Fellowship Church reaching out to Liberty Hill Spanish speakers
By SHELLY WILKISON
When Pastor Michael Wright realized the demographics of the community didn’t reflect the membership of Fellowship Church, he set out to make a change.
“Liberty Hill is 40 percent Hispanic and our church didn’t reflect that,” Wright said. “As a church, we were failing to reach Spanish speakers. We (church leaders) spent time praying about that.”
The answer came when Wright reached out to Angel Perez, who in 2014 was pastoring Camino al Cielo — a Spanish-speaking church then meeting in the white church building on Loop 332.
“We had less than 26 people in the church,” said Perez. “We weren’t really growing.”
Seeking a way to bring the two congregations together, the two pastors agreed it was important to create an opportunity where Liberty Hill families could worship together — regardless of the culture they come from or the language they speak.
Wright said it is not uncommon for churches to have a Spanish ministry. But in many cases the Spanish speakers are simply segregated from the English speakers with the Spanish speakers “treated as second class citizens,” he said.
“That is so far from where we are,” Wright added. “We’ve gotten rid of the separate but equal mindset.”
He explained that those ministries only reach one generation of Spanish speakers.
“The second and third generations (English speaking children and grandchildren) are not,” he said.
Reaching the younger people requires more of a cultural connection, and Fellowship is working to reach everyone, he said.
Seven weeks ago, Fellowship Church invited Perez to join the pastoral team ministering primarily to Spanish-speaking families. On the first day of Spanish services at Fellowship, there were 17 in attendance. In a few short weeks, the number has grown to 26 and a new family was expected to attend last week. Already, two have been baptized.
Perez, 39, works full time as a school custodian in the Austin ISD. He works a night shift cleaning schools.
“People around here work so hard, and I think it helps when they see a pastor that works hard and is not using the gospel as the (primary) source of income,” Perez said.
Wright also has a full-time job in addition to his senior pastor position at the church. He is a Commander with Austin Travis County EMS.
Perez said his goal is to grow the Spanish-speaking membership one family at a time and as names are shared with him, he is making home visits.
A knock at his own door is how Perez’ life began to change.
“The way I used to live and what I’m doing now is totally different,” he said. “I was a non-believer. Someone knocked at my door and gave me my first Bible.”
Born in Mexico, Perez came to the United States 20 years ago. His brother and sister lived here.
Perez, at age 19, owned a moving company in Monterrey, Mexico, but struggled to keep it successful because of his “addictions.”
“I had some addictions in Mexico — drugs and alcohol,” he said. “It was a bad time and I was out of control.”
He said his parents agreed that he should make a new start in the United States, but the addictions followed him.
Eight years ago, someone knocked at his door and his life was changed. Since that time, he has shared his testimony with Spanish speakers throughout the Austin area. He said it’s a message that resonates with immigrants.
“God allowed me to go through all these moments so that now I can use these experiences to reach others,” he said.
Perez and Wright say the vision for the Spanish-speaking arm of Fellowship is evolving in God’s will. However, they agree the needs of area immigrants are many.
“We will do whatever we can to minister to those needs, whatever they are,” said Wright.
For now, Fellowship Church is ramping up its presence on social media attempting to reach area Spanish speakers.
Wright said studies show Hispanics have a higher presence on social media than others. He said most immigrants have access to hand-held mobile devices.
To make space available for Spanish language Bible study classes and Sunday services, the church repurposed a room with a 250 capacity on the second floor of the facility on RR 1869. Bible study classes in Spanish are held there at 9 a.m. Sundays for all ages, followed by a Spanish-language church service at 10:45 a.m.
Perez said the service includes traditional hymns in Spanish as well as more modern Christian music. His sermon is also delivered in Spanish.
Several weeks ago, Fellowship held a blended service incorporating Spanish language music and a message into the English-language service. The response was overwhelming, Wright said.
“In six weeks, we have seen how we can minister as one congregation,” he said. “Regardless of someone’s primary language, they will have the opportunity to worship and be discipled.”