Time to Wake Up
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Latinos from around the U.S. gathered at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston to kick off the three-day celebration. The organizational meeting for Hispanic AG congregations took place in January 1918 in Kingsville, Texas.
Hispanic ministry has blossomed into 14 districts across the nation, with Latinos now comprising 23 percent of the AG’s 3.2 million adherents in the U.S.
In a dramatic representation, one by one the 14 Hispanic superintendents laid a memorial stone in a heap representing their districts. Dennis Rivera, director of the AG Office of Hispanic Relations, introduced the superintendents and explained when each district formed. The display symbolized a centennial milestone for the Hispanic districts, much like the Israelites placing 12 stones while crossing the Jordan River en route to the Promised Land (Joshua 4). Several of the superintendents also spoke briefly at the service.
In an interactive re-enactment, the service opened with a scene depicting a teenaged Henry C. Ball knocking on doors in Texas, inviting Hispanics to church — even though he only knew one phrase of Spanish. Ball later became an Anglo missionary who co-organized the original AG Hispanic convention a century ago. He went on to serve as the first superintendent of the Latin America District Council in 1929 until a decade later.
The opening service featured keynote speaker Wilfredo “Choco” De Jesús, one of the Fellowship’s 21 executive presbyters. De Jesús is senior pastor of New Life Covenant Church in Chicago. With 17,000 adherents on multiple campuses, it is the largest AG Hispanic church in the U.S.
While De Jesús acknowledged the commemoration is a historic moment in the AG, he cautioned Hispanic pastors and other leaders not to grow complacent. He said while Ball couldn’t conceive the notion of 14 distinct U.S. Hispanic districts, in another century there could be 50 Hispanic districts across the nation. De Jesús developed themes from a sermon Ball preached 90 years ago on “There’s a Dream for the People of God.”
“We cannot stop dreaming, but we must wake up from our sleep,” De Jesús said. “There’s an enemy that’s after your dream. You’ve got to wake up from your slumber.”
De Jesús urged the audience to avoid becoming smug because of the accomplishments of the past century, but rather to appreciate much is left to do. He urged ministry leaders to keep following the Acts 2 pattern of teaching truth, fellowshipping, breaking bread together, praying, and seeking signs and wonders. And to stay alert and prepared.
Falling asleep is usually a gradual process, and the same can be said of spiritual torpor, De Jesús warned. From Samson not recognizing his strength had been sapped to Jesus’ disciples failing to stay awake in the Garden of Gethsemane, De Jesús cited biblical examples of people who let their guard down before disaster struck. He suggested ministry leaders sometimes are spiritually snoozing without even realizing it: not praying, worshipping, or reading the Bible as much as before; lacking the passion for lost souls; failing to see the need for compassion for those around them.
The evening also included a brief tribute to revered Hispanic pioneer Jesse Miranda, dubbed “the granddaddy of U.S. Latino Protestantism” by Christianity Today.
Sergio Navarrete, superintendent of the Southern Pacific District based in La Puente, California, called Miranda a trailblazer, bridge builder, and breach closer in various ways that gave Hispanics more of a voice in the traditionally overwhelming Anglo U.S. Assemblies of God.
The 81-year-old Miranda, who noted that he met Ball as a 16-year-old Bible college student, recounted how Hispanics had no place at the national table in his early ministry years. Now as the largest and fastest-growing constituency in the Fellowship, Hispanics in many ways are shaping the Fellowship’s future.
Miranda served as the first Hispanic executive presbyter in the AG. He is founder of the Jesse Miranda Center for Hispanic Leadership at Vanguard University in Costa Mesa, California.
Although all worship took place in Spanish, speakers alternated addressing the audience in English and Spanish, but all remarks were translated.
The centennial has the theme “Rich Legacy, Fresh Vision,” the name of a new book written by Rivera and his predecessor, Efraim Espinoza.