Saturday, August 30, 2008

Almost 30 years ago I realized the church where I was pasturing was in the “wrong” place. Phoenix was advancing north and our church would (and is now) become the geographical center of Phoenix. My first ministry was 4 freeway exits from downtown LA. I grew up there in the 50’s when it was the suburbs. The handwriting was plainly on the wall. All the other churches in our area were pulling out and since we were tucked into the middle of a neighborhood, we should make plans to pull out too. I surveyed the area and found the perfect piece of property, maybe 2 miles from our weekly home bible study called Country Fellowship. It was on the back side of nowhere. Miles of orange groves separated it from any developments. There was a corner lot on a main intersection , 13 acres for $110K. Dirt Cheap for Phoenix. As I tentatively planned and prayed, a good friend, David Morgan introduced me to Fermin Whittier of the Southern Baptist Mission Board. Fermin had tons of experience in this sort of thing and could be quite helpful. I told him of my ideas of moving the church but his response was totally deflating. As I recall he said “you realize that is white flight, don’t you?” He knew I had not even thought of it. But he was right. What I believed I knew was coming was a Mexican barrio, the signs were all there. That is what had happened in LA. My home area of the 50’s was a barrio in the early 70’s (and is an Asian community today!) My intention was not to avoid the Spanish speaking population, just shepherd the English speaking one I had. Fermin went on to ask what happens if every church in your area does that? Who will be left to minister in that community? His words haunted me for weeks as god unveiled a new dream. It was clear to me I should forget moving, minister to the people God would send, and prepare for a Spanish speaking ministry. Perhaps the Ministries would run side by side, perhaps the area would turn into a full blown barrio and we would give the church property to our Spanish speaking brothers. That part was never clear. What was clear was we were to stay put for as long as it took. I met with the pastors of the other inner city churches and asked what they though could and should be done for an inner city ministry. None of those men had been around long enough to know but were as helpful as they could be. Over the years we tried several cross-cultural plants that failed. Two Spanish speaking plants and one Romanian.

A little over a year ago we made our forth attempt at establishing a Spanish speaking church. Pastor Sam and his wife Nedia felt the burden to start a Spanish speaking ministry in our area. They are two of God’s most gracious servants I have ever met. I asked they where they had been for the last 30 years! They were busy getting saved came the response. This past weekend 106 of us spent the weekend in the mountains together camping. 44 Spanish and 62 of us. The children got along fantastic, the Spanish speakers went with their strong point, they fed us, and fed us. Boy, do they know how to camp cook! While trying to finish a steak big enough for a family I overheard Nedia tell to another Spanish woman, “he’s been wait for us for 30 years”. I guess I don’t need to tell you how I felt about that.

I can’t begin to tell you of the hills and valleys of the last 30 years, wondering, waiting, wishing and yes whining. I still don’t know how the story will end, there are too many chapters left to be written. This I do know. All those other churches and pastors I talked to back then are gone. The churches were sold, the pastors moved on. The property I picked how houses CCV, the largest church in the valley. They bought not only the 11 acres but a couple hundred more besides. I am elated for them. They are in the center of one of best areas in north Phoenix. I knew it all along, it was just not where I belong. The body of believers I celebrate with and lead is working on a relational model of believers that operates a little differently than a traditional church. Our mission is to set people to live life loved and free in Jesus. It is a lot more basic and I believe where Father wants us to go. One other thing I do know. I know I am glad I stayed around for 30years to see what Father was doing. I feel it most when I pray with Sam and Nedia. They pray in Spanish and it is music to me. In some ways I feel like I traded 11 acres of prime property for the relationships I have with these people. I definitely got the best end of the deal. It’s true, Father knows best.

2 comments:

Doni Brinkman said...

Pastor Sam and Nedia ARE a treasure! I love them dearly.

Rick said...

Amen to our Spanish ministry. Pastor Sam invited me to pray with them Sunday morning, and I thank the Lord for the opportunity to break down the social barriers that our society has created. I felt blessed to have shared that time with the members of Spanish church. The Lord touched my heart in that time with them and it is time I will not soon forget, it is my opinion that they truly understand loving relationship with the Father.