Are you missing out on what may be the greatest evangelistic harvest this country has ever seen?
That's what I'll always be called in my hometown. Translated literally from Cantonese, it means "foreign devil." Not a nice term, yet certainly less offensive in its native tongue. Despite being born and raised in Hong Kong as a missionary kid, I'll always be a gwailo because of my skin color. But for me, it's not just my race that makes me an outsider. There's another factor.
I don't speak the language.
Sure, I know a few words here and there—enough to get me around the bustling city. I even took three years of Mandarin in high school (though, at the time, it was virtually useless since most locals spoke Cantonese). But venture past "How much for the rice noodles with beef?"—in either dialect—and I'm as lost as an Idaho farmer in Manhattan.
I imagine that's how many Hispanics feel in the United States today. This isn't exactly the most obliging country when it comes to non-English speakers. But that hasn't stopped the Hispanic population from ballooning to unforeseen numbers. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Spanish-speaking citizens accounted for almost half of the nation's population growth between 2005 and 2006. There are now almost 45 million Hispanics in the U.S.—not counting the oft-debated illegal immigrants Congress apparently would rather ignore.
The church cannot take the same stance of inaction as those in the political arena. If we do, we'll be failing more than just the Great Commission; we'll be missing out on potentially the greatest harvest season this country has ever seen. When churches opt to ignore the influx of Hispanic newcomers in their own communities, they essentially close their storehouse doors, content with being only partially filled while the wheat lies in the fields ready for the scything. What a tragedy.
So how do we avoid this? How can you, as a pastor or ministry leader, help your congregation reach out to families and communities that speak only Spanish? That's one of the questions we try to answer this issue in our cover story, "Iglesia en América" (p. 30). We've highlighted several pastors around the country who have successfully started Hispanic services or churches. Often a Spanish-speaking congregation just needs a place to meet, and the solution lies in a more established church extending a welcome mat. Other times it's as simple as helping Hispanics within your own church with certain language and cultural barriers.
Don't think of our cover story as just a state of the union on the Hispanic church in America. Those can sometimes be stuffy and uninspiring. I'd rather hear motivating stories from those in the trenches making a difference—like these pastors. Some are Hispanic; others hardly know a word of Spanish but appointed pastors fluent in it. Some have churches of 30; others speak to thousands every week.
All are seeing lives changed. All are noticing a move of God among this "minority" group. And all are content to make this a people issue, not a social, economic or political one. After all, isn't that concept a little less foreign?
Marcus Yoars is the editor of Ministry Today.