Across the country, from Comunidad Cristiana Internacional in Greenville, South Carolina, all the way to LifeHouse Church in Bakersfield, California, the Hispanic Church is growing rapidly. “In 1972, there were five Hispanic districts, including Puerto Rico,” says Rev. Dennis Rivera, director of the Assemblies of God Office of Hispanic Relations. “Now, in 2018, there are 14.” But as these pastors plant new ministries in new districts, many are confronting a critical obstacle to continued growth—a lack of financial support.
CEP’s Sara Garcia has spoken with dozens of pastors from emerging Hispanic ministries and recalls the familiar tone of frustration and distress in their voices. “People have called and said, ‘We’ve tried everywhere. We’re exhausted. We don’t know where else to go.’” Her husband, and CEP’s vice president/director of Hispanic Ministries, Rev. John Garcia remembers similar conversations with passionate leaders burdened by the weight of their financial struggles. “Financial situations are areas that tend to be a little fearful for all of us,” he admits. John and Sara recount some of their own experiences after 25 years as pastors. “We’ve been in their shoes,” says Sara. “But now, understanding investments and retirement makes a big difference.” John nods in agreement, then adds to her thought, “We get to walk with them through a process of self-discovery and show them how to improve,” he pauses to grin. “We remove the fear factor.”
Recognizing the call to support the Fellowship and the Kingdom, CEP developed a team that is uniquely prepared to equip Hispanic leaders and their ministries with the financial education and services necessary for growth. Alongside John and Sara Garcia, who entered a new season of ministry at CEP in 2014, the Hispanic Ministries team has grown to include Rev. Carlos Rivera, vice president and ministry consultant; Sarai Renteria, investment services specialist; and Dulce Barraza, loan services specialist. “Our team was specifically formed to answer the needs of the Hispanic districts,” Sarai explains. “We have the opportunity to be an avenue that breaks language and cultural barriers as these districts and their members work towards obtaining loans, investments, or resources for their communities.”
On top of their shared culture, each member of CEP’s Hispanic Ministries team brings personal expertise to strengthen the Hispanic districts. Dulce, who joined CEP in August of 2016, offers knowledge acquired through her bachelor’s degree in finance. Across the office on CEP’s investment team, Sarai brings added insight with her own bachelor’s in business administration with a focus on finance. “It’s awesome to know that what we do helps ministries grow and reach so many people,” says Dulce.
In addition, CEP’s team offers wisdom learned through their own pastoral careers. “I started pastoring when I was 21 years old, and I experienced the results of poor financial decisions and saw how they affected my church,” says Carlos. “That bitter experience led me to strengthen that area of my life through education. I’m in the process of finishing my master’s in business administration so I’m better able to serve fellow pastors.”
As CEP’s relationship with these districts deepens, the value of the Hispanic Ministries team extends far beyond a common heritage and language. Despite the many similarities within the Hispanic culture, districts and ministries in the Assemblies of God face new barriers to expansion every year. “In each district, God has raised up visionary leaders who have embraced the complex challenge of unifying a very multi-cultural, multi-national, and multi-generational Hispanic Church,” says Rev. Dennis Rivera. CEP’s Hispanic Ministries team is positioned to assist district leaders as they encounter these challenges and endeavor to proclaim the Gospel. “We are truly a place of resource,” John states. “We work directly with all 14 Hispanic superintendents and give them an opportunity to share with us what their needs are and how CEP can better serve them.”
A Century and Counting
This year, the Hispanic districts celebrate 100 years since the Assemblies of God first organized Hispanic ministries. In anticipation of their upcoming anniversary, we are reminded of CEP’s vision for partnership with these ministries and our calling to support them. “CEP saw a need and was willing to fill the void,” says John. “The fact that our leadership was willing to move in that direction has allowed the Hispanic Ministries team to offer premier services in the language and culture that meets their needs in a positive relational approach.”
The Hispanic districts of the Assemblies of God grow stronger each year, and we rejoice with these brothers and sisters at the future impact God will bring through their efforts. “The Hispanic Church continues to build upon the rich legacy passed down to us and is empowering the next generation to effectively take the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the nations,” Rev. Dennis Rivera concludes. As we look ahead to the Hispanic Church’s next 100 years of growth, our team will seek out new opportunities for partnership to effectively and collectively spread Christ’s message of hope across the nation.