CALIFORNIA – “Daniel and Claudia (Puerto) are up and coming leaders,” said Ken McCune, multicultural church planting missionary strategist for the Missouri Baptist Convention.
“In addition to their work in California, Missouri, Daniel teaches CLD (Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students), is a student at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and he will be going with First Baptist Church, California, to El Salvador on a mission trip this summer.”
Daniel Puerto, 24, came to the United States from Honduras in 2006, to attend Rio Grande Bible Institute in Edinburg, Texas. In 2010, he was called to California, Mo., as part of his practical training to help with First Baptist Church’s new Hispanic church plant.
“After a year here, Pastor Greg Morrow of FBC California talked to me about staying here and furthering the mission and I said yes,” Puerto said.
The church, which is called Iglesia Hispana Vida Nueva en Cristo, or Our New Life in Christ Hispanic Church, will celebrate its three-year anniversary in May.
“It has been a blessing for us to be here and certainly a learning experience,” Puerto said.
During his time as pastor, Vida Nueva has organized several coed volleyball tournaments, planned youth soccer activities and visited with people door to door.
“It’s amazing what God can do and what relationships can be built through sports,” Puerto said. “We’ve seen people come to Christ that way.”
It hasn’t been easy, though. Puerto said most of the Hispanic people in the area were raised Catholic, with Vida Nueva the only Baptist Hispanic church in town.
“The Hispanic people we are reaching out to are spiritual people in the sense of proclaiming the Bible as truth,” he said. “But, when we tell people that Jesus came to die to save them from their sins and that they should surrender their lives to Christ, that is a very different thing. The religiousness of people is leading them away from Christ.”
With that, Puerto said a lack of strong leadership has also been a struggle for the new church plant.
“Again, Hispanic people are used to the Catholic way; including very little commitment to actually serve the Lord,” he said. “It has been a slow process to teach and change the mindset of the people. I explain that we are the body. I am one part just as you are and we all have a part of this ministry.”
One way the people of Vida Nueva have been encouraged to serve is by joining Pastor Puerto and members of First California on a mission trip to El Salvador this summer.
“We will again be doing sports evangelism, as well as Vacation Bible School for the kids,” he said. “Also, the youth pastor at First California and I are making special plans to build a partnership with the small churches in that area and figure out how we can help long term. I can’t wait to preach the gospel there and it will be a great opportunity for our church.”