Georgia Hispanic churches grow in unity during pandemic
GAINESVILLE, Ga. (BP) -- Though they haven't met physically in more than a month, Georgia Baptist Convention (GBC) Hispanic churches continue to be strengthened through training and fellowship opportunities the convention began more than a year ago. They are just doing it in a different way.
Julio Arriola, executive director of Hispanic relations and mobilization with the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee, applauds what Georgia Baptists have been able to accomplish, despite the COVID-19 global pandemic that has forced churches to temporarily discontinue in-person gatherings.
"Dr. Javier Chavez is not only a church mobilizer and a leader of leaders but also a pastor that cares for the spiritual growth of his church membership," Arriola said. "And he, his family and his team are always looking for a way to get the biblical message of life to everyone."
Georgia Baptists have planted 155 Hispanic churches in the last 10-12 years. Chavez credits that success to the monitoring, researching, training and the formation of core groups.
"The only problem was that we became a church planting force, but we lost sight of connecting with the pastors," he said.
Thomas Hammond, who became executive director of the GBC in late 2018, had a vision to strengthen church planters and enlisted Chavez to help.
"[Hammond] calls me at the beginning of March 2019 to put together a church planter assembly to hear from Hispanic church planters," Chavez recalled. "I called and searched for them because once funding was over, we didn't hear from them."
More than 140 church planters attended the first meeting Chavez organized.
"When [Hammond] heard from them, the story changed," Chavez said. "Hammond listened to the Hispanic pastors. Some of the things they said and asked were 'What is the convention? We get invitations but we don't know what it does ...' and 'the GBC is a great progenitor but not a great father; it has forgotten us.'"
From that meeting, a system was implemented to come alongside the Hispanic church planters throughout the state. The plan involved dividing the state into north, central and south regions and assigning convention leaders to each.
"Each section has a Hispanic leader that takes GBC resources to the local context," Chavez said. "All regional leaders live in their region. They are also pastors and understand what issues a church planter is dealing with."
"'La familia' is very important in our Hispanic culture," Arriola said. "And the COVID-19 situation, even though it has prohibited us from public gatherings, has not stopped us from being creative to keep in touch with our church family."
Georgia's regional Hispanic leaders have adopted a five-part emergency plan during the pandemic crisis. The plan's name -- Five E's -- comes from each part's first letter.
The plan's five parts are:
1. Emocional (Emotional) -- Strengthen the emotional life of the church, as many members are afraid, anxious, depressed or dealing with strained family relationships.
"We encourage pastors to talk into these aspects through their messages," Chavez said.
2. Espiritual (Spiritual) -- Strengthen the spiritual life of the church.
"This was previously done through worship services and Bible studies," Chavez said. "But now the church people are responsible for keeping up with it in their homes, so we encourage pastors to send their members short daily devotionals they can do as a family."
3. Evangelismo (Evangelism) -- "Pastors are sharing the Gospel during every broadcast because we have more eyes on us than we did before," Chavez said.
4. Equipamiento (Equipping) -- "In addition to the daily devotionals, we're supporting pastors in making studies for their young married couples, teens, children and so on," Chavez said.
5. Económica (Economic) -- "This time is extremely difficult when it comes to finances, and it's an opportunity for planters to teach their people good financial stewardship," Chavez said.
"These are difficult times, and it is necessary that our Hispanic churches function as a family. Pastors need to be there for their people, and the church needs to become a true community."