SPRINGFIELD—In 10 years a group of Hispanic believers grew from a small group in Bible study at First Baptist Church here into a fully constituted Baptist church with 57 charter members representing 27 families.
On Feb. 12, the Casa de Oracion (Iglesia Cristiana Casa de Oracion) was organized as a church and formally applied to the Greene County Baptist Association for membership. The new church meets in facilities provided by Immanuel Baptist Church. Other than the venue, the Hispanic flock has received no outside financial help for the past 18 months. There are about 40 other Missouri Hispanic churches. Only a couple of those are financially self-supporting.
Mike Haynes, Greene County director of missions, brought the challenge to the church, charging them to be God-focused, people-conscious, and service-minded. He said God must be the only spectator in the church, with the rest being “players.”
In the 2000s the Hispanic population of Springfield and Greene County grew from 2,500 to 7,000. The new congregation is made up of about 60 percent from Mexico, 20 percent from Central America (El Salvador, Honduras, Dominican Republic and Guatemala) and 20 percent from South America (Ecuador, Chile, Venezuela).
The group began with a Bible study led by Samuel and Judith Gonzalez. They began with six non-Christian guests who were guided to a relationship with Jesus. These new believers invited their family and friends. In 2003, First Springfield named Misael Gonzalez, son of Samuel and Judith, as bi-vocational minister. Under his leadership, the group grew to 40 members. In 2005, recognizing the need for a full-time pastor, the group called Hazael Rodriguez, the current pastor.
Rodriguez was born in Michoacan, Mexico. He and his wife, Maria, have two children. He studied theology in Guadalajara, Mexico, and in 1990 worked for the Mexico National Convention as National Youth Director. In Mexico he also served as a pastor, a director of Baptist dormitories, and a minister of missions.
Since Rodriguez became pastor, the church has continued to grow with a total of 67 people being baptized. Average attendance in Sunday worship services has grown to more than 125.
In 2009, the congregation had outgrown facilities available at First Baptist. Immanuel Baptist offered free use of its original building. It has proved to be most adequate for the church and allows room for growth.
Betzabe Rodriguez leads the children’s ministries with 20-30 children in two classrooms. A group of teens meet in the basement on Sundays. That area is used on Fridays for “family night” with activities for all members of the family.
From the beginning, this congregation has been mission-minded. They have regularly and generously given to the association and to the Cooperative Program. They also support a missionary couple in Nicaragua, Chris and Barry Lydon. Other families from the congregation have migrated back to their countries of origin and started new churches where there were none.
Jorge Tobar is the music director. He plays the keyboard, backed up by two guitars and drums along with three young lady vocalists. At the organizational service, he led the congregation of about 150 persons in enthusiastic singing in both English and Spanish.
Mauricio Vargas was the Missouri Baptists Convention leader in cultural ministries when this congregation began. He has since retired, and at the time of this service he was in El Salvador. He sent this message to the congregation: “I would like to congratulate Pastor Hazael Rodriguez and the church family for their dedication to the Lord’s Work. I want to congratulate the Casa de Oracion congregation and friends for being a light in Springfield and all the southwest part of the state.”
First Springfield Pastor Michael Overton led the prayer of dedication at the service.
“I have been so pleased with the ministry and mission of Casa de Oracion,” he said. “The church has been passionate about fulfilling the Great Commission locally and globally. The leadership has a heart for God. This local church has a bright future as it steps out in faith to be the body of Christ to their community and world.”
Other than worship and Bible Study the pastor and other church leaders serve the Hispanic population in their area through translation in court, music classes, a jail ministry, and helping with cultural assimilation. Though some members of the congregation have good jobs, employment is a major problem for many Hispanics due to their lack of education and not understanding English, along with the problems faced by everyone with the economic situation.
Pastor Rodriguez said that people outside their congregation can help them through prayer. They are praying for a building where they can worship and teach, as well as more trained leaders. They would welcome help from an adult or youth team with Vacation Bible School and other activities. Interested groups can contact Samuel Gonzalez at the Greene County Baptist Association for more information.