Hispanic Heritage Month

Hispanic Heritage Month

We rejoice in the rich tapestry that makes up the Christian church. We observe National Hispanic Heritage Month — from September 15 to October 15 — by celebrating the histories, cultures, and contributions of Hispanics to the church body. Here we have highlighted the life and ministry of some key Hispanic Christian leaders.

The following resources are a mere sample of many Hispanic leaders, theologians, and histories. Our hope is to encourage you to learn the many ways Hispanic Christian leaders are shaping our church today.

Hernando Sáenz

Coordinator | Hispanic Ministries
Mission to North America (MNA)
Presbyterian Church in America (PCA)

After Rev. Sáenz served as our guest preacher in May 2023, we took the opportunity to interview him to learn his thoughts on the future of Hispanic PCA churches. Read his responses to our questions below.

What are some key facts about US Hispanic PCA church planting?
  • The demand for Hispanic ministry is pressing as Hispanics currently constitute the largest minority group in the USA, and their growth shows no signs of slowing down. In fact, the Latino population is projected to triple in the next generation.
  • We see the demographic changes in our nation as an unprecedented opportunity – orchestrated by God Himself – to continue our commitment to the fulfillment of the Great Commission.
  • The PCA's Mission to North America's (MNA) passion is to equip, encourage, and empower the PCA for effective gospel ministry among Hispanics by strengthening local churches, promoting leadership development, and facilitating church planting and multiplication.
  • For more information about MNA's ministry, click here.
  • By the grace of God, over the past decade, we have doubled the number of PCA Hispanic pastors from 28 to 61 and more than tripled the number of Hispanic candidates for the gospel ministry in the PCA from 15 to 51.
  • Although these gains are significant and worthy of celebration, it is crucial for the long-term well-being of the PCA to accelerate the rate at which it is reaching Hispanics.
  • Currently, Hispanics account for only 0.01% of PCA pastors and 0.02% of churches.
What's on the horizon for Hispanic PCA church planting?

The PCA has widely embraced the Integrated methodology (an established church reaches cross-culturally to add another congregation) to reach Hispanics. A big contributing factor to the popularity of the Integrated methodology is that it is the least expensive way to start a new work, as the budget falls under the sending church, and the congregations can share both space and leadership. However, the largest drawback is that established PCA churches are typically located in neighborhoods with a low percentage of Hispanics.

I would like to see more church planting using the Incubator (starting within the general confines of the sending church leading to holistic autonomy over time) and Independent methodologies (self-governing and self-supporting). The benefit of that shift is that we’ll potentially start making headway in neighborhoods that were previously inaccessible. Furthermore, as these new churches mature and reproduce, we will ultimately have a much greater number of culturally and linguistically attractive churches as well as more Hispanic leaders involved in all aspects of the church.

Finally, we need to talk about buildings. A common misconception among unchurched Hispanics is that the church solely refers to a physical structure. That cultural belief has a direct impact on the rate at which our churches are growing, as only five out of our forty-two Hispanic churches own their facility. This statistic about the number of churches that own their building is not surprising since Hispanic churches typically have fewer financial resources than established churches. My hope is to see declining established PCA churches located in neighborhoods that have become more Hispanic choose to generously donate their buildings to qualified Hispanic church planters or pastors. This would greatly benefit the Hispanic planters, safeguard Hispanic churches from the burden of constantly increasing rent payments, and contribute to the legacy of the struggling church.

    Tell us about your first PCA Hispanic church planting conference. How can we help with the next one?

    Our conference was fabulous! Over 50 delegates from 14 states heard the call to arms and flocked to our Hispanic Church Planting Summit in Atlanta. The Summit was our first opportunity to dive into my new book, Plantemos (Let’s plant), designed to equip church planters to reach the emergent Hispanic population with confidence.

    Bilingual worship and conversation filled the air. Breakout sessions, vital small group discussions, and fellowship flowed throughout the Summit and lifted our hearts. Everyone left feeling better equipped.

    We decided to organize another church planting conference in 2024, and chose Houston, TX as the host city.

    Redeemer East Side can help us improve our next church planting Conference in two ways. One way is by assisting us in creating a scholarship fund. The conference only cost $50 this year which included meals and materials. Even at that heavily subsidized conference price, we received multiple requests for financial assistance to cover travel and accommodation expenses. It would be an incredible blessing if Redeemer East Side could contribute financially so that we can offer scholarships to pastors and leaders from under-privileged churches.

    Another way to help is by providing the necessary resources to give each participant one of Tim Keller's books as a gift. I think Dr. Keller’s book on marriage would be an excellent choice. That gift not only improves the quality of the leaders' own marriages, but also equips them to minister to married couples within their ministry.

    How can we pray for PCA Spanish-speaking churches in the New York metro area?

    In May, I had the honor and privilege of preaching at Redeemer East Side and then speaking to the New York Metro Presbytery the following Tuesday. During my time with the Presbytery, God moved in the lives of several Presbyters, and shortly thereafter they started discussing the need to take proactive steps to reach Hispanics in their city.

    Two months later, I had a follow-up meeting with them, and we agreed on a two-part strategy to prepare for the Hispanic Harvest in New York. The first part involves developing a comprehensive prayer strategy for the entire Presbytery. The second part involves developing a strategy to train local leaders.

    Pray that these strategy sessions prove fruitful and mature into fully-fledged plans that successfully reach and grow NYC Hispanic PCA churches.

    Please share your family's history in America and your heritage in the PCA.

    I was born in Bogotá, Colombia and lived there until I was 15 years old. In 1979, my family immigrated to Miami, Florida where I lived until 1982. From 1982 to 1986, I served overseas in the United States Air Force. I met my wife Debbie, a native Floridian, upon my return to Florida in 1986.

    Debbie and I became Christians under the ministry of PCA pastor Rev. Al LaCour and married in 1990 in Miami's Immanuel PCA church. In 1992, we started attending Christ Covenant PCA Church in Broward County, Florida where I began my mentorship under the ministry of Rev. Brian Kelso. I was ordained as a Deacon and served as chairman of the Diaconate until my ordination as a Ruling Elder. In 1995, I accepted a position on the church staff to oversee all the church ministries. From 1998 until 2001, I served as the youth pastor.

    In 2001, I was ordained by the PCA Presbytery of Southern Florida. Later that year I planted Iglesia Principe de Paz. in Broward County, Florida. We moved our family to Atlanta, Georgia in June 2006 to plant Grace International Church - a multicultural and bilingual church. I joined the staff of Mission to North America in January 2011 as Hispanic Ministries Coordinator.

    Orlando E. Costas (Born 1942 - Died 1987)

    Costas was a major figure in the Latin American Theological Fellowship and the Lausanne movement. He advocated for a holistic mission that brought evangelism together with social activism. In 1976, he completed his ThD at the Free University of Amsterdam, writing on "Theology of the Crossroads in Contemporary Latin America: Missiology in Mainline Protestantism, 1969-1974" under Johannes Verkuyl. He later taught at Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary and Andover Newton Theological School.

    Justo L. González (Born 1937)

    González is a retired Cuban-American historical theologian. He is the author of the three-volume History of Christian Thought, and is considered an influential contributor to Latin American Theology. González attended United Seminary in Cuba and also attended Yale University where he became the youngest to be awarded the historical theology doctorate. Over the past thirty years, he has focused on developing programs for the theological education of Hispanics, and he has received four honorary doctorates.

    Alexia Salvatierra

    Salvatierra is a Lutheran Pastor with over 35 years of experience in community ministry including church-based service and community development programs, congregational and community organizing, and legislative advocacy. She has been a national leader working in areas of poverty and immigration for over 20 years including co-founding the national Evangelical Immigration Table (a broad coalition of moderate and conservative evangelical leaders and institutions advocating for immigration reform). Salvatierra founded multiple programs and organizations in the US and overseas. These included a gang prevention program for at-risk immigrant youth in Fresno, a community computer center, an intergenerational community garden where the elderly taught at-risk youth to grow produce in Oakland, church leaders and congregation members providing emergency services in the streets of Santa Cruz, and migrant farmworker camps in Watsonville. She is currently working as Assistant Professor of Integral Mission and Global Transformation at Fuller Theological Seminary.

    Manuel Ortiz (Born 1938 - Died 2017)

    Ortiz was a Puerto Rican from East Harlem who became a pastor, professor, and writer. Ortiz was best known for teaching at Westminster Theological Seminary for 20 years. He was also known for planting and pastoring the urban and multiethnic congregation Spirit and Truth Fellowship church in Philadelphia. Ortiz had a lifelong passion for urban ministry and was involved in founding several churches and schools in Puerto Rico, Chicago, and Philadelphia.

    Dr. Eldin Villafane (Born 1940)

    Villafane is a Puerto Rican, lifelong community advocate, social ethicist, passionate teacher of social justice, and writer. Dr. Villafane has served as director of Gordon-Conwell’s Campus for Urban Ministerial Education (CUME) in Boston and then served as the Associate Dean for Urban and Multicultural Affairs. He spent his time there preparing the school and church leadership for the ever-increasing urban and multicultural world. He served as the Minister of Education at Iglesia Cristiana Juan 3:16 in the Bronx and was the founder and president of La Comunidad of Hispanic American Scholars of Theology and Religion. He was recently named one of the “Top Hispanic Evangelical Scholars” by the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference and received an Esperanza Spirit lifetime Award for “outstanding and dedicated ministerial service.” His areas of expertise are Hispanic Studies, Urban Ministries, Pentecostalism, and Justice. He continues to be active in areas that involve civic engagement, church, academic boards, and committees.

    Source for additional Hispanic Christian leaders: Redeemer East Harlem Hispanic American Heritage Month webpage (used with permission)