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Bilingual Church Booming in Bowman

A bilingual ministry was started in a small town experiencing rapid growth in its Spanish-speaking population. Bowman Assembly of God now provides the only Spanish church service for nearly 90 miles.

Blanca spoke no English, so the Bowman, North Dakota, hotel cleaning worker from Guatemala sought her brother’s help when she wanted to attend church but could find no service available in Spanish. Together they visited Bowman Assembly of God.

César, an oil field worker, interpreted for Ed M. Kvaale, its pastor, what Blanca says she felt the Holy Spirit told her to share: she was to attend his church, even if she didn’t understand a word of the language.

Kvaale, 44, was moved. Credentialed since age 20, he’d never received a word or comment like Blanca’s. In the decade that Kvaale had ministered in the community, he’d seen an increase of Hispanics in Bowman County, population 3,000. Drawn to the area’s blue-collar jobs in the oil fields and agriculture, their numbers had grown from just 22 in 2000 to around 160 in the last census.

“We’ve seen how things were changing in the community,” says Kvaale, who shared Blanca’s message with the church’s deacons right after she approached him early last year. Her message “along with the sense of the Holy Spirit among the board was that this was something to jump on board with.”

While Blanca felt she was supposed to attend Bowman Assembly, which has an average Sunday attendance of 43, right away Kvaale responded by using tools at hand to help her understand the messages, announcements, and everything else from the service. Far too much for her brother to interpret in real time, Kvaale found a computer app that translated the English into Blanca’s native tongue, Spanish.

The plan moved forward in fits and starts. “When we first rolled this out, we were trying to add a little bit of Spanish to our service. We did Spanish and English Scripture readings and announcements” for the four Spanish-speakers in attendance, Kvaale recollects.

The response: “Two people walked out of our service and never came back,” he says.

No one else left, however, and the Spanish-speakers in attendance increased as César invited his oil worker colleagues. Soon Kvaale recognized the group needed their own service with messages and ministry tailored to them.

Kvaale reached out to Liliana Rodríguez, a Spanish-speaking Pentecostal pastor who planted a church in Dickenson, 83 miles northeast of Bowman. In July, Rodríguez began sending two Latino leader couples on alternating Sundays to serve at the Bowman church. Four congregants attended its first Spanish-language church service.

One couple was Nicaragua-born Lucy and California-born Joshua, whose parents are Nicaraguan. Both are pastors’ children.

Lucy García had been a stay-at-home mom of three; her husband was an oil field mechanic and worship leader of the Dickenson church. While neither had envisioned themselves in ministry, they were nevertheless enrolled in online Bible classes.

Then Lucy says she felt the Holy Spirit impress on her that she would be going to a place far away in a small town where the Lord would use her. A month later, Rodríguez asked them to minister in Bowman.

After the Garcías arrived in Bowman, “I saw the need,” says Lucy, 33. “These people have nobody to preach to them in Spanish.” She paraphrases Isaiah 6:8: “Heme aquí. Estoy lista, Señor.” [Here I am, Lord. I’m ready.]

Word of mouth plus posters in restaurants and other gathering places brought Hispanics to the church.

In October, the Garcías moved into the church’s second parsonage to continue to serve and grow the church’s Spanish-speaking services.

In addition to Sunday afternoon and Thursday worship and praise services, they began hosting Bible studies in Spanish. Almost all the regular attendees were believers in their native lands (mostly from Venezuela and Guatemala), though some had backslidden. One family from a non-evangelical background learned of the Spanish-language services and sought a social outlet. “Now they’ve gotten saved,” Lucy says.

Then in February, tragedy struck. The Spanish congregation’s sound man, Rauly Ravelo-Marcano, an oil worker, died in a work accident. Joshua García officiated the graveside service, attended by more than 100, about half of whom were not saved, including many of Ravelo-Marcano’s colleagues, both English- and Spanish-speaking. Lucy says several came to faith in Christ as a result.

The Garcías believe God is at work in the community and anticipate more opportunities for ministry.

“God is going to use us for His glory. I said I’m in Your hands,” Lucy says. “He’ll bring us the support we need for our lives ... I believe the Lord that He’s going to do it.”

Deann Alford

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