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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

Backyard Mission Field

By John W. Kennedy
Aug. 28, 2011

When Mark and Nancy Fitzgerald returned at the end of 2007 to their native Oklahoma, they planned to itinerate for another term as Assemblies of God world missionaries in Mexico. Yet soon after arriving back in the Sooner state, the couple began feeling a particular empathy for Hispanics there.

Voters had just approved a tough law making it illegal for undocumented immigrants to obtain public assistance or government identification. Oklahoma citizens who aided undocumented workers with housing, transportation or employment faced felony charges.

“We didn’t have a heart for the undocumented over the documented,” Mark recalls. “We just have a heart for all Hispanics. We want to open our arms for newly arrived immigrants and long-term residents.”

“God gave us a burden to reach the Hispanics He was bringing to Oklahoma,” Nancy says. “We have to reach them while they are here. If they return to their home country, they’ll only make that country better. If they stay in the United States, it will only make the United States better.”

So, after serving 16 years as AG world missionaries in Mexico, the Fitzgeralds in 2008 transferred to AG U.S. Missions, specifically aimed at helping Latinos in Oklahoma. As AG Oklahoma District Spanish Ministries coordinators, the Fitzgeralds are helping to plant churches, establishing English as second language opportunities and assisting congregational leaders to reach Hispanics in their communities through evangelism.

Although they initially wondered why the Lord would redirect them after bountiful ministry elsewhere, heeding new ministry opportunities has become a way of life for the Fitzgeralds, who met at Woodlake AG in Tulsa and have been married 33 years. Mark managed a Christian radio station, served as an evangelist and pastored two churches in Oklahoma before the couple sensed God’s call to Mexico. They had never visited the nation before accepting the assignment there.

“The only Spanish words I knew at the time were taco and burrito,” says Mark, 53.

A year at the AG Spanish language school in Costa Rica fixed that.

While in Mexico, the Fitzgeralds helped establish 20 churches, three Bible schools and a Latin America ChildCare school for needy children. They worked with missionary teams in videotaping evangelistic outreaches for later TV broadcasts. They made DVDs for the national church in Mexico to be used for vacation Bible schools.

When they returned to Oklahoma City, the Fitzgeralds in essence continued the work they had carried out in Mexico: working with Hispanics to plant churches, holding evangelistic outreaches and opening Bible schools. The Fitzgeralds have done everything from conducting tent crusades featuring guest evangelists to distributing Light for the Lost New Testaments to new converts. But the focus of their ministry has been biblical training.

At the invitation of the AG Oklahoma District, the Fitzgeralds began a Spanish version of the existing School of Ministry in conjunction with Global University. This month, 60 students graduated from the school.

“Our largest goal is to come alongside Hispanics, stand with them, strengthen them and train them,” says Nancy, 50. “Our job is to raise up leaders to do the job better than we ever could.”

“To raise up churches, we must have workers,” Mark says.

As a couple, the Fitzgeralds know they alone cannot reach Oklahoma’s growing Hispanic population. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, Hispanics account for 8.9 percent of the state’s residents, including 15.1 percent in Oklahoma County, where the state capital is located and where the Fitzgeralds live.

“If we can befriend them and make them feel comfortable in one of our churches, they will become a part of us,” Mark says. “If we don’t, they will find someone else to fit in with, maybe someone who is worldly.”

Ministers and laypeople already immersed in the Latino culture are best able to relate to the newly arrived immigrants who are eager to form relationships, the missionaries say.

The Spanish School of Ministry offers three levels of study for men and women seeking credentials as pastors and lay leaders of churches. A total of 125 students have enrolled in Oklahoma City, where the Fitzgeralds are based, as well as in extension schools in Tulsa to the east and Clinton to the west.

When the Fitzgeralds began the Spanish School of Ministry nearly three years ago, only three Hispanic congregations existed in the AG Oklahoma District. Now there are 20. There are a total of 33 preaching points in places such as Yukon, Owasso, El Reno, Idabel, Chickasha and Anadarko.

“God has called us to do this, but He has given us wonderful pastor-leaders,” Nancy says. “That is the secret to growth.”

One of those leaders is Robert Favela, who is a pastor of three churches as well as director of the extension school in Clinton. Favela says he met Mark at a church service in Oklahoma City. Favela later telephoned Mark to ask for prayer for his hospitalized son.

Fitzgerald prayed for Favela’s son on three different occasions — in person. That Fitzgerald would drive 75 miles to Clinton to visit an unknown relative of someone he just met left an impression on Favela.

“I’ve learned by his example to take time to help people, even though I am busy,” Favela says. “Mark and Nancy have a tremendous love for people, whatever their race. This couple has injected me with a passion for the lost souls that don’t know Jesus.”

AG Oklahoma District Superintendent Frank Cargill, who has known the Fitzgeralds for more than two decades, says the number of Spanish-speaking Christians in the state has multiplied in large part due to the ministry efforts of the missionaries who previously served in Mexico.

“They have an unquenchable thirst to expand the kingdom of God, specifically among the Spanish-speaking people,” Cargill says. “Mexico has come to Oklahoma.”

Cargill notes that the couple’s two children are active in ministry in the Oklahoma City area. Son Mitch and his wife, Esther, are pastors of Connection Church in Blanchard. Daughter Angela and her husband, Sergio Medina, are pastors of the Hispanic congregation that is a part of Crossroads Church in Oklahoma City.

Meanwhile, Mark and Nancy Fitzgerald believe their 16 years in Mexico served as a training ground for the fruitful harvest that awaited them in Oklahoma.

“We’re trying to keep up with what God is doing,” Nancy says.

“We must reach all the Hispanics of Oklahoma,” Mark adds. “Until then, we still have a job to do.”

JOHN W. KENNEDY is news editor of the Pentecostal Evangel.

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