Saltar al contenido

What a church needs to know if they want to minister to Hispanics in the U.S.

César Carhuachín
Associate Pastor, Hickory Grove Baptist Church, 
Latin American Campus, Charlotte, NC (2003)

A personal voice

In this presentation I want to mention my triple background: (1) I have been  raised in the poor and populous district of Rimac at Lima; (2) I have my pastoral experiences working with established churches and starting a new  church.  These urban ministries were at Lima, Perú;  Buenos Aires, Argentina and Charlotte, NC, and; (3) I have studied in several theological schools (baptists, catholic, interconfessional and methodist).[1]
I have four assumptions about this work: (1) an  anglo Church which a desire to minister to Hispanics “should know” certain basic things about them;[2] (2) “minister” is the pastoral action of the Church  in reference to the members as well as its area of  influence in the city and outerskirts, reaching out to the spiritual and social needs;[3] (3) the category “latinos” refers to the Latin American Immigrants in the US and their descendants;[4] (4) the pastoral methodology used most adequately has been presented in the Medellín Conference in 1968, which has three stages: see, judge and act.[5]
My work has the purpose of exposing the multidimensional situation that the Latin Americans in the US face every day, to think about it and propose a way to minister them in US.

I.     The reality of the Latin Americans in the US.  (to see)
In this first part of this work I present the situation of the Latinos and I try to answer why they are in the U.S.A.  Jesus said: “I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen.  I must bring them also.  They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd” (John. 10,16).

A. Migrating Conditions.  The Department of Immigration of US had developed a different policy for the Latin American countries as opposed to the European countries.  We have received a more restrictive treatment as immigrants than Europeans.  Within the Latin American countries, Cuba has received a more favorable treatment as compared to other countries.  The reasons why Latin Americans migrate to the US include: (1) economical problems; (2) political reasons; (3) family-related issues; (4) study-related issues; (5) working conditions.

“We had a family from Mexico in our Church that came  to the US in order to save enough money to build a house  in Mexico.  After working hard for three years they have returned to Mexico and now live in their own house”. 
       Although we have had several similar situations in our church, it is certain that many people migrate to the US for the reasons mentioned above, but they decide to remain in this country.

B. Working Conditions.  Without doubt, the number one social reason why Latin Americans migrate to the US is to find a job.  Far from realizing the “American Dream”, for many years the Hispanics have worked doing jobs that the people from the U.S.A. are not willing to do.  These types of jobs include construction, gardening, house cleaning, restaurant sanitation, harvesting, etc.  They suffer in abusive situations due to language barriers and immigration policy.  
       They receive a higher demand in work production yet receive the lower end in salary.  For these reasons, their economical stability is not very solid. In addition, their moral responsibility of sending money to their family in her/his country of origin and the need to save money in order to buy a home.  This socio-economic experience makes worse their work condition. 
“Long time ago I talked the father of a household that had  worked for three weeks and had not received his pay. The reasons his supervisor gave, a contractor, was that he did  not have any money, yet the owners of the company had confirmed that they had paid him for his services”.  
       This type of abuse in the workplace is very common within Hispanic immigrants.  It is done for Anglos and Latinos people
C.  Legal Conditions.  The legal migration situation of the majority of the Hispanics is irregular, reaching almost 66% of the Hispanic population in the US. In other words, more than half of the Hispanic population lives in the US without a legal residence visa. In addition, there is a large number of Hispanics that live and work with “crooked” or false Social Security numbers. In many cases, the social number is false but the document is authentic. In other cases, they use someone else´s Social Security number or the number of a deceased person.  
They also drive their cars without a valid Drivers License and without insurance. The legal way out for employment and financial standing for many without legal residency has been with the ID Tax Number (W-7).
“When I arrived at Charlotte I spent several days at a Hispanic´s family apartment.  One day as I was sitting at the porch entrance a guy approached me in a car and asked if I was new to the area.  When I said yes, he then  proceeded to offer me a Driver’s License for $ 100 dollars, a Social Security Card with a number for $ 300 and a Green Card $ 600 dollars”.
D.  Educational Conditions.  The educational experience for the Hispanics in the US is the most critical in the nation. According to the 2000 Census, the Hispanics represent the largest ethnic group for High School dropouts.  Reasons vary from premature births, the desire to have money, lack of motivation and the undermining of education. Consequently, the Hispanics find themselves in first place in ethnic groups not entering Universities. Although various Hispanics exist in the educational realm, the future of the Hispanic community is alarming in respects to education.
 “With great sorrow I have had to pastor youth ages 14, 15, 16, 17 that have abandoned their studies with hopes of working in construction in order to have money. They do not find enough strong reasons to return to school”.
E. Psycho-spiritual Conditions.  I believe this is the poorest dimension among the Latinos.  Low self-esteem is a common feeling. They need to be loved and understand that God loves them and accepts them with or without legal documentation. They need to be freed of guilt imposed by some religious groups that affirm that breaking Immigration laws is equivalent to breaking God´s law. 
       They need a group differing groups for their needs of “belonging”, of “family”, of “motivation”, of being “appreciated”, of “sense” and “purpose in their lives”. Having come from countries that are Roman Catholic they live with a traditional religious mindset seeing themselves “without a need for a Church”. A great number of them have hearts open to the gospel. 
“I recall visiting a family that had recently relocated to the Charlotte area. When speaking with the mother of the Children, I stated: God loves you. And God loves you because you are important. God has a plan for your life and for your family. Her eyes swelled up in tears and she did thank me for my words”. 
       Obviously these five conditions mentioned above are not exhaustive.  I only want to state that it is necessary to see “to whom” and “with whom” we want to share the gospel to. I am certain that the conditions can be amplified and extended.

II.    Current problems of the Hispanics in the U.S.  (to judge)
This second portion has the purpose of reflecting over the social and spiritual situation of the hispanics in the US.  Jesus said: “But I tell you, take a good look at the fields; the crops are now ripe and ready to be harvested!” (John. 4,35)

A. Difficulties in understanding the differences among latins who come to the U.S.A.   In general, there are more than 21 Latin American nations and with each one of them exist particular traditions that distinguishes one from another. These differences are evident if you try to group them.  There is not only one Hispanic culture, but many Hispanic cultures with different practices, believes and attitudes.  This is evident in the food, music, clothe, accent, talk style, etc. 
“On a certain occasion I was asked from what part of  Mexico I was from. I stated that I had never been to Mexico. I was then asked how I had learned Spanish. I said: “I was from Peru and we speak Spanish also”.
B.  Human rights abused by those who have political power, economical and cultural. In these last years, it is evident that the politicians use Hispanics as an important ethnic group in order to gain millions of votes.  The associations for this purpose include persons from Hollywood, musicians and religious leaders.  
       Currently, hundreds of companies and agencies in the US have as their objective to service millions of Hispanics because they know it is a huge market.  Yet there have been no proposals toward resolving the social problems that they suffer when taken advantage of. It is a shame to say that within the same Hispanic community some have taken advantage of other Hispanics that are illegal making having them work with only a partial payment or without pay.  And as if that were no enough, if they do not speak English they find themselves at a disadvantage in defending themselves.
“In a conversation, a brother told me with great joy: “Pastor,  in some markets they love the Hispanics.  There is a big sign that states “Hispanics are welcome”.  It is evident that for the businesses, clients that mostly pay with cash are very welcome. But if you are having problems with your documents, you are surely not to be hired”.

C. Uncertain future in leadership.  The Hispanic community has a need of leaders committed with the total development with their family problems, and with affective, legal and social economical problems also. In other words, we need leadership that are interested and involve in the struggles of organizations and institutions that work to improve the level of the live conditions in which the Hispanics live. 
       Currently many leaders take advantage of their votes for a political position.  Others take advantage of their needs such as the attainment of the W-7.  In many cases, the problems that Hispanics face become opportunities for some Hispanic leaders to take advantage of in the social, economical and political realm. 
“A month ago I spoke to a family of 6, the parents and 4 children.  They had paid close to $ 2,000 dollars in order to receive orientation and services in completing the W-7 Form”.  “W-7 Form consist of 7 personal questions.  You may to have a copy in Spanish and send it by regular mail”.
D.  Fragility in the configuration in the family structure and its relationships.  If there is a most important point in the problems suffered by the Hispanics, it is the family structure. Marriages torn apart, children abandoned, infidelity within the couples, problems arising from alcohol abuse and drugs, are serious and alarming within the Hispanic community. It is evident that the majority of the families, personal and financial well-being overrides the families well-being, stability and the care of the children.  
“Over a year ago I talked a gentleman, head of household, that had been living here for 7 years.  He was married and had three children. In all of those years he had minimum two extra-marital relationships while his wife and children were in their country. He was faithful in attending Church. Although he knew it was not right, his defense was that his family in Mexico was in need for him to be here and send  them money”.
E. Lack of self-esteem and purpose in their lives.  The biggest spiritual need of the Hispanic community is lack self-esteem.   Many of them consider themselves to be unable to do some things and they see themselves less than the Americans because they do not speak English.  Others have careers in their countries yet here have other work with a low-paying salary.  Many of them do not have legal residency. The majority lives in constant worry and demands of daily life, living in fear that they may lose everything if they were to be deported. “Illegal Residency” is the cross that the Hispanics carry day after day.  Because of this, they do not have a purpose that transcends the immediate demands of the day. 
“Four years ago I received a survey prepared by a Hispanic pastor. On that survey he was asking pastors if we allowed illegal immigrants to be leaders. He also wanted to know if an illegal could be a deacon”. 
       If a church wants to minister to Latinos, she must understand that there is a multidimensional mission to do. A mission works that only touches the psycho-spiritual needs will fail to minister in the really whole needs.

III.   Current challenges for the churches in USA. (to act)
The purpose of this last part is to offer some suggestions in terms of pastoral activities for the churches that can help in bringing a global transformation in the life of the Latinos. Jesus said: “As the Father has sent me, I also send you” (John. 20,21).
A.  Develop a new Christian and Human perspective about the Hispanics. The Hispanics are immigrants and not illegal. Illegal is a term that is used by the US Immigration and Naturalization Department and is not a biblical one. Churches should focus in the overall needs of the Hispanics to whom they minister instead of their migratory status. Churches have to avoid the “illegal” word from their messages, statements and announcements and use other words like “immigrants”, and/or “undocumented”.
       Churches should engage in activities that promote multicultural integration in their worship services, deacons´ body, committees, etc.  Hispanics should be seen as “subjects” in the pastoral mission of the church and not as mere “objects” of it.  It is very important to develop the perspective of working “with” the Hispanics rather than working “for” the Hispanics.
B.  Respect the rights of the Hispanics to live with dignity and demand that respect from the US institutions.  Churches need expand their commitment toward the Hispanic community, from a mere spiritual one to a commitment to change their situation and the structures that keep them in disadvantaged situations in the society. Churches and Christian organizations alike, should support any political proposal that would make justice to the situation of millions of Hispanics in the US, such as amnesty, work permits, students visas, affordable medical services for people with low income or without US residency.  Also the right to receives the benefits of Social Security regardless if they are US citizens or not. 
C.  Promote high school and college education among the Hispanic community.  In conjunction with the previous point, churches need to support every effort that would allow Hispanics to go to college in spite of their residency status.  Also, churches need to motivate and support Hispanics to overcome any personal or financial obstacle that would prevent then for finishing school.  The Hispanic´s educational problem will be resolve in great sense with the migration problems resolution of the Hispanics.
D.  Work towards a better communication and strengthening of the new types of families of the XXI century. The pastoral work of the churches should a include a ministry to assist the Hispanics families in their most crucial needs like childcare, pastoral counseling (family violence, divorce, alcoholism and drugs abuse) and conferences for family enrichment.  Also, churches should work toward helping the families to achieve permanent changes in the husband and wife relationships (avoiding machismos), and parents and children relationships (violence).  These ministries would reshape future Latino generations and therefore future Latino churches.
E.  Ministering the gospel to the Hispanics in a solidarity practice in material aspects (solidarity in times of migration). Churches should implement ministries that can supply their most immediate needs such as clothing, food, furniture and health. Churches should guide their Hispanic missions to implement discipleship programs for children, youth and adults.  Latinos know very little about the Christian faith. Latinos are more nominal religious than daily followers of the teaching of Jesus Christ.  It is important to make a distinction between religiosity and a true faith experience, since is the church´s mission to guide them toward a personal relationship of faith with Jesus Christ.
            The big challenge for the church is work “with” Hispanics rather than working “for” the Hispanics.  It means to be involved in their daily problems that they face and include them in every stage of the work.  It means a fraternal instead of paternalistic attitude on the pastoral work.  The church will make it through her practice, message and attitude on a regular basis.

Some conclusions
       Working “with” Latinos/Hispanics in U.S.A. may be a great opportunity from God to change their life and not to growth numerously in your denomination only.[6]  You have to be aware that, America´s face is changing right now and the Christian face is suffering the same transformation.  This face is being multicultural.  A church for a new century has to see her in this sense to follow the movement in the whole nation today and then to reach Latinos.
       Minister to Latinos will include open your arms and budget, but open your heart and denominational structure also.  It may to mean review your cultural approach to the missionary work and add new ministries that you are not used to do.  This new mission adventure may enrich the church.  You may see yourself and experience a new revitalized church when you empower others.  Revival always means new life in the whole sense.
       Minister to Latinos is to be aware what the Church´s mission in the new century is reach out the international community in our own city and not going to some far countries only.  The world is inside of USA in the most full sense of the word.  There is an exodus of Latinos/Hispanic to different states in USA living in an exile experience.  They need to re-build their life and families, their cultures and values, their self-esteem and purpose for life.  You and your local church and denomination can do the difference on it if you share the gospel of Jesus Christ with them.
       There is no doubt that new spiritual life and new socio-economic level of life for Latinos in US goes through the Anglo community. The Christian Anglo community has opportunity to be a divine instrument to help to Latino community to make their dreams real, to have a brother and partner in the kingdom of God and empower the first minority ethnic group in America.


[1] I want to let you know some of my resources of my deliberative theology.  See: Howard W. Stone and James O. Duke, How to think theologically (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1996), chapter 1.
[2] Juan Gonzalez, Harvest of Empire, A History of Latinos in America (New York, NY: Penguin Group, 2000).
[3] Orlando Costas, La iglesia y su misión evangelizadora (Buenos Aires, Argentina: La Aurora, 1971) and C. René Padilla, Misión integral.  Ensayos sobre el reino y la iglesia (Buenos Aires, Argentina: Nueva Creación, 1986).
[4] See the noun «Hispano-americano”  used by Segovia to refer to the Latino inmigrants´s children.  See: Fernando F. Segovia, “Aliens in the Promised Land: The Manifest Destiny of U.S. Hispanic American Theology” in Hispanic/Latino Theology.  Chalenge and Promise, edited by Ada María Isasi-Díaz y Fernando F. Segovia (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1996),  pp. 15-16.
[5] CELAM.  Documentos finales de Medellín.  II Conferencia General del Episcopado Latinoamericano.  Medellín.  Setiembre de 1968 (Buenos Aires, Argentina: Ediciones Paulinas, 1971).   I have worked following that methology by planting a Hispanic Church in Charlotte, NC.  See: “Ministrando a la comunidad latina”, in El ministerio latino en USA.  Perspectivas teológicas y pastorales, edited by César G. Carhuachín (Charlotte, NC: International Minute Press, 2002),  pp. 117-123.
[6] Thomas B. Maston, Of One: A Study of Christian Principles and Race Relations (Atlanta, GA: Home Mission Board of Southern Baptist Convention 1946), 32-33 and The Conscience of A Christian (Waco, TX: Word Books Publishers, 1971), 118-119.  These principles may are applied to the ministry to the Latinos today.  Its include respect and trust them and to accept to them as full partners.

César Carhuachín es peruano-estadounidense. Es Presbítero de la Palabra y Sacramento de la Iglesia Presbiteriana, en Estados Unidos, y miembro del Presbiterio de Charlotte, Carolina del Norte. Es Doctor en Teología por la Pontificia Universidad Católica Argentina y Doctor en Ministerio por la Drew University, en New Jersey. Ha ejercido el ministerio en Perú, Argentina, Estados Unidos y Colombia. Actualmente es Trabajador en misión de la Oficina de Misiones Mundiales de la Iglesia Presbiteriana, sirviendo como Profesor de Biblia y Teología en el Programa de Teología de la Corporación Universitaria Reformada en Barranquilla, Colombia.

Nota: Este artículo fue subido a la página de la FTL el 19/02/2024.