July 3, 2002
WRIGHT CITY — Three Missouri churches, Twin Rivers Association in Wright City and the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) are taking a new approach in reaching Missouri’s growing Hispanic population with the Gospel.
Friendship Church of Mexico; First Baptist Church, Louisiana; and First Baptist Church, O’Fallon; along with Twin Rivers and the MBC have covenanted to call Luis Mendoza of Hannibal as a regional Hispanic pastor and church strategist. Mendoza, who began his new ministry July 1, affirmed the 2000 Baptist Faith & Message and the infallibility of the Bible as required by the covenant agreement. He is responsible for coordinating "the development and establishment of Hispanic churches in Mexico, Louisiana, O’Fallon and other cities in the region" and will lead the new congregations in discipleship training, according to the covenant.
"I would like to see some Spanish churches established in the next five, six, seven years," said Mendoza, who has already built one congregation — averaging about 25 in Sunday School attendance – that meets on Sunday afternoons and Wednesday nights at First Baptist, Louisiana.
Mendoza graduated in May from Hannibal-LaGrange College with a degree in business administration. While attending Hannibal-LaGrange he started Hispanic mission work in Louisiana, Mexico and Elsberry. He has also ministered in Milan, O’Fallon and overseas.
Mendoza and his wife, Judi, have three children, Jacob, 6, Caleb, 1, and Josiah, born June 26.
Jerry Field, MBC church planting coordinator, said this appears to be the first time that churches have joined forces to try a regional approach in reaching an ethnic group.
"There’s not anything in the state quite like this. I am an extremely pleased and gratified and satisfied guy," he said.
The idea started when Mendoza began Hispanic mission work in Mexico in January, Field said. He had already been successfully doing Hispanic work in Louisiana under the direction of Earl Wood, pastor of First Baptist, Louisiana, and in Elsberry and Hannibal. During this time, Craig Stevens, pastor of Friendship Church, became acquainted with Mendoza. Stevens, Mendoza, Field and Mauricio Vargas, MBC church planting consultant, met and discussed the idea of a regional pastor. The idea grew from there and the group met June 19 at the Twin Rivers Association office in Wright City to finalize and sign the covenant agreement.
Signing the agreement were Field, Wood, Stevens, Vargas, Tim Lucas, MBC east central team leader, Charles Woods, Twin-Rivers director of missions, Steve Easterwood, Twin-Rivers missions committee chairman , Lee Sanders, First Church, O’Fallon, and Mike Bronson, associate pastor, First Church, Louisiana.
"Funding for the salary package was one of the main difficulties to overcome," Bronson said. "The group began piecing together money from various sources. Funding is coming from the participating churches, the association, the MBC and the North American Mission Board."
Bronson said the group is still seeking ongoing sources for funding. Anyone interested in participating may call Stevens at (573) 581-4038. All accounting will be funneled through Friendship Church.
"One concern of the group was the possibility of Luis being pulled in too many different directions," Bronson explained.
As a result the group asked Stevens to supervise Mendoza for the first year. Subsequent supervisors will be decided at a future date.
"The key is that we all have the same heart and vision," Wood said. That heart and vision is to reach Missouri Hispanics with the Gospel, he added.
Hispanic ministry is a mission field that is expected to grow substantially in Missouri in the next 10 years. The population of Missouri Hispanics increased 92.2 percent from 1990 to 2000, according to the Office of Social and Economic Data Analysis in Columbia. All Missouri counties have at least some Hispanic population and the Hispanic population increased in 110 of 115 counties. Vargas said at least 250,000 Hispanics live in Missouri and that the Hispanic population will continue to grow here.
He also noted that not only is Missouri’s Hispanic population growing but so is the state’s ethnic population. Missouri’s ethnic population is currently at 845,600, according to the 2000 census. That figure is projected to grow to 933,800 by 2007, or about 16 percent of the state population.
Vargas said 15 of the 33 Hispanics who surrendered to full-time ministry at the Hispanic Crossover 2002 on June 9 are from the O’Fallon/St. Louis area (approximately 75 Hispanics made professions of faith in Christ during Crossover events).
The hope is that some of those called to full-time ministry will become leaders who can further develop the emerging Hispanic congregations in the state, he said.