It was eighteen years ago when my family and I came to the US because an Anglo-American church was exploring the idea of becoming multicultural. They had a group of Hispanics who attended the church regularly and also gathered for Bible study and fellowship in Spanish. Eventually, the church leadership saw the need for someone who would not only understand the needs of this community but would shepherd them as well. That’s how we received an invitation to meet them and consider if we wanted to plant a church with this group of Hispanic men and women.
Many things went through my head as we prayed and considered the invitation. First I thought, No one needs missionaries in the US. All missionaries I knew were American, so in my head the US was already Christian through and through. The second thing was another misconception: I didn’t think Latinos in this country had very many needs. As I saw it, they had everything! They live in a country that had more than they could ever need.
Those ideas of mine were misconceptions, similar to the misconceptions most people—most Americans, I should say—have when they hear the words Latino or Hispanic. Often, a myriad of things immediately come to people’s minds. Some of them have to do with Hollywood’s representation of my Mexican culture (think the movie Nacho Libre); many have to do with politics and their use of my people’s presence and status (think immigration, cartels, crime, etc.).
What about you? What comes to your mind when you hear the words Latino or Hispanic? I hope it isn’t just Cinco de Mayo (a day that is irrelevant for most Mexicans and completely unknown for the other thirty-something Latin American countries present in the US)! And I hope it isn’t just what you hear in the news or watch in the movies. So, please, allow me to paint a broader picture of our Hispanic people.
We are such a diverse community, not only because we come from so many different countries and cultures but because we are all very different. White, black, Asian, and indigenous Hispanics all come together in our churches to worship the One Living God in one language. Hispanic churches are so diverse that they are truly multicultural and multigenerational. And the different meaning of words, depending where you are from, create such awkward and funny conversations.
Our people are familiar with suffering. It’s difficult to express here the hundreds of stories I personally know of our people’s suffering, not only in our countries of origin but also here in the US. Stories of desperation, violence, and rejection. Pain is near to us, as is weakness. Yet, in the midst of that we are a grateful and joyful people who sing loud praises to the Lord!
Our communities are embracing the Gospel more than any other group in the country. More churches are being planted, more disciples are being formed, and more young people are staying in church than in almost any other group! The Gospel is changing my people’s priorities and dreams. Initially, we came here pursuing the American dream, but Jesus got ahold of us and now we pursue him and his righteousness and love. We may look very different, but in him you are my familia and I am yours.
The Hispanic community is a hopeful one. We hope to become partners in the Kingdom, we hope for a better world together, and we hope to be a positive influence, not only among our own but among other people in our country. But overall, we hope for the day when we will be more than guests, that we won’t need one month a year for people to remember those who have lived among them for centuries.