When a school becomes an HSI, it opens the floodgates for a great number of funding resources and partnerships,” Gabriel says. “On the student level, programs are created considering their history and in their context.”

The on-site liaison for the Carrión Hispanic Leadership Center in Lakeland is professor Ben E. Gomez, a credentialed AG minister. He believes the center will make a global impact.

“We want to serve the local church in the U.S. and abroad,” says Gomez, 41. He foresees the AG World Missions footprint in Latin America getting even larger because of partnerships with the Carrión Center.

Gomez says the Lilly grant will allow Southeastern to devise creative ways to provide affordable and accessible education, such as the Master of Divinity to Hispanic pastors and laity.

“We’re developing a pathway for pastors to unconventionally receive their education, so they can continue to focus on serving their congregations without the necessity to leave and matriculate in traditional courses on the main campus,” says Gomez, who attends The Gathering, the church the Salgueros pastor. “We will use technology to bring education to them. With competency-based education, they can utilize their past knowledge, capitalize on their experience, and follow their unique pathway to learn in order to enter the labor force as soon as possible.”

John W. Kennedy

John W. Kennedy served as news editor of AG News from its inception in 2014 until retiring in 2023. He previously spent 15 years as news editor of the Pentecostal Evangel and seven years as news editor at Christianity Today.