By Allen Palmeri
CALIFORNIA—The Spanish Mission of California, which was planted on Mother’s Day, is beginning to stir sentimental feelings inside of Mauricio Vargas.
The longtime multi-cultural denominational worker in Missouri is reminiscing about 1989, when the Hispanic congregation of Jefferson City was born.
“We finished the service and everybody went outside to their cars,” Vargas said, describing a recent Sunday morning. “They usually stay 30 minutes hanging there. They tell me, ‘If we had a house, like a pastor’s house where we could go and sit down all afternoon, we would.’
“You see, that’s the way I began the church here in Jefferson City. They used to go to my house and then we would sit down there all afternoon. Right now we don’t have that.”
What the people do have is a strong desire to learn.
“They’re like a sponge right now,” said Ken McCune, who succeeded Vargas as Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) multi-cultural church planting strategist.
Since its inception May 10, the mission has baptized eight people and is averaging 45-60 attendees. Approximately 11-13 nationalities are represented, Vargas said. Homelands vary from El Salvador to Guatemala to Puerto Rico to Panama to Columbia to Mexico, among other places.
The mission has been meeting in the new Youth Worship Center of First Baptist Church, California.
“People are responding, and when they are like that you enjoy that,” Vargas said. “Every Sunday we have new people.”
About three-quarters of the people who attend are connected in one way or another to a local Cargill Value Added Meats plant. The turkey processing facility is one of four that the company owns in the United States; the others are in Dayton, Va.; Springdale, Ark.; and Waco, Texas. Total employment in those plants is around 6,200.
Vargas said that going back 18 years, Cargill has established and maintained a reputation as the No. 1 employer of Hispanics in Mid-Missouri. There are many keys to church growth coming out of the plant, he said, including church leaders visiting the plant and building relationships with employees who often bring their extended families to California.
“A lot of the leadership at Cargill is also Baptist leaders,” Vargas said. “Some of them are Baptist pastors. Cargill has always been open to work with the local congregations. In the past, Cargill has provided continuing education for the Hispanic leaders. Cargill has always opened the door for us to go and minister over there, especially with English as a Second Language. It makes our work a lot easier.”
Last December, Homero Gonzalez, music director for the Jefferson City Hispanic congregation, began leading Bible studies in California. He also would come every Saturday to practice music and every Sunday to lead music. Gonzalez, who is Mexican, was able to connect well with the flock.
“Homero is very soft-spoken, very humble,” McCune said. “He works well with people.”
Vargas, who serves as multi-cultural director for Concord Baptist Association, took it upon himself to make sure the new work prospered.
“My role has been to coach them, mentor them, work with them, and preach on Sundays,” he said, noting that his prayer is that God will bring a full-time pastor to the mission who will be able to service the entire community.
In April, First California was secured as a partner to go along with the association. Through the host church’s partnering church, Evangelical Church of the Word in Fajardo, Puerto Rico, an interim pastor, Eduardo Soto Padin, was lined up for six weeks of preaching that will end in mid-September. Before that, the mission did launch well in May with a special concert by a St. Louis musician and three baptisms. Five more converts were baptized Aug. 30.
“We have 10 people who are already Baptist believers,” Vargas said. “They will be the nucleus. So I see that we’re going to start with 18 in September.
“My hope is that we will be able to find the key leader to continue leading them. We need to find within the next four months a person who will lead them in 2010.”
Both Vargas and McCune agree that good signs are evident in that people are being converted and baptized.
“We do have a good nucleus,” Vargas said. “We have a good offering. They’re collecting about $1,500 a month. A lot of them are tithing.”