By Carl Stagner
Now, more than ever, the Sunshine State is primed for the gospel. The normal flow of migration to Florida from Spanish-speaking countries presents a tremendous opportunity for Hispanic church planters. But, in the wake of last year’s hurricane disaster in Puerto Rico, Spanish-speaking people have left the territory for Florida in droves. Isaias and Laura Marquez, pastors of a congregation in Lake Wales, are always on the lookout for possible church plants. Observing the lack of Hispanic churches in the Winter Haven area, they reached out to First Church of God to consider hosting a new work. On Easter Sunday, Iglesia de Dios in Winter Haven was born, offering the hope of Christ to Spanish-speaking residents while extending the reach of First Church beyond what they could have ever imagined.
Tim Cox, minister of music at First Church, first told Pastor Kenny about the Marquez family. After meeting with them and discussing the potential of a Hispanic ministry on site, Kenny Howard was certainly pleased. “It blesses me because the Hispanic ministry is reaching a people group in our community that First Church of God isn’t,” he explains. “It’s a local mission for us, and we’re so glad to share our building for this important mission.”
The subsequent interview with the leadership team of First Church made it apparent that “God was in it,” Pastor Kenny continues. “We are so blessed because of this.”
Pastors Isaias and Laura are feeling pretty blessed at this point, too. Weeks of hard work and preparation for the launch are beginning to pay off. Of course, as all church planters know, the labor has only just begun.
“We promoted the launch service via e-mail, phone calls, flyers, Facebook, and personal contacts,” Laura explains. “We spent a long time in prayer and getting trained for outreach, taking into consideration the experiences of other churches within the Church of God and other movements, as well. On Easter, the whole building was filled with excitement. We were seeing in person what was conquered in prayer—the birth of a new congregation, which brings the kind of excitement that comes with the birth of a newborn.”
In partnership with the southeast region of the Hispanic Council of the Church of God (Concilio Hispano), and Florida Ministries, Laura and Isaias had actually been praying about Winter Haven for a few months prior to their first contact with Pastor Kenny Howard. Though they already pastor a church, they understand the kingdom of God must continue to advance everywhere. They’re not content with the status quo, and they’re eager to see churches planted on a regular basis. “God put the seed in our hearts,” she explains. “After a period of time spent researching the area’s demographics, which show the increase of the Hispanic population, we felt the need to be available to fulfill the spiritual needs of the area. And we’ve received such great support from Pastor Kenny and his staff. There was an immediate ‘spiritual click’ between us.”
The Hispanic church meets in the evening at Winter Haven, allowing the pastors to continue to shepherd the flock in Lake Wales. Both churches look forward to the opportunity to worship and fellowship together, as well as partner together for community outreach. “We do believe that this will strengthen the love between both backgrounds and destroy barriers,” Laura reflects. “We need to walk as one. Even with the language barrier in mind, we are still looking forward to building a strong relationship.”
Envisioning the future of the Hispanic plant at First Church of God in Winter Haven is an exciting prospect, but shortsighted for the Marquez family. They are already imagining how God will plant even more Spanish-speaking churches in the region through this new work! “We are praying to grow a healthy congregation here that will eventually plant other congregations,” Pastor Laura concludes. “Our heart is for church planting, so we look forward to growing healthy leadership that will encourage the preaching of the gospel, transformed by the Holy Spirit, to transform others for Jesus.”
In Florida, across North America, and around the world, God is on the move in the Church of God. Reach our world. Donate today at give.jesusisthesubject.org.