Local Mission Leader Classis Greater Los Angeles

Mirtha M Villafane.

We are seeing several groups of diaspora immigrants flourishing in the United States. However, I am going to focus on the Hispanic or Latino community because my work from Resonate is concentrated there.

Latino or Hispanic is defined by the Census Bureau as «a person of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin regardless of race like Spain.

Mexicans make up the largest segment of the Hispanic population in the United States, but not “All Latinos are Mexicans “Latinos differ culturally by nationality though they speak the same language.

Understanding the acculturation or assimilation process in every group is indispensable in Resonate work. How each group moves affects our work, as we focus on planting new churches, developing leaders, mission shaped congregations and creating networks. Groups that assimilate faster and understand the cultural context join a new group and become part of it without losing their ethnic identity.

Acculturation or the gaining of cultural elements in the dominant society— language, food choice, dress, music, sports, etc.— is how a group achieves assimilation.

Working with Diaspora groups

Mexicans are the largest population of Hispanic origin living in the United States, accounting for 62% of the U.S. Hispanic population in 2017. Since 2000, the population of Mexican ancestry has increased 76%, growing from 20.9 million to 36.6 million over the period. At the same time, the Mexican foreign-born population living in the U.S. grew by 29%, from 8.7 million in 2000 to 11.2 million in 2017. California is the state where we can find the majority of Mexicans, many of whom are first generation immigrants. Los Angeles is the main destination for Mexican migration in the United States, however it is difficult to recruit them because they are always working to support family in Mexico and in the USA. Some have up to three jobs earning minimum wage. A significant percentage of Mexican immigrants live in houses made up of two or more families their educational level, poor command of the English and low rates of citizenship are obstacles to their assimilation into the American society. Mexicans without the command of English miss out on socializing with other ethnic groups, but also miss out on the better jobs. Mexican immigrants constitute one third of all immigrants in the United States, however, due to their high percentage of undocumented persons and strong attachment to Mexico, their integration into U.S society concerns civic officials. So even though they are the largest population, and are flourishing in business, education and politics they are not flourishing within the CRC community.

Central Americans constitute the second group with the largest population without US citizenship, ranking lower than other South Americans and Caribbean Latinos (65.4% and 46.2%). This group is flourishing in self- segregated communities with self-sustaining economies. Most of the groups have a strong connection to either the Catholic Church or fundamentalist anti-Catholic groups. While they flourish in their enclave they have not affiliated with the CRC. The number of Central Americans in the CRC has decreased in the last decade.

Cubans are the third-largest population (tied with Salvadorans) of Hispanic origin living in the United States, accounting for 4% of the U.S. Hispanic population in 2017. Since 2000, the Cuban-origin population has increased 84%, growing from 1.2 million to 2.3 million over the period. Due to the refugee response, the Cuban community initially had a strong affiliation with the Christian Reformed church. However, they did not grow in membership, as their children did not maintain their Cuban and CRC identity.

Within the Hispanic diaspora one of the groups that is growing very fast in the USA is Venezuelans. Since 2000, the Venezuelan-origin population has increased 352%, growing from 93,000 to 421,000 over the period.

(Pew Research Center). Along with Dominicans and Guatemalans, Venezuelans constitute one of the fastest growing Hispanic groups since 2010. The Venezuelan population is concentrated in Florida (52%), Texas (11%), NewYork (4%) and now California with approximately 3% of them. The Venezuelan diaspora assimilates quicker than other Hispanic groups. Venezuela is a melting pot that has had immigration from many countries in Europe, Asia, and South America. This caused Venezuelans to be a mixture of Europeans (France, Italy, Germany, Spain, Portugal, Romania, Poland, Hungary), Middle East (Lebanese, and Turkey), Asians (Chinese and Japanese) and other South American cultures such as Chileans, Colombians, Argentines, Ecuadorians, etc. For this reason, Venezuelans can insert themselves in the other culture without losing their own. Why? Because at home they speak different languages and they also grew up in multiculturalism. This makes a cultural difference with other cultures that are more attached to their traditions, and find it difficult to insert into the Anglo culture.

Colombians the seventh-largest population of Hispanic in the United States increased 148%, growing from 502,000 to 1.2 million from 2000 to 2017. At the same time, the Colombian foreign-born population living in the U.S. grew by 99%, from 383,000 in the same time period. While this is a fast growing group the CRC creating an affiliation with the CRC is uncertain.

Argentines, Peruvians, Nicaraguans and Central Americans acculturate and have a common desire to improve their social and educational status. As such they are group that while not well represented in the CRC could in the future flourish within the CRC.

The top 10 United States metropolitan areas where the Hispanic population in general is flourishing in 2017 is Los Angeles, New York, Miami, Houston, Riverside CA, Chicago, Dallas-Fort Worth, Phoenix, San Antonio and San Diego.

¿Where do you see pain and brokenness?

As a pastor and Latina I see a lot of pain in the group where I move. Many of them are coming from small town in their own countries, where they suffered abused by they own people. Since I started working at the CRC have tried to bless and help them in every way I can. Some of them do not speak English and feel displaced because they do not understand. But, nevertheless they try to be present at the Classis meetings, because I insist the important for Classis to know who they are. Others try to do the best.

I call them very often (it doesn’t matter where they are located) to give a word of encouragement. In other cases, they feel rejected when people even don’t answer their emails. For example, some of our Hispanic pastors applied for Covid Funds and did not even receive a response to their application. It particularly hurts me because I feel that I am a voice for and I want to support them. Some of our Latinos are blessed and speak English very well, which makes communication with pastors and leaders at the CRC easier, even some of them are business owners, but they are the minority in it, the majority are fighting to survive.

I see pain and brokenness in Hispanic mothers in our congregations who have been left alone because of the violence or deportations of their relatives.

I see pain and brokenness in our young Latinos who fail to assume their own identity in their assimilation process because their parents inject their origin culture but they live in a different culture. It creates identity conflicts, so young people feel they do not belong to any culture.

However, one of the strengths we have as Latinos is the ability to get up even in the midst of brokenness to fight believing that God is in control.

¿ What should be our focus and priority as Resonate at the moment?

If we observed the Facts of the Census I think; we need to focus to plant new Latino churches. We were nearly 60 million of Latinos in the United States in 2017 (I am sure today, 2020 we are more), accounting for approximately 18% of the total U.S. population. Koreans are about 1.850.000, which represented 0.6%, and Africans Americans represented 13.4% that represented almost 42 million. (www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/US/IPE120218

The Hispanic population is the fastest growing in the USA. Of the more than 325 million inhabitants of the United States, almost 60 million are Latinos origin. Only in California we are almost 15 million Latinos of the state population that represents 39% of inhabitants

At the CRC we have only 50 Hispanic churches and most of them are struggling to survive. At the Consejo Latino our focus areas are planting new churches and developing new leadership, but we are limited in resources. We have the support of the Eastern, Western, and Great Lake Regional Leaders but they are like us, they are limited in resources too. I think, us as Consejo Latino are in an important moment of the Latino Ministry in the CRC; we have the vision, passion, and the desire to do changes but we need more cooperation from the local Classis and the denomination to accomplish the vision.

Latino community comes from Roman Catholicism. We were not taught to tithe, therefore we did not grow with the courage that our Anglo brothers and sisters have to give and support missionaries or church planters. We find it very difficult in our community to get donors for support new church planting or support missionaries within our Hispanic churches, maybe some wants to do it but they don’t have the economical capacity either to. They have to help their own churches first.

We as a Consejo Latino has five areas in US where we are focus right now: Texas, Arizona, South and Central California and Florida. But, we have a reality there are some big cities like Chicago and Las Vegas where are a large concentration of Latinos, but we don’t have any CRC Latino church.

As the Resonate Local Leader, I encourage Latino pastors to identify new church planters in their own congregations, but pastors don’t want to compromise their leaders, because it is difficult to find good leaders. It is one of the reason we are seeking leaders outside of the CRC.

¿What are specific diaspora/CRC ethnic minority initiatives that you are or your team is involved in?

Venezuelans pastors and leaders who have had flourishing ministries in Venezuela are making their way to the US. They connect with other Venezuelan people as they arrive in this country. They continue doing what they were doing serving the Lord. Several Venezuelans within the CRC are pastors seeking ordination and opportunities to serve. Several are already serving congregations in Michigan and Texas. Many of them come with theological education and prior ordination. Pastors that have not been ordained will continue the CRC ordination process with the Candidacy Office.

¿What we are doing right now?

We worked on a Strategic Plan for Houston, TX with Christian Sebastia. Christian is a Venezuelan pastor at Casa de Oracion and Carismah Church in Kety, TX. Christian has a great vision to plant 18 churches over a period of 15 years; He has already a Venezuelan couple at Carismah Church who can start planting at any time. In addition, he is training 2 more Venezuelan couples at Carismah Church and two more at Casa de Oración CRC; who could start planting in the next two to three years.

I am already working with two planters in Central California, one Venezuelan in Ripon, (CA) and the other one in Northern Sacramento (2nd generation of Mexican).

In addition, we will have a SLIM (Spanish Language Ministry Institute) training in the first week of September in New Life CRC in Houston with potential Venezuelan candidates from Carismah church and Puerto Ricans and Mexicans candidates from Casa de Oración

We will have another SLIM training at Ttokamsa CRC, in Southern California from October 15 – 17 with a group of 12 candidates seeking ordination at the CRC. It is a mixed group of Mexicans, Salvadorans, Hondurans, Guatemalans and Costa Ricans.

On the first days of November we will have a Florida Retreat with pastors interested in affiliating their churches with the CRC. It will be diverse group nationalities. (Cubans, Venezuelans, Dominican Republic and Puerto Ricans)
I will begin a new church planter training in January (It is a seven months training) to equip new church planters in Southern California with Panamanians, Mexicans, Guatemalans and who knows what other race can join us.

We are also identifying leaders to start a new Cluster in Classis California South. We want to train them to plant new more churches in the area. We understand, it is difficult to get good leaders since many of them have a low level of education; but, we can train and equip them; of course it takes much longer. We are training leaders through MINTS (Miami International Institute of Ministry). I teach a class every week and every course has duration of 8 weeks

¿How might Resonate/the DEM Guiding Team help/serve you and your ministry?

A key in helping is to understand the aspirations and challenges Latinos leaders face in CRC ministry. The shared vision among many Latino leaders is to have 100 churches in the next 10 years and believing that God will grant them this desire. Working with local classis, churches, and the denomination makes the 100-year target more feasible. Latino’s seek to accomplish miraculous results and are inspired by wonderful things like making the “impossible, possible” Luke 18:27

The vision is to see new Latino churches opening in every State of the US, but only with everyone’s support. Latinos cannot do it alone. They will need pastors and congregations throughout the US. The appeal is to help goes out to all., including you.

Please let us know we need answers and my last question is «How many of you are willing to support us?» We need people to believe we can work together to have a vibrant, credible, flourishing Spanish ministry in the CRC