LAREDO?Five weeks into his task in Laredo, Chuy Avila?a church-planting strategist sponsored by the SBTC and NAMB?didn’t characterize his ministry as difficult.
“I think it will be easy because I can feel the Lord’s hands around Laredo,” Avila said. “Not because I’m here, but because the people here are open and friendly and willing to hear the gospel. I can feel the Lord is working in their lives and families and in the city.”
Avila has spent more than 17 years in such ministry, having served as a church-planting strategist for Hispanic work at the Tennessee Baptist Convention for the last decade. He has prior experience with Midland Baptist Association and served on NAMB’s Hispanic Task Force.
Avila’s work in Laredo, whose populace is 95 percent Hispanic, is part of an SBTC/NAMB joint venture called Project Borderlands Reach, the purpose of which is to systematically saturate Laredo as one of many under-evangelized and under-churched borderlands regions with the gospel. The three-year strategy includes an evangelistic ministry focus on planting multiple healthy churches that will replicate themselves.
Having researched local demographics, Avila said the city of about a quarter-million people are segmented linguistically as follows: 20 percent of first-generation Hispanics speaks Spanish only, 60 percent represent the second generation which is bi-lingual, and the remaining 20 percent are the English-only third generation.
Avila said the Spanish-language churches aren’t reaching the second and third generations as well as the first. Add to that the average age of Baptist pastors in the area?65, according to Avila?and the mission field is indeed ripe unto harvest, he said.
“There is a gap in the reality of the community and the age of most ministers here.” That troubles Avila because there are multiplied thousands of young families and singles that he meets every day who are walking, jogging and driving around in Laredo, who are not yet reached with the gospel.
“My priority goal is to reach the second and third generations,” he added, saying there is a need to plant churches to help reach them. There are only 13 Baptist churches in Laredo, Avila said. That’s about one evangelical church for every 3,800 people.
“We don’t want to import church planters from other states,” he said. “I need to discover younger people right here who are willing to be discipled and trained, and then mentor them to start churches. This is my biggest need?to raise up younger pastors to reach the younger generations living in Laredo. My prayer is that the Lord will raise them up from our own backyard.”
One of Avila’s strategies includes mission service projects to assist the local school system maintain its facilities. He prays for groups of Baptists to come to Laredo to help paint public school buildings.
“This will help us build a good relationship with school officials, and will help us to start Bible studies in school facilities,” he said. Avila wants to start two bi-lingual churches as soon as possible.
Avila also prays for those who would come to Laredo for prayer-walking, religious surveys, Vacation Bible Schools, and who could help in other strategic ministries.
Recognizing that Southern Baptists in Texas are already supporting such ministry through the Cooperative Program, Avila reflected upon the role CP giving played in his own conversio