Building Hope and Confidence in a Latino Congregation

December 14, 2017 | Posted by Demian Farnworth

Editor’s Note:

To celebrate the announcement of the 2017 Kaleidoscope Fund grant recipients, we are sharing the 2016 recipient’s stories over the next two months. See all 2016 stories here as they are published.

-LCEF Editorial Team

Trinity Lutheran Church, Portland, Ore., was reeling.

After a long battle with brain cancer, their beloved pastor, Rev. Miguel Francisco Luna, was called to his eternal rest on Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2017. Some members were angry at God while others wondered why He would take Luna from them. Some members even left the church.

“Then something interesting happened with the Latinos who remained,” said Rev. Dr. Paul Gossman, former mission developer at Trinity (now director of World Mission Prayer League). “There developed a grassroots concern about members who are no longer members. They wanted to reach out and care for these lost members.”

Developing a community of Latino leaders

Gossman wanted to turn the Latino members of Trinity into a community of leaders. “I wanted to welcome them into the freedom of leading,” he said, “to give them the confidence to do it.”

It’s clear that the Latino congregation members are eager to be contributors—to share the Gospel with their Latino neighbors—it’s just showing them that they can. Gossman sees his position as empowering the congregants to become leaders, and then getting out of the way.

“There is a great desire among the Latinos to take this on, though it is new to them,” he said.

Gossman planned on reaching this objective through formal training, mentoring workshops and retreats. Applying for and then receiving the Kaleidoscope Fund grant was exactly what Trinity needed to achieve these goals.

Through these efforts, Gossman hoped to build confidence and excitement among the congregants, allowing them to be the ones who were casting vision.

“It is all about getting them to own it so they do it their way,” he said. “This is a practical vision about equipping, to do what they think they should do. I tell them all the time that if we want this church to prosper, then it has to be their church. They have to take leadership.”

The best kind of evangelism

Trinity’s leadership model is not unlike what a missionary does. “A missionary must get the Word out of his mouth and into the minds and mouths of his converts. It’s best that Latinos lead other Latinos to Christ,” Gossman said. “That’s the best kind of evangelism. To look more like the community.”

Because Latinos live near the church and are part of the neighborhood, they will be the most effective in sharing their faith.

Gossman invited potential Latino leaders to the first retreat in late September. This was a new experience for many of them because they couldn’t afford the cost, worked all the time or both.

“At times,” Ruberto Ek Yah said, “I worked three jobs, so I was always so busy I had very little time to think or be with family.” Ek Yah, who’s been a cook in American restaurants for most of his life, never saw himself as a leader. “I thought I was a nobody. But people started looking at me as a leader and every single person says I have a pastor’s heart.” He was thrilled when he was invited to attend the leadership retreat. Even more so since the Kaleidoscope Fund paid his way. “It was the most amazing thing that happened in my life.”

This is exactly what Gossman wanted to happen. “The goal was to move the congregation from being recipients to being contributors, to leaders. Identifying those potential leaders is the first step. And I feel good about the leaders in place. They are embracing their role as part of the entire program.”

One of the unintended benefits behind this program, Gossman says, was that he found himself teaching the Latinos how to listen and discern the will of God, and then to follow where the spirit of God leads.

There was another reason it was important to raise up Latino leaders. In this region, the ministry is largely done by Anglos. Gossman said, “If Anglos set things up, that may not have been how the Latinos would do it. We need to get Latinos to do it their way. They need to be in on the ground floor of the decision-making process because it is the people of the same race who can do the most effective ministry.”

For instance, the attraction model to church growth doesn’t work anymore. “This model is all about building an attractive church—with slick worship, fun programs and top-notch holiday productions—and drawing in new members. Americans, particularly Millennials, are tired, if not down-right sick, of this approach,” he said. But for the Latinos, the attraction model works. “They love the worship, programs and productions.”

Building confidence and hope

With the grant money, Trinity also hired a gifted musician who spoke fluent Spanish from The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. For three months, this musician trained Latino worship leaders, like Ek Yah, once a week. The results were astonishing. Not long after the formal worship training ended, all the worship was being planned and played with guitars by Latinos.

Another result of the leadership program was the bilingual services twice a month. “When I started two years ago there was no bilingual service at all,” Gossman said. Yet, before he left Trinity at the end of October, he sat in on a bilingual service prepared and lead by all Latinos.

“This is their community. So the ministry should be owned and operated by Latinos. Besides, at the end of the day,” Gossman said, “they are going to be the ones who are most likely to bring back those Latino members who left the church.”

Building hope and confidence in a congregation so they can become leaders and missionaries of their community is about as good as loving as you can get. That’s exactly the kind of ministry the Kaleidoscope Fund was intended to support.

Congratulations Gossman, Ek Yah and Trinity for loving well!

Demian Farnworth
Senior Content Writer for the Lutheran Church Extension Fund.