The Wesleyan Church’s (TWC) desire for the church body to reflect the ethnicities and cultures that make up America today is also the largest obstacle facing Hispanic churches.
Since Spanish is the official language of 20 countries, leading a Hispanic congregation is akin to being a missionary in a foreign land unfamiliar with the dialects and customs. Theology is even a challenge as many Latinos come from a Catholic background.
To better understand these challenges and equip leaders to live into their callings, TWC gathered many Hispanic leaders last October. Three of those leaders are highlighted here, each sharing some of the greatest challenges Hispanic churches face today.
Finding resources or buildings to start churches has been challenging.
Rev. Alfredo Barreno, Ecuador
Alfredo Barreno, born in Guayaquil, Ecuador, immigrated to the U.S. at 19. His wife, Silvia, hails from Mexico. Before they knew the Lord, life was “pretty much a disaster,” Rev. Barreno says. Fast forward 30 years. The Barrenos have three children and planted five churches. They lead Conexion Cristiana in Wesley Chapel, Florida, and Rev. Barreno is the Florida District’s Hispanic director.
Rev. Barreno believes the lack of facilities to be a top obstacle facing Hispanic churches. Finding resources or buildings to start churches has been challenging. We’ve had to use service hours where not even the devil wants to attend,” he said jokingly. “But,” he quickly adds, “God always finds a way.”
Another obstacle is overcoming cultural barriers. It’s not as simple as being a Spanish speaker in an English world. “In our congregation we have people from Colombia, Puerto Rico, Guatemala, the Dominican Republic, Panama, Honduras, Peru, Ecuador, Venezuela, Mexico and the USA. Although we speak the same language, each one has its own culture,” said Rev. Barreno.
Another challenge is many Hispanics coming to the U.S. move frequently to find stable work, which can be discouraging for pastors who invest time mentoring and building up their church just to watch them move away.
“We soon saw the need to share God’s word with them through the only medium we had — Zoom calls.”
Rev. Ingrid Martinez, Colombia
Ingrid Martinez, who pastors Casa Sobre la Roca, Red de Iglesias in Columbus, Ohio, knows the challenges immigrants face. Born in Colombia, she traveled to the U.S. with her parents at 21 in search of a better life. She was a teacher by profession who began to serve God at a young age. Rev. Martinez believes that serving in the local church helped prepare her for her
studies at Wesley Seminary. She was ordained in 2012. These events led to God using her talents as an assistant pastor, and in teaching FLAMA courses until God opened another door for her and her husband, Ricardo Gonzalez, to plant a church in 2020.
Their struggle has been different from Rev. Barreno’s because their church started virtually during the pandemic. They began by praying for COVID patients and their families. “We soon saw the need to share God’s word with them through the only medium we had — Zoom calls.” Their virtual crowd grew to 50 until they were able to meet in person and started baptizing new disciples.
More than a year after launching, her church has more than 90 souls “relearning how to do church,” and making new disciples from a network of four house churches meeting on Zoom on Wednesdays and in person on Sundays.
“A nationwide call to pray for Hispanics coming to Christ would be a great thing that The Wesleyan Church could lead.”
Rev. Neftali Lopez, Mexico
Neftali Lopez, who grew up in Los Mochis in Sinaloa, Mexico, received God’s calling at age 18. He graduated from the Mexican Biblical Seminary in Hermosillo, receiving a B.A. in theology. After enlisting in the U.S. Navy, he returned to his studies, graduating with a master’s in pastoral counseling and a Master of Divinity in 2011. He then was deployed to Djibouti, Africa, for two years, eventually finishing a post-graduate degree in education.
Today, he and his wife, Grace Lopez, have been pastoring Iglesia Wesleyana Amistad Cristiana in Carmel, Indiana, in the last six years. He also serves as military students’ chaplain at Indiana Wesleyan University.
Rev. Lopez sees four huge challenges for Hispanic churches: a narrow target audience, a lack of proper discipleship for the second generation due to intermingled use of English and Spanish, a need for uniform Hispanic discipleship curriculum nationwide and legal documents for new leaders.
He hopes TWC can help provide a pathway for “proven” pastors to legalize their status. “A nationwide call to pray for Hispanics coming to Christ would be a great thing that The Wesleyan Church could lead.”
Let’s join these leaders in asking God for answers to the challenges and be ready to respond how he leads.