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Merged congregation leads families to faith in Miami’s Hispanic community

By Barbara Denman

December 6, 2012

After seeing church signs posted along Southwest Miami roads near his home, Sergio Barrero, 23, and his family began visiting Turning Point Church in Kendall eight months ago.

Since then, his life has done a spiritual U-turn, he said, “a 180 degree turnaround.”

Calling the difference “night and day,” Barrero added, “I stopped doing the wrong things and started growing in the Lord.”

Turning Point is a multi-generational, multi-national and multi-lingual congregation that is bringing entire families to a “turning point” by offering the transforming power of Christ to Kendall’s Hispanic community.

Noel Lozano and Jorge Rodriguez, co-pastors of Turning Point, planted the church in 2009, merging two congregations to create a “new vision,” said lead pastor Lozano.

“We are a church of different cultures where Christ is the point of unity,” he said.

Leading the Spanish worship is Lozano, a fourth-generation Baptist from Cuba who arrived in the U.S. at age 19. His grandparents were among Florida Baptists’ early Cuban pioneers.

Rodriguez immigrated to the States at age 9 and leads the English language worship. Both are seminary trained and work together like hand in glove.

Each Sunday, the separate Spanish and English worship services intersect as the two congregations join for a time of combined worship with a rhythmic salsa beat and Latino flavor.

The jubilant, spicy worship music is led by Joel Hernandez and “Blest” a contemporary Christian group and recording artists that has been nominated for Dove Awards and a Latin Grammy. The group performed the title song in Spanish for the movie, “Courageous” for distribution in Latin America.

With such high energy and enthusiastic worship, attendance hovers around 300 and has reached a high of 375 persons. In the past year the church baptized 50 new believers.

In this upper middle class neighborhood where an estimated 84 percent of the population is Hispanic, Turning Point offers two languages to reach first, second and third generations, many who live under the same roof.

According to Al Fernandez, lead strategist for the Florida Baptist Convention’s Church Planting Group, within the Hispanic immigrant culture, several generations commonly live in one home. Families are important in the Hispanic culture where children are celebrated and senior adults are revered.

Grandparents speak Spanish exclusively, Fernandez explained, while parents, primarily Spanish speakers, communicate in broken English because of jobs and children.

Children, primarily English speakers “relate to grandparents and parents in broken Spanish.” Thus the term “Spanglish” has evolved within the culture, considered by some as Miami’s official language.

And while everything at Turning Point is translated in word and printed in two languages, the feeling of unity permeates throughout.

Worship services are held currently at Braddock High School, but the church has purchased property adjacent to the school facing SW 144th Ave. The land includes a renovated building that was once used as a church and now provides offices and a weekday ministry.

Turning Point has on its drawing board plans to construct a complex on the 4.5 acres of land that will reflect the church’s commitment to multiple languages. Separate multi-purpose auditoriums on either side will simultaneously offer worship in both languages. A proposed chapel in between the auditoriums will serve for weddings and celebrations.

And adjoining all the buildings is expected to be a plaza where the sultry year-round Miami temperatures can be enjoyed with a fountain designed to accommodate baptisms.

The baptismal fountain will be “the point of unity for the two congregations because we want them to understand that we are one church unified around the hope of a life transformed,” Lozano said.

The proposed multi-purpose usage of the buildings will provide activities for elders, children and teens. For the past two years, the church offered a children’s summer camp program as an affordable option for working parents.

Seventy percent of the congregation meets in 27 “family groups” once a week to share the word of God. The groups are “the backbone of the church,” Lozano said, where mission and evangelistic projects are conceived and carried out.

Church members have distributed 10,000 tracts to the community and regularly hand out water in parks, soccer fields and other outdoor sites where Miami families gather.

God opened doors for ministry to the 14,000 students at Braddock High School where the church meets each week. This ministry will continue even after they build their new building, said Rodriguez, who serves on the EESAC school advisory committee.

The church donated dictionaries when the language department was in need; held a celebration dinner after the basketball team made the playoffs and prepared food boxes for needy families during Thanksgiving and Christmas.

”We believe it is no accident that God has placed us here. Just the fact we have this land and a vision to reach out to the community is by divine appointment,” Rodriguez said.

Emanuel Roque, strategist of Florida Baptists’ leadership development team, and Julio Piñera, church planting missionary, have worked closely with the church as they developed their strategy to merge the congregations and impact their community.

Roque credited the pastors as being “servant leaders, who model what they teach. They love and continuously grow in understanding and relating to their mission field, while passionately and continuously reminding the church why God placed them in it.

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