PHOENIX – The Southern Baptist Convention’s North American Mission Board sponsored the sixth annual “Let’s Celebrate!” church planting convocation in Arizona, expanding the doors to Hispanic ministry in a state with 25 percent Hispanics; more than 400 pastors, church planters, lay leaders and denominational leaders, representing 19 states, took part in the June 16 conference.
"Anytime that you gather to talk about church planting," said Gus Suarez, director of missions for the Baptist Convention of New Mexico, "you have to talk about celebration."
Andres Panasiuk, representative of Crown Financial Concepts, presented new financial tools and special CD "Church Planters Kit" in Spanish that CFC will launching this year to help church planters in their labors.
"How can we help church planters?" Panasiuk asked. He said the answer is to "[make] their task easier by providing tools with which they can practice and teach stewardship and thus increase their resources."
Fernando Amaro, director of missions for the Arizona Southern Baptist Convention, gave a presentation of the realities, needs and challenges facing missions in Arizona. Amaro first focused on the “Mormon wall” in east Arizona, where a Mormon temple was recently dedicated. He then spoke of the Sedona region where "the leader of the Church of Satan in North America lived and taught." According to Amaro, the area is a hotbed for New Age movements and satanic worship. Amaro also noted the challenge to the south of the "wave of Roman Catholicism."
He then encouraged those gathered to "Allow God to touch [your] heart since the 6,000-plus new church planters needed to reach the Hispanics in Arizona are sitting on the benches in your church."
After Amaro’s presentation, Fermin Whittaker, executive director of the California Southern Baptist Convention, was awarded for his "excellence as a leader, mentor and servant in Hispanic church planting." Upon receiving his award, Whittaker urged those present to run a race towards Jesus. "We have many witnesses who are watching," he said. Currently, Whittaker is the highest-ranking Hispanic leader in the SBC.
Hugo Campos from California was also recognized for his efforts in church planting. Campos, a Mexico native, has been ministering as a church planter in the United States for more than 20 years.
"He is a church planter whose colleagues are not ashamed to be associated with," said Eliseo Aldape, coordinator of Hispanic church planting at NAMB. “[He is] an ideal church planter who is tireless in his efforts and desire to win people to Christ."
Campos was recognized along with Luis Alfonso Salazar from Kentucky, who died May 18, 2002, in a fatal car accident along with his 21-year-old daughter, Raquel. Ruth Salazar, the widow of Luis Salazar, received the award on behalf of her husband.
Ruth described her husband as a "barrier breaker" in the area of church planting and said this is what she wanted his legacy to be. A brief biography of Luis was distributed to all those present.
Three other workers who lead prominent roles in the arena of Hispanic Baptist life were also recognized: Kevi Rojas, multicultural relationships manager with the Annuity Board; Richard Vera, Hispanic mobilization specialist with NAMB; and Ruben Torres, president of the Baptist Seminary in Puerto Rico.
Finally, Daniel Sanchesz, director of the Scarborough Institute at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas closed the evening after outlining the statistics and trends for the Hispanic population in North America.
"What does Jesus see when he looks at Hispanics in North America?" Sanchez asked, answering that "Jesus sees an ever-increasing population of Hispanics, a large majority of youth and children in that population, a group that is living mostly in urban centers, and a group that is open to the Gospel," he continued.
"We must think in terms of multiplication and not addition. We must stop trying to look for starts in faraway areas and look to those in the families of believers. The Gospel must be shared and new churches started with new believers coming from the families of those saved."