By Connie Davis Bushey
News Editor, Baptist and Reflector
SPRINGFIELD — With only two Hispanic Baptist congregations in this area and about 10,000 Hispanic residents, opportunities abound to reach Hispanics here with the gospel, said Luis Lopez of the Robertson County Baptist Association (RCBA).
Also the Hispanic population here is expected to grow 30 percent in the next five years — to 13,000, added Lopez, coordinator for Hispanic work of RCBA.
“The harvest is here. We just need to reap it,” he stated.
Baptist Center for Theological Training
“God has already brought the Hispanic population here; they’re hearing the gospel but we need to raise more leaders” to plant churches “not only here but in other places,” he explained.
To work toward that, Lopez has started a seminary in the Spanish language to develop leaders — the Baptist Center for Theological Training (Centro Bautista de Capacitación Teológica).
The seminary has 14 students currently learning hermeneutics or the branch of knowledge that deals with interpretation of the Bible. The personal stories of some of the students are amazing, he added. For instance, two young men who aren’t yet 18 years old so they can’t receive credit, are attending anyway, said Lopez.
After a presentation by one of them who is 17, the class and instructor were moved to tears, he described.
“What that tells you is that God is calling people and we just have to give them an opportunity,” he added.
Baptist Center for Theological Training is sponsored by three Baptist churches, including the two Hispanic Baptist churches in the association — Living Stones Baptist Church (Iglesia Bautista Piedras Vivas), Springfield, and Living Water Baptist Church (Iglesia Bautista Hispana Rios de Agua Viva), Springfield — and the Hispanic congregation of First Baptist Church, Clarksville, though it is in another association.
Lopez said he was so blessed when he started serving here that RCBA already had a strong ministry for Hispanics and other ethnics — English for Language Learners classes. The ministry draws about 100 ethnics from several countries weekly to Springfield Baptist Church, Springfield. RCBA has offered the ELL ministry for 18 years (see separate story).
Yet Lopez saw a need and just a few months after he began serving RCBA was able to add HiSET (High School Equivalency Test formerly GED) classes in Spanish for the first time in this area. The HiSET classes are offered with help from a government agency, Workforce Essentials of the Tennessee and United States Department of Labor.
Lopez reported that the HiSET classes at Springfield Baptist are the most successful in the state, according to Workforce Essentials.
Though only offered for one semester, 12 HiSET students have passed at least one of the tests. The HiSET tests are very difficult.
The great success stems from the fact that the teachers show love to the students and the students can study in their native language, he noted. Lopez hopes these graduates will continue on with their education at the Baptist Center for Theological Training.
He is inspired by students like the grandmother who takes a HiSET class to set an example for her grandchildren.
HiSET student Bartolo Eduardo Perez Juarez said the class, which he learned about through a flyer mailed to his home, was an answer to prayer. Because it is offered in Spanish, it is much easier for him than if it were in English, which is his second language, he explained. Juarez added that this class will help him study welding and “have a better life.”
Betsy Swann of Mount Carmel Baptist Church, Cross Plains, is one of the HiSET teachers. She studied Spanish in college and then served overseas as a missionary. She said, God “brought me back home. Then I found Spanish-speaking folks right here in my backyard and I can serve the nations here.”
A new ministry of Robertson County Baptist Association is a Spanish class for English speakers being held at the city library, said Lopez. It is drawing about 40 business people and others and is held at the library so people who aren’t involved in church will come.
This ministry, like the others, is “an outreach” to the community, he explained.
The five teachers, who are volunteers, “want to be able to share the gospel,” he added.
“I love this state and I’m very grateful for what God has done in my life here,” said Lopez.
He has been a Tennessee Baptist for 33 years. Lopez was born in Venezuela and then came to the U.S. to study at the University of Tennessee, Martin, where he made his profession of faith though he was witnessed to in Venezuela, he said. He was ordained to the ministry while there by Eastside Baptist Church, Martin.
He returned to Venezuela to work and serve as a bivocational minister for 11 years and came back to the U.S. to study again, earning an MBA. Then he was called by the Bledsoe Baptist Association, based in Gallatin, to minister there. He started a Hispanic church and then served for 17 years at LifeWay Christian Resources, Nashville.
Robert Tyson, director of missions of RCBA, said he is grateful that churches are “catching the vision of impacting their communities for Jesus Christ. The churches raising their support to RCBA is making this ministry to Hispanics possible. Brother Lopez is a great help to our churches.” Also assisting the church planting efforts are funds from the Golden Offering for Tennessee Missions of the Tennessee Baptist Convention.
The current focus of Lopez is to see churches planted and strengthened as they become “a representation of their communities.”
Christians, who are seeing secular groups become more diverse, should lead the way in transforming communities “because we’ve got the gospel. We’ve got the one thing that connects us more than anyone else,” he proclaimed. “Jesus Christ makes a big difference in us and that changes everything.”
There will continue to be a need for Hispanic and language churches, he added, but they should reach out to English-speakers “because we need to reach more people … whether they are white, black, or yellow.” This approach also helps language churches reach their younger generations who are not so tied to the native culture of their parents, noted Lopez.