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Area congregations reaching Latinos with Spanish services

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When the Rev. Williams Guevara felt God calling him to launch a Columbus church 12 years ago, he didn’t even have a home for himself and his family. So they stayed in a converted classroom in the Seventh Street Church of God for 18 months and showered at a friend’s house in Taylorsville.

“God put it in my heart to reach people for him,” said the 42-year-old Guevara, a native of Guatemala.

And reach them he does, especially the Latino population.

His 220-member Hispanic-oriented church, Iglesia de Dios Pentecostes, just moved in December into a facility worth

$1 million that church members bought for half that price at U.S. 31 and Indiana 11 on the northern edge of Columbus.

A week ago, its building dedication service drew 420 people, making it among the biggest Hispanic services around. It also has become perhaps the most visible Hispanic congregation locally — and the only one in the area with its own building.

At St. Bartholomew Catholic Church, the Spanish Mass that the Rev. Clem Davis leads is growing in popularity. It draws 200 at 1 p.m. each Sunday and has attracted 300 at times. Attendees are those who have moved here from Mexico, Guatemala, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and elsewhere, according to Maria Nieto, St. Bartholomew’s Hispanic ministry coordinator.

She grew quiet for a moment when asked what those with limited English skills would do without that service — not to mention a Latino prayer and Bible study group at 6 p.m. Wednesdays and a Hispanic youth group at 6 p.m. Fridays.

“If we didn’t have that support, many of us would just feel lost,” Nieto said. “We would really have a problem.”

Columbus’ Ray Rising and his Columbian-born wife, Mayita, struggled to find Hispanic services when they first moved here 11 years ago. She spoke only Spanish then but since has learned English.

“There’s nothing like worshiping in your native language,” Ray Rising said.

The couple soon launched a Hispanic worship at their house. When it grew to 28 people last year, Community Church of Columbus, one of the city’s largest, offered the group worship space — and then full church support.

Now Community Church of Columbus Hispanic, meeting at 1:30 p.m. Sundays, is a regular part of the church’s ministry, which Rising said works perfectly for a 70-member group of believers that needs help.

Many of its Hispanic members are enrolled in weekly English as a Second Language classes at the church.

Columbus’ St. Paul Lutheran at Clifty conducts a Spanish service at 12:30 p.m. Sundays under its Le Iglesia Luterana San Pablo ministry.

The Rev. Doug Bauman, St. Paul’s pastor, said the church “may be especially sensitive” to a non-English speaking audience because it offered German services there long after others converted to English a century ago.

So church leaders regularly visit nearby subdivisions boasting a heavy concentration of Latinos to check on needs. Church members often refer Latinos to the nearby Orphan Grain Train Lutheran outreach for everything from clothes to furniture.

Census figures show that

6 percent of Bartholomew County residents are Latino — about the same as the state percentage.

And while several Latinos mentioned that the Spanish-speaking influx here is not as great as it was in the 1990s,

according to Latino ministry leaders, many still save money “to eventually bring their family here,” according to the Rev. Juan Luna.

He immigrated here from Mexico in 1983 and now heads St. Paul’s Latino Sunday services that attract 15 to 20 people per week. Numbers double for weekends featuring a post-service fiesta.

At Iglesia De Dios Pentecostes, Guevara takes a relaxed pastoral approach. On a recent weekday, he was dressed in straight-leg jeans, a hoodie and basketball shoes.

“I consider clothes even like this a real blessing,” he said, mentioning that he grew up in poverty on the streets. He reveled in gangs and drugs when he first moved to the U.S. in Los Angeles.

“But Jesus has done big things in my life,” he said, and broke into a wide grin and laughter.

He laughed partly because of the direction he said God currently is leading some of his burgeoning ministry that is devoid of seminary training. For example, he recently conducted a workshop for Seymour area pastors wanting to reach more people.

Latinos perhaps?

No. English-speaking people. Seems Guevara gathers his members at 1 p.m. every Saturday to go door-to-door for two hours at a stretch, praying for residents from any and every background.

Such outreach is hardly a sacrifice, as he sees it.

“For Jesus,” he said, “I would sleep on the streets.”

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