Going to Sow: Bilingual Handbook for New Church Developments
The following essay is excerpted from the section titled “Stories: Fast Developing New Churches” in Handbook for Hispanic/Latino New Church Development: Going to Sow. Order now • PDS # 27508-09-001
El Buen Pastor Presbyterian Church, Winston-Salem, N.C.
by the Rev. Rosa Blanca González
El Buen Pastor in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, is a New Church Development that developed from the prayer, vision, and commitment to God from a group of leaders in Salem Presbytery in response to significant growth of the Hispanic/Latino population in the area.
After identifying the area of the city with the highest Hispanic/Latino concentration, there was a need to become familiar with the population in order to develop a relevant and pertinent strategy. From where are the people coming? What are their living conditions? Are they families or adults only? What is the average age? Are they new immigrants or first-generation? What is their level of education? What is their religious background? What are their most urgent needs? What are their hopes and dreams?
The time and effort invested was worthwhile not only because it permitted us to get to know the community, but also because it gave the community a chance to get to know us. We were able to earn the confidence of some families from the community, consisting mostly of new immigrants.
The “Misión,” as we affectionately call it, opened its doors for the first time by offering a program of recreation and sports for the boys and girls in the community. The program received invaluable support from volunteers from local Presbyterian churches and from university students. At that time, our objective was for the children to spend time in recreational activities and to identify this space as a place of safety.
As a result of opening our doors to the group of boys and girls, the families began opening their doors to us, permitting us to initiate dialogue with the parents and other family members. The daily encounters and the constancy were fundamental at this time. Yet as the months passed, the adults did not feel confident to enter the premises of the church; nonetheless, they knew that here they could count on help and support.
With the trust of a committee that had vision and a commitment to the work, along with strong support from Salem Presbytery, which had earmarked a facility specifically for Hispanic/Latino ministry in this area, the recreation program was modified in order to respond to the needs of the community for a major emphasis on education. At this time, a better-structured tutoring program was organized, with flexibility and spontaneity retained in order to remain relevant.
To date this program relies on more than 100 volunteers from local Presbyterian churches and other denominations, university students, and others from the community. The volunteers have committed to helping us once or twice a week, sharing their time, gifts, talents, patience, and love with these children. The program operates Monday through Thursday for two hours and serves approximately 55 boys and girls from the community. The first hour is dedicated to homework and to reinforcement of reading, writing, and mathematics skills. In the second hour, we have a devotional time, plus recreational, cultural, and sports activities. Programs of cooperating nonprofit organizations that enrich the lives of the families have been incorporated into that second hour.
At this point, the challenge was how to engage the parents in the education of their children despite the barriers. Workshops and counseling for mothers were natural elements that allowed us to establish closer relations and mutual commitment. Likewise, we sought ways to establish more effective communication with the appropriate representative at the school the children attend. When the parents expressed interest in learning English, we began offering this service. Direct exchange between the volunteers and the children helped us establish relationships with the families, and the volunteers became aware firsthand of the challenges, difficulties, and injustices that are part of the lives of new immigrants.
The support, as well as the constant love and unselfishness, that the volunteers have offered the families has had a positive impact in the Latino community in the area, which today presents a more human and compassionate face, especially from the local Presbyterian churches. The involvement of laity and pastors from local Presbyterian churches in the steering committee has been vital for the ministry, giving voice to the challenges and differences involved in service and ministry to this specific Latino community. Their work has built bridges of understanding and compromise between the Presbyterian churches of the city that support the “Misión.”
Two years ago, we created El Buen Pastor Latino Community Services, a nonprofit organization, which was formed to organize and provide the programs that the community had identified as necessary and to be able to apply for financial resources that religious organizations could not access.
For two years and after four or five failed attempts to begin Sunday services, we finally held our first worship service, on Palm Sunday 2004, with three families attending. A significant group of boys and girls who participated in the tutoring program expressed a desire to attend on Sundays also, so for one year we provided transportation for them. Little by little, the parents began to come. Since then the group had steadily grown. Now 48 families regularly attend worship services. The sense of being a community of faith has grown little by little, and we remain intentional about it: we are a family in Christ Jesus.
The experience of accompanying these families who are looking for a personal relationship with God and seeing how the Lord has transformed their lives has been a blessing. Today we can give testimony that the work belongs to God alone and that we are God’s servants.
Approximately 98 percent of the adults in the congregation are new believers. Recently we have identified persons who have committed to prepare themselves to serve as leaders. At the same time, we are taking steps toward preparing teachers who can assist with the more than 75 children who attend each Sunday.
The mobility and instability in this community is high. Each year we lose four or five families who must move to another location within or outside the United States for different reasons, principally for the possibility of more economic stability. Moreover, the majority of families are low-income, with an average of three children, and they send money to their families in their country of origin.
An important challenge has been learning to give the offering and not to “give alms.” Still, the goals are being achieved, but there is much to do to achieve financial self-sufficiency. However, ownership is evident in the families’ great willingness to contribute their gifts and talents.
The work has not been easy because we are in an area of the country where the effort of the PC(USA) to reach the Latino population is new. The initial expectations were not consistent with the reality of what it means to start a ministry in this community. Slowly, and with the invaluable support of people who know the ministry firsthand, the presbytery has gained an understanding of the differences and challenges of working with this population.
At the same time, the pastoral work is intense because it goes hand in hand with a heavy load of social work. This is because there are many barriers that families of new immigrants have to overcome in their daily lives, such as: language, culture, the education system, the health system, differences in laws and rules of coexistence in community, and more recently, the constant fear of the possibility of facing family separation because of immigration raids. All of this is coupled with the continuing work to build bridges of respect, understanding, and a closer relationship between the two communities.
Moreover, it has become increasingly important to share information with the American Presbyterian community, whose members can help expose many of the myths that have been created about the immigrant Latino community. For the third year, the New Church Development, El Buen Pastor, has been granted financial support from the Office of Mission Grants of the General Assembly. Only by the grace of God have we exceeded the targets set forth in the initial commitment that allow for the renewal of the agreement and the assurance of the funds. However, it begs the question as to whether this two-page annual report is sufficient to share with this committee the wonderful and unpredictable ways in which God has transformed the lives of everyone whom God has set in this space that is fondly called “the Good Shepherd.” Once again, we extend a cordial invitation to the people reading this to visit and to experience firsthand a little of how much the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is being called upon to respond in fidelity to our Lord. Amen.