Vision for outreach characterizes Hispanic congregations
It began rather modestly more than 50 years ago thanks to a Reedley, Calif., chiropractor who grabbed hold of the vision for an outreach ministry to Hispanics living in the Central Valley. Today that outreach effort has grown into an association of 40 Mennonite Brethren Spanish-speaking churches that share the same vision: reaching neighborhoods and communities with the good news of Jesus Christ.
“Our churches exist to invite people to come to Jesus,” says Glorio Palacios, a member of Iglesia de Restauracion La Senda Antigua in Pacoima, Calif., a congregation that has been instrumental in planting six churches.
As early as 1910, California’s large and diverse agricultural enterprises drew laborers from Mexico. The work was seasonal. Some workers returned to Mexico when the harvest was completed, while others moved from area to area, following the crops. Many settled into communities like Reedley and Dinuba and raised their families. The 1960 California census indicates that residents with Hispanic surnames numbered 1,500,000.
In 1950, Reedley MB Church became “concerned about the spiritual welfare of the Mexican-American people in the surrounding community,” writes Ruby Dahl in her 1969 master’s thesis tracing the history of Spanish MB churches in the Central Valley. The church searched for Spanish-speaking workers and established a special fund, writes Dahl, but no one stepped forward to initiate the outreach effort.
Then in 1955, Reedley chiropractor Arnold W. Schlichting and his wife, Ann, took on the task. Their team from Reedley MB Church—a song leader, several Sunday school teachers and a pianist—distributed written Spanish invitations for a Sunday school to be held in a rented dance hall in nearby Parlier. The team was not deterred the first Sunday when the dance hall was empty; they still held a worship service. The following week the team offered transportation, but when the teachers and 15 children found the dance hall doors locked, they held Sunday school in the teachers’ cars.
From this beginning, Iglesia Fuente de Vida was born. By the end of the first year, the Parlier congregation had experienced at least one Sunday with an attendance of 130. As the congregation grew, others from RMBC participated, including Don Enns, a Reedley teacher who worked with the teens.
After serving the Parlier congregation for six years, Schlichting resigned due to poor health and the pastoral leadership was assumed by Henry Thomas, who with his wife was a former missionary to Mexico. Frank Rodriguez, Parlier’s assistant pastor, was later installed as the pastor.
Not one to be idle in retirement, Schlichting and his wife met with a group of Spanish-speaking children in the garage apartment of their Reedley home. When they outgrew that room, the group moved to the backyard and had Sunday school under a walnut tree. This was the beginning of Reedley’s El Faro Church.
In 1963, the El Faro church sent Don Enns, who with his wife had worked in the Parlier and Reedley churches, to work with a ministry started by Darlene Reimer, a schoolteacher in Orosi, Calif. The Orosi group met in Reimer’s front yard and then under a tree at another home before moving into a remodeled home in east Orosi. Sam Resendez served as assistant pastor, interpreting and leading the singing. Within a short time Orosi’s Templo La Paz had five Sunday school classes taught by Spanish-speaking teachers.
Also in 1963, Templo Calvario was planted when Dinuba MB Church, together with members of the Reedley and Orosi churches, began the first Hispanic Sunday school in Dinuba. Two years later, church planters went to Orange Cove, Calif., and Iglesia El Buen Pastor was established.
Schlichting next became interested in pursuing a ministry in the small town of Traver, south of Reedley. Since church planters were few, Schlichting went himself while also working with the Orange Cove congregation. His heart was in Traver, said Schlichting, but most of the time his body was in Orange Cove. The Traver church is today called Templo de Oracion.
Don Enns, the RMBC member who taught in the first Hispanic church and who continues to work with the ministry, says that the PDC Hispanic ministry grew as congregations planted daughter churches and the Mennonite Brethren adopted established Spanish-speaking congregations.
In 1987, the PDC Hispanic church leaders formed the Hispanic Ministries under the leadership of Juan F. Martinez, presently a faculty member at Fuller Theological Seminary. This group of 15 churches set their sights on having 30 participating member churches by 2000. In 1991, the Hispanic Council was formed and became an official body of the Pacific District Conference. The Council currently includes 40 congregations and holds the annual Convencion Hispana, drawing large numbers from congregations in Oregon and California.
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