When Southern District Conference minister Tim Sullivan first heard about a church plant in Milan, Missouri, that needed assistance with paperwork, he immediately offered to help, even though he knew little about the church.
As Sullivan discovered, Iglesia La Senda Antigua, planted in 2009, is one of seven daughter churches of Iglesia de Restauracion La Senda Antigua, a Pacific District Conference church in Pacoima, California.
The church in Milan needed help registering as a corporation in the state of Missouri, Sullivan says, and had reached out to Pastor Rafael Paz in Pacoima, who contacted pastor and PDC Hispanic council member Juan Wall, who connected the church with Sullivan based on his relative proximity to the church. Sullivan lives in Wichita, Kan.
Sullivan says although the church initially was not looking to join the USMB family, he still offered to help, and together, they successfully filed the paperwork.
Sullivan maintained communication, three times visiting Milan—a town with a population of 1,960 in the 2010 census.
“I think there’s a fairly significant migrant Hispanic population (in Milan) because of the packing plants and the agriculture in the area,” he says, adding that the congregation itself is comprised largely of Central American immigrants and holds its services in Spanish.
When Pastor Patrocinio Vicente moved to Milan, a group of brothers talked with him about starting a church in an unfinished building.
“I remembered the vision I had,” Vicente says in an email interview. “The church I saw was not completely finished, but it was half-way built. Then I called my pastor, Rafael Paz, from California. He told me that the church would buy this building.”
Four individuals worked to finish the building.
“It was difficult, but we were dedicated to finish the church for God,” Vicente says. “After nine months of dedication to build the church, it was opened up in August 2010.”
Connecting with the SDC
Sullivan invited the congregation to the SDC convention in Wichita, Kan., in July 2017. About 20 adults and children came.
“What I enjoyed this last summer in the Southern District Conference was that I was able to know other pastors from the Southern District,” Vicente says. “I also enjoyed testimonies from the preachers that day. Also, I learned how to be a better leader in the church from the advice they gave.”
At the end of the convention, Vicente told Sullivan he wanted his church to be part of the USMB family.
“I have heard great testimony from the Mennonite Brethren,” Vicente says. “Our general pastor, Rafael Paz, told us how many blessings they have received when they joined.”
The church is working through the application process, functioning as a member of the SDC, although without voting privileges. The congregation is expected to be formally received as a member at the 2019 SDC convention.
Sullivan says the prospect of engaging with the church in Milan is exciting but will also provide challenges.
“It’s going to be challenging because we don’t have any churches that are really within any real relating distance,” he says. “(Pastor Vicente) and his wife both work full-time jobs. Building connections and networks is going to be tougher.”
The SDC has another church in Missouri—Watershed in Kansas City, and one Hispanic congregation—Templo Betania in Ulysses, Kan.
The church in Milan will bring vitality and a richness of culture to the SDC.
“They bring in enthusiasm and a deep, deep love for Jesus, for the Word of God, for living faithfully,” Sullivan says. “They bring a richness. The Ethiopian churches are a bit the same way in terms of being more attuned to visions and dreams and spiritual warfare. That’s stuff that I think we can learn and benefit from.”
Expanding the family
The church in Milan is just one of seven churches planted by Pastor Paz and the mother church, which began in Pacoima in 1990 and has an attendance of 250.
Two daughter churches are USMB members: Iglesia De Restauracion La Senda Antigua in Lancaster, Calif., planted in 2008 and pastored by David Galdamez; and Iglesia De Restauracion La Senda Antigua, in Bakersfield, Calif., planted in 2013 and pastored by Victor Alonzo.
Additional church plants are located in Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico; Villa Nueva, Guatemala and El Salvador.
“My vision (for church-planting) is to win souls for the Kingdom of God,” Paz says in an email interview translated from Spanish, adding that church planters are selected from the leaders who preach weekly in homes, who then undergo leadership training.
Paz says the mother and daughter churches stay connected.
“I visit them and preach periodically in each of the churches,” he says. “I also send leaders to preach in each one of the churches. We have a unified service once a year. And we get all of the churches together to celebrate baptisms.”