Spanish speakers face
challenges, opportunities in United States culture
By Isaac Olivarez (5/16/04)
Ebed Molina moved to
Fort Collins, Colo., from Chihuahua, Mexico, three years ago.
Though Molina held a steady job in Mexico as a specialist in digital
electronics, he made only the equivalent of $130 per week. For
two months, Molina and his wife, Patty, who have been married
since 1998, prayed before deciding to move to the United States
to seek a better life.
Despite knowing little
English, Molina obtained a work visa and found a job as an electrician.
Today he is a foreman for a well-known electrical company and
has passed each licensing test in English on his way to becoming
a fully licensed journeyman electrician. Molina also has obtained
a Social Security number and driver’s license, and he and
his wife began filling out paperwork last year to become U.S.
“God had a purpose
for us to come here so we could be workers in His church,”
says Molina, 36. Four years ago, the Molinas started attending
Templo Betel, a bilingual Assemblies of God church in Fort Collins,
and quickly became involved in the music and children’s
ministries. Molina says attending a bilingual church has helped
him make cultural adjustments as well as learn English.
The Molinas are just
two of more than 369,000 immigrants living in Colorado and 32.5
million who have made their way to the United States. Immigrants
now account for 11.5 percent of the population.
Though the arrival
of 1.5 million immigrants into the United States each year means
unprecedented opportunities for churches to fulfill the Great
Commission, the road to success for immigrants in America isn’t
always smoothly paved.
For the Molinas, the
transition has been trying at times — from negotiating rush-hour
traffic to trying to secure legal papers for residency. In January,
Patty gave birth to the couple’s first child, a daughter
The move has also been
an eye-opening experience spiritually for the Molinas, who attended
a Pentecostal church in Mexico.
“It has helped
me see the great need for God in this country,” Molina says.
“It makes me miss my cultural roots in Mexico, where people
are hungrier for God.”
Indeed, churches in
Spanish-speaking countries are experiencing unparalleled growth.
And Spanish-speaking churches in the United States are the fastest-growing
segment of the Assemblies of God, according to the 2002 Annual
Church Ministries Report. From 1992-2002, Hispanic growth accounted
for 51.5 percent of total growth in the United States A/G.
“God is sending
people to this country to be evangelized,” says Eduardo
Perez, 36, pastor of Centro Cristiano La Roca, an A/G church in
Anaheim, Calif. “If the church doesn’t do something
about reaching out more toward immigrants, we’ll see more
churches closing than opening.”
Perez immigrated to
the United States from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, in 1985. As a child,
Perez recalls living in a two-bedroom home with his family of
11. But his parents kicked him out of the house at age 17 after
he became a Christian. He decided to leave Mexico, because the
most he could make working was the equivalent of $20 a week. Perez
wound up moving in with a brother in Fullerton, Calif., where
he began attending an A/G church.
Centro Cristiano is
near a section of Anaheim called “Little Tijuana”
behind Disneyland where 99 percent of the population is Hispanic.
“They may not
always bring a lot of funds to the ministry, but we teach them
to serve God faithfully and give tithes,” says Perez, who
has been married since 1992 and finished his paperwork for permanent
resident status in 1995. “Then the church can extend its
Immigration shows no
signs of slowing. More than half of the 32.5 million foreign-born
living in the United States are from Latin America. A March Census
Bureau report projected the Hispanic population would be 102.6
million by 2050, accounting for nearly 25 percent of the total
A 2003 Gallup Poll
suggests attitudes toward immigrants may be shifting away from
an anti-foreigner sentiment. A decade earlier, 65 percent of Americans
wanted to see immigration decreased. Last year’s survey
found that 58 percent of the public believes immigration is beneficial
for the country.
“As more Americans
have the opportunity to become co-workers, neighbors and develop
a relationship with immigrants, they discover that they are a
blessing to this country,” says Scott Temple, intercultural
ministries director for the Assemblies of God.
President Bush drew
attention to the nation’s debate over immigration when he
proposed a new temporary-worker program in January. His plan matches
foreign workers with willing U.S. employers when no Americans
can be found to fill the jobs. The program would offer three-year,
renewable legal status to immigrants now employed in the United
States and to those in foreign countries who wish to participate
in the program and have job offers.
for a better life is one of the most basic desires of human beings,”
Bush said in a speech announcing the plan. “We must make
our immigration laws more rational, and more humane. And I believe
we can do so without jeopardizing the livelihoods of American
Jesse Miranda, commissioner
on ethnicity for the Assemblies of God, agrees. Miranda is a professor
at Vanguard University in Costa Mesa, Calif., and directs the
university’s Center for Urban Studies and Ethnic Leadership.
He sees the influx of immigrants into the United States as an
opportunity for the church to spread the gospel. And, he says,
the Bible is clear on how Christians should approach the issue.
“Jesus was an
immigrant and Abraham was an immigrant,” says Miranda, who
has served on presidential committees for President Clinton and
President Bush to address issues of immigration, religion and
the Hispanic culture in the United States. “The church has
a mandate through Scripture to embrace the stranger.”
If the church will
not see immigrants as a harvest field, Miranda wonders, where
else will these new members of our society go? Reaching out to
newcomers in the time of transition is crucial, Miranda says,
because they are looking for answers to all kinds of questions.
“We can either
receive them in church and have new converts with a new life in
Christ, or they will continue seeking happiness in materialism
and secularism,” Miranda says. “They think they come
for economics, but there’s a greater need and that’s
the gospel and the peace that only Jesus gives.”