Cristo yo te amo, Cristo yo te amo.
No hay nadie como tú, Jesús.
Y no sé dónde estuviera, si a ti no te tuviera,
Si no hubiese conocido al Dios que me ama.
Jesus, I love you, Jesus, I love you.
There is no one like you, Jesus.
And I don’t know where I would be, if I didn’t have you,
If I hadn’t met the God that loves me.
It is a cold January morning in southern Minnesota, and this is one of the worship choruses we sing. What a message in this song. Does the congregation feel the meaning of this song in their hearts?
Each Sunday, as I stand in front of the congregation of El Camino (The Way – the name for our Spanish service at our EFCA church), I long for each one to understand the message that we sing together, to be touched by the message put to music.
But, usually, I don’t know if they get it.
My husband, Tim, and I work with Hispanic immigrants in a small Minnesotan town. In contrast to some of the charisma one might see worshiping in a church in Latin America, people here are hesitant to express their feelings. They are outsiders in this North American culture, often stressed and stretched by their circumstances. Some have little church experience. Many of the faces show little expression as we worship, so it is hard to know what is going on inside.
However, I know that each one of us on the church leadership team knows the truth of this song well.
An unlikely team
Tim and I left our overseas assignment in Venezuela in 2000. It wasn’t our plan. But after our youngest son was diagnosed with autism, we felt that God was leading us back to the U.S. and we followed. It was a difficult move.
Fellow EFCA ReachGlobal missionaries Ted and Juli never planned to leave their assignment in Costa Rica to move to Minnesota, either. However, late in the summer of 2007, this became their home, too. And though we all continue to work with ProMETA, an online seminary program for Spanish-speakers, we didn’t expect to do it from a little town in the middle of the corn fields.
Mirian, our Chilean coworker, came with her husband, Heriberto, to the U.S. in 2005 to serve as a missionary to Hispanics in Minnesota. Heriberto was to be the pastor of El Camino, but now Mirian serves the church as a widow after losing him to cancer three years ago.
Mark, our newest team member, came to our small town in 2009 after a teaching job fell apart. He wondered what God had planned for him, a gifted pianist and Spanish teacher, as he moved to southern Minnesota to work for a friend’s company making signs.
All of us have been through numerous difficulties. We don’t know where we would be without our God — the God who surprised us all by bringing us together to lead a ministry to hurting immigrants, a ministry conceived in the minds of the our church’s pastors before any of us even arrived.
So I know the El Camino leaders can sing this song deeply from the heart, but what about our congregation?
Ministry to the hurting
After the service this January morning, I take time to visit with members of the congregation like usual. Today Ana* is back in church. Life has been hard for Ana.
Her parents have been in the U.S. for many years and have been working for a long time on citizenship papers. However, Ana’s status in the country is questionable. She has been through one divorce and a relationship with an abusive boyfriend, and she has endured a number of painful miscarriages. She is a single mom to a 2-year-old.
As a young girl, her church experience was very limited, and she saw the tough side of the Hispanic community in our town. Immigrants often work long hours and irregular schedules, making life difficult, especially on families. As immigrants are uprooted from their communities, they struggle to adjust culturally in a new place. Some make poor choices leading to alcohol abuse, drug use, crime and dysfunctional family situations.
Ana didn’t think there was much hope. About five years ago, when Mirian told her that our purpose as a church is to help the Hispanic community and to help them learn about God, Ana told her, “That’s a nice idea, but it will never work here.”
However, as she grew in her relationship to us (and especially to Mirian), her perspective about our work began to change. When her child was born without the strength to live, someone was there to love her and support her as she said goodbye to her baby. When she started to feel God’s pull on her heart, someone was there to teach her. When she was ready to give her life to God a few years ago, someone was there to lead her.
Now, she has a desire to know her Creator and to serve Him. Her life hasn’t changed overnight, but God is working in her. Now, after a last try to “make it work” with her boyfriend, she has finally left him, moved back to our town, and is part of our congregation once more.
After the service, we chat. As Ana begins to share, I hear her say, “Oh, that song, it’s so true. What would I do without Jesus? I haven’t followed Him like I should, but I’ve learned many things now. What would I do without Jesus?”
As she talks, another woman, Consuela*, stands by. Her story is difficult, as well. She faces life as a recent widow, now raising her children as a single mom. She agrees with Ana — where would we be without Jesus?
God works in hearts even when we don’t see it on faces.
None of us (the leadership team) expected to be where we are, but God in His providence is using us in the midst of our life stories and struggles. He is using us to reach the Spanish speakers in our community – people like Ana and Consuela – and rewarding our faithfulness with their testimony to a love and need for Him.
Story by Carolyn, EFCA ReachGlobal Latin America missionary. Carolyn’s husband Tim serves as a professor with ProMETA.
* * * * *
- For Carolyn, Tim and their teammates as they minister to Hispanics in southern Minnesota.
- For the Hispanic immigrants who attend El Camino — that they would find hope in the midst of hardship.