By Tiffany Silverberg
The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) is celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15. As part of the observance, Reporter is featuring a series of articles about Lutheran Hispanic ministry. This article is the last in the series. Click to read the first, second, third and fourth articles in the series.
Almost a century of Hispanic ministry
According to the Rev. Dr. Leopoldo A. Sánchez M., professor of Hispanic Ministries/Systematic Theology and director of the Center for Hispanic Studies at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis (CSL), “LCMS mission efforts among Spanish-speaking people in the U.S. can be traced back to work in southern California and southern Texas during the 1930s and 1940s. … The [CSL] Center for Hispanic Studies remains the oldest ongoing seminary formation program for pastors and deaconesses in the Spanish language in the LCMS. In partnership with the Graduate School at CSL, the Center also offers an M.A. in theology, taught online in the Spanish language, which is open to U.S. Hispanic students as well as Latin American students.”
Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne (CTSFW), also remains committed to the importance of developing Hispanic leaders in ministry. In 2015, CTSFW launched the Spanish Language Church Worker Formation Program under the leadership of the Rev. Dr. Arthur Just Jr. and the Rev. Dr. Don Wiley and in partnership with the Synod’s missionaries and sister church bodies in Latin America and Spain.
“Just as our German forefathers needed to learn English to do missions in the U.S., the LCMS at this time needs to learn Spanish to proclaim the Gospel most effectively to those around us,” explains Wiley. “It is this need that has motivated CTSFW to develop the Specific Ministry Pastor–Español/English (SMP–EsE) program. Like other SMP programs, SMP–EsE prepares men in context to serve in ministry.
“Whether it’s a Hispanic congregation raising up a man from their midst to continue the ministry in that place or a predominantly Anglo congregation seeking to begin much-needed Hispanic ministry, the SMP–EsE program allows ministry to continue in that place while the man is fully prepared to serve as a called and ordained servant of the Word.”
Coordinated efforts to share the Gospel
The LCMS Offices of National Mission (ONM) and International Mission (OIM) collaborate daily in the effort to bring the Gospel to the Spanish-speaking world. The Rev. Robert Zagore, ONM executive director, emphasizes that “resources developed on the mission field are just as valuable in the U.S.”
The ONM and OIM have teamed up to put an electronic library of over 200 Spanish Lutheran theological books into the hands of pastors and teachers. The library (called “VDMA,” Latin for “The Word of the Lord endures forever”) is being used by more than a dozen Spanish-speaking pastors in the U.S. and over a hundred in Latin America.
Ongoing efforts in the production of Spanish-language resources have also yielded multiple English-Spanish print translations, including the Book of Concord (Libro de Concordia), C.F.W. Walther’s Law and Gospel (Ley y Evangelio), John T. Mueller’s Christian Dogmatics (Doctrina Cristiana) and The Lutheran Study Bible (La Biblia de la Reforma). Since 2013, three dozen new hardcover Spanish translations have been made available, and a new Spanish language hymnal — the first full-size one since 1964 — will soon be printed and distributed to Lutheran churches in both the U.S. and Latin America.
In addition, more than 30 LCMS Recognized Service Organizations are bringing the Gospel to Hispanic people in the U.S. and abroad. Further collaborations include OIM language learning tools for teaching Spanish to those engaged in this mission. Hundreds of other Spanish and English resources are available through LCMS Hispanic Ministry and other ONM ministry programs. The Synod’s Church Worker Recruitment Initiative aims to encourage many more to enter church work, including in the Lord’s Hispanic harvest field.
Other notable efforts in Hispanic ministry have been started through LCMS districts as well as individual initiatives. In 2008, the Rev. Richard Schlak helped found the Lutheran Hispanic Missionary Institute to provide Lutheran instruction for the preparation of leaders in Hispanic ministry.
“The biggest challenge in Hispanic ministry in the U.S., identified as such by leaders in many different denominations, is for good, biblical, affordable theological preparation,” says Schlak.
The Hispanic National Convention brings Hispanic church workers and their families together every three years for worship, fellowship, education, networking and discussions about the future of Hispanic ministry. In 2019, the Hispanic National Convention created the Hispanic Missionary League, a nonprofit organization that works to promote, strengthen and support missionary and evangelistic work among Hispanic communities in the U.S.
The Rev. Germán Novelli-Oliveros, president of the Hispanic National Convention, says, “Right now, we are working on a new initiative called ‘Primer Paso’ (First Step), which seeks to recruit future pastors and church leaders nationwide.”
New leaders and opportunities
The Hispanic population is one of the fastest-growing demographics in America. In 2020, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, there were over 62 million people who identified as Hispanic, a number that has grown 23% since 2010. By contrast, the number of those not in this demographic grew by only 4% in the same time period.
Despite this growth in the Hispanic population, the LCMS today is still less than 1% Hispanic. “While the church doesn’t work on percentages, that disparity indicates that there is a great deal of opportunity for proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the Spanish-speaking segment of our communities,” says Wiley.
Sánchez believes the most pressing need for Hispanic ministry in the U.S. today is “the identification, recruitment, retaining and placing of Hispanic pastors, deaconesses, missionaries and lay leaders for various ministries and church vocations. This is an incredible and amazing mission field we have in front of us, and the LCMS has the experience and doctrinal foundation to work with them.”
The Rev. Daniel Fickenscher agrees. After graduating from college, Fickenscher served as a GEO (Globally Engaged in Outreach) missionary in the Dominican Republic. Upon leaving the mission field, he attended seminary and received a vicarage assignment to St. Paul Lutheran Church, Columbus, Ind., where there is an active Hispanic ministry. Fickenscher and his wife, Deaconess Taylor Brown-Fickenscher, now serve at Iglesia Luterana Cristo el Salvador in the border town of Del Rio, Texas. They serve church and community members in both the U.S. and Mexico.
Fickenscher has experienced the need for more Spanish-language resources in his own ministry. “I’ve seen a real appreciation for deeper study of God’s Word. I’ve heard former Roman Catholics say teaching wasn’t a priority in the churches they grew up in in Mexico. There are plenty of Protestant alternatives, but the Gospel is often watered-down and the certainty of the forgiveness of sins is lost,” Fickenscher says. “There’s a real hunger, and we’ve been called to satisfy it in Christ. We as the LCMS, pastors and laymen alike, need to be serious about being Lutheran when it comes to Hispanic ministry.
“I’m personally very excited to see in the near future the publication of a [Spanish-language] Lutheran hymnal by Lutherans in Latin America. … We as a Synod need to be willing to make investments in projects such as these. The country’s demographic is changing, and we need to be ready to serve.”
For more information about Hispanic Heritage Month, visit lcms.org/hispanic-heritage-month.
Tiffany Silverberg is a freelance writer and editor.
Posted Oct. 13, 2021