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Who lives in the cities? ‘Etniciudad’ looks at ethnics in Miami from a Latin perspective

By Barbara Denman and Joni Hannigan

April 5, 2013


HIALEAH (FBC/FBW)—A national conference hosted by the Florida Baptist Convention in Spanish and English brought International Mission Board and North American Mission Board specialists to one of America’s largest cities for a focused conference on moving past common traffic patterns, comfort zones and language barriers to reach all peoples for Christ.


Miami, one of NAMB’s SEND Cities, was the site of the two-day conference “Etniciudad,” or “Ethnicity” in English, that challenged more than 100 registered participants to reach the nations within their cities. The group was urged to focus on the diverse and spiritual needs of the city and their role in fulfilling the Great Commission.


Throughout the conference, held at the Convention’s Urban Impact Center in Hialeah Feb. 28-March 1, participants were challenged to look at their neighbors, their communities, and those they encountered in their daily routines to see the ethnic diversity of their city. The meeting drew participants from as far as Washington State, Tennessee, New Jersey, Venezuela, and Uruguay.


Terry Sharp, IMB lead strategist for state and association relations, said the meeting reflected the “heart of Florida Baptists and Al Fernandez in its “desire to do this in Spanish so pastors can see how important it is for ethnics to reach ethnics.” Fernandez is the lead strategist of the Florida Baptist church planting group.


Miami is the gateway to the Americas, Sharp said. “God is bringing the world to our shores. Many of the refugees come from closed countries restricted to the Gospel” and can take the Gospel to their homeland when they are reached in the States.


Fernandez believes the event can pay dividends in the future. “Many of the Hispanic pastors that attended were confronted with the reality that God holds them responsible for reaching everyone with Gospel in their respective communities not just Spanish speakers. The question is what are they planning to do with this new knowledge?”


He hopes that the conference will spur an awareness of reaching the second generation Hispanics living among them, the “‘2 Gen Hispanic’ that are fastest growing people group in USA in their native language of English,” Fernandez said


Beginning the two-day conference, Elbert Smith, director of IMB Field Personnel Orientation Department, presented a Biblical context of the cities to the church leaders. Speaking in Spanish, he told the group, “God has a perfect plan and an exclusive plan for the churches of Florida.”


Smith urged the leaders to see the “opportunities” in the state where 3.5 million Hispanics live, the third largest number of Hispanics in the nation.


While moral crises plaguing the city of Miami—drugs, physical abuse and abortions—often creates despair among Christian leaders; Smith assured them that a “Holy God” can overcome immorality. He reminded them of the corruption faced by the prophet Isaiah during the reign of King Uzziah and how a Holy God prevailed.


“What is impossible to us is possible to God,” Smith said. “God has called us to this place, not just to the city but to the nation.”


The former missionary to Guatemala and other Latino nations reviewed the Biblical concept of multiplication found in both the Old and New Testament as evidenced in Genesis, through Jacob and Jeremiah; and Mark 4:14-20 and 2 Tim. 2:2. “Without multiplication, you cannot obey the Great Commission,” he said.


God demonstrated passion for the cities, Smith contends, “God’s focus is on multiplication, a strategy of God woven from the Garden to the City of God” found in Revelations.


References to the city can be found beginning in Genesis 10; through the story of Jonah, and as Jesus wept for the city in Luke 19:14. He also referred to Paul’s missionary journeys as he took the Gospel to the major cities of his day. “Without multiplication this would be impossible,” said Smith. Paul trained others to reach “every nation in every tongue; focus on every neighbor; focus on teaching everybody,” Smith said.


A native of Seoul, Korea, Ghiwang Shin, Strategist at IMB Connecting, told of the opportunities available to Florida Baptists to reach the Korean population in America, where two million have immigrated through the Korean Diaspora. A native Korean speaker, Shin addressed participants in English which was translated into Spanish for the predominantly Spanish-speaking conference.


Shin said the IMB has mobilized to reach the Korean population in the past 10 years. The number of Korean Southern Baptist churches has increased from 20 congregations in 1975 to 834 today. In the U.S. there are 4,075 congregations of all denominations reaching out to Koreans.


In a breakout session, Pastor Russell Johnson shared in English how he started the International Bible Baptist Church in Miami in 1988, a congregation that communicates bilingually in Spanish and English, a rare concept two decades ago. “Our goal is to start a multi-languages, multi culture and multi-generational church.”


He decried that with 186 languages spoken in homes of children in the Miami school system, Miami Baptists reach only 12 languages, and called for repentance.


During the seminar he shared tips and suggestions for churches that are considering starting a second generation church for English speaking Hispanics.


A challenge for Hispanics is “they are not used to thinking beyond their own churches,” especially second generation Hispanics, Johnson said, and “just reaching their own population.”


In another seminar, Miami pastors shared about using non-traditional methods in the urban setting.


Reaching multinationals in a multigenerational and multilingual congregation, Turning Point Church in Kendall endeavors to reach the “whole family” – according to Jorge Rodriguez, co-pastor. In an upper middle-class neighborhood where an estimated 87 percent of the population is Hispanic, Turning Point accommodates first, second and third generations of families, many who live in the same home.


Describing Turning Point as “just one church with two languages,” Rodriguez, who immigrated to the States from Cuba at age 9, said each Sunday he begins worship preaching in English. Following there is a joint time of bilingual worship with the Lord’s Supper, announcements, baby dedications and greetings. Then Noel Lozano, the other co-pastor from Cuba who arrived in the U.S. at age 19, preaches in Spanish. People feel free to come and go throughout the 10 a.m.-noon service.


“The purpose is to reach everyone,” Rodriguez notes, pointing out that leaders lead the entire church—including deacons, ushers, and teachers. “We are one church that speaks two languages. In Miami there is such great diversity, wherever you go. If you want to accomplish the Great Commission, you must preach to everybody.”


Pablo Miret, a pastor and also the general director of Unavision Radio 1450 AM in Miami, said he began small groups in homes about three years ago in order to accomplish the Great Commission. “Our purpose is that people may be able to understand the message of God,” Miret said.


Different churches mean different things, he said, but small groups have one purpose, “to make disciples,” said Miret, who planted Discipulos de Cristo in Miami Lakes.


Miret said the church now includes about 30-40 small groups with 3-12 people who meet in homes.


In another session, Alex Comesanas, NAMB city coordinator for SEND Miami, acquainted mostly Hispanic participants with theological and methodological insights of planting new churches.


Conferees boarded a bus Friday to participate in an “urban mapping” exercise to observe people of various cultures who frequent areas of downtown Miami and Miami Beach (see related story).


The conference reminded participants of the Gospel imperative to reach people where they arefrom the biblical perspective of being a disciple of Christ and living out the Bible, according to Shin.


In the “postmodern” world Shin told Florida Baptist Witness there is a new approach from previous indepth interfaith witness training that may have led some to be defensive about the differences between what Southern Baptists and others believe.


“It is important, but it’s not our first priority,” Shin said of interfaith witness. “To fully share the Gospel, that is first. There is not enough time to share with those people out there.”


Sharp said cross culture missionaries are aware of the importance of understanding the worldview of other people to build bridges of understanding, but the focus remains on sharing the Gospel.


“We have to make sure that we clearly understanding the Gospel and articulate the Gospel,” Sharp said.

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