Una Nueva Familia: Anglo church plants Hispanic congregation to reach growing community

Jose and Melissa Medina arrived in the U.S. from their native Puerto Rico in January 2012 with their two young children, two suitcases, a small amount of money and hopes for Melissa to become a schoolteacher in Dallas and Jose to attend seminary in Fort Worth. However, when those plans never materialized, the couple was left waiting on God’s direction.

The Medinas began attending North Richland Hills Baptist Church, where church members welcomed them in like family, helping them find jobs and a home. Jose began working as a Spanish-speaking counselor, where he taught classes on domestic violence, substance abuse, and theft prevention.

Medina was also introduced to Hector Mendez, pastor of Iglesia Bautista Central in Fort Worth and church starting center Hispanic consultant for Tarrant Baptist Association. Mendez invited him to serve in his church’s youth ministry and even gave him occasional opportunities to preach.

Around this same time, Normandale Baptist Church in Fort Worth desired to start a Spanish ministry to reach the growing number of Hispanics in its community but lacked financial resources and someone who could lead the effort. So John Mark Yeats, then-pastor of Normandale, contacted SBTC Church Planting Lead Associate David Alexander for help.

A short time later, Medina found himself sitting at a table with Mendez, Alexander and Yeats to discuss the ministry at Normandale. All agreed it was a needed ministry and that Medina would be a great fit to lead it.

When he was told that the church had limited funds for the ministry, Medina simply replied, “OK. I’ll do it without money. I’m going to do it for free.” Members at Normandale, however, insisted on taking up an offering and were able to provide some financial support for Medina and his family.

Medina and his wife started Normandale Espanol, a Spanish ministry of the church, in February 2013. They led a Spanish-speaking Bible study on Sunday mornings and connected with Hispanic families involved in Normandale’s soccer ministry for children in the community.

Through Medina’s connections at the counseling center, he also began to receive referrals for Hispanic families who could not afford the services but were open to free pastoral counseling. As he counseled families, he invited them to the Bible study at Normandale.

Spanish Ministry or Church?
As the group grew, Medina and the pastors at Normandale were faced with a choice.

“At some point, we had to make a decision,” Medina recalls. “Did we want to be a church, or did we want to be a counseling ministry?”

Through discussions with Alexander at the SBTC, they agreed that the best decision was to transition Normandale’s Spanish ministry to a church plant sponsored through a partnership with the SBTC and the North American Mission Board. They believed this strategy would best meet the long-term vision of reaching Hispanics while avoiding common concerns of a Spanish ministry becoming over-dependent on the Anglo church, which often results in a lack of indigenous leadership and weaker financial commitment among the ministry’s members.

Iglesia Bautista Una Nueva Familia—One New Family Baptist Church—officially launched in January 2014. Una Nueva Familia uses Normandale’s facilities, shares ministries to children and youth, and maintains a close relationship with Normandale, but it is an autonomous church.

In addition to financial support, the SBTC provides ongoing coaching, resources and encouragement to Medina and Una Nueva Familia. Medina says the SBTC is “always open to help” when he calls.
In describing the SBTC’s role, Alexander says, “We’ve trained Jose as a church planter. Our church planter training is principle-based, so the planter can take the principles and address them to their context. Our coaches are able to help the planter deal with those contextual issues.”

Throughout the year, Alexander says, “Jose has grown in his ministerial experience and his ability to disciple somebody. Those things will continue to grow as he gets more experience with the work.”

Medina uses his training as a counselor to care for his congregation.

“I go to their houses, eat with them, have fun with them. I am their pastor, but I want them to see that I care,” Medina says.

Still, the work is not without its challenges, as Medina strives to overcome cultural barriers and to help those from a strong Catholic background understand the gospel and what a relationship with Jesus is really about. Despite difficult days, he’s encouraged by lives that have been changed by the gospel, as church members shed the problems of their past and embrace new life in Christ.

As examples, Medina points to men in his church who are being discipled and growing as leaders in the church. He also notes the 17-year-old single mother who came to faith in Christ at the church and is now actively connected with her church family. She was the first person baptized at Una Nueva Familia, and they’ve seen six others follow in her footsteps this year.

Rapid Growth
In less than a year, the fledgling Hispanic church has grown rapidly to around 50-60 people on Sunday mornings. In fact, they continue to outgrow classrooms at Normandale, but the limited finances and space concerns don’t seem to affect Medina, who says, “I just want to see the change in their lives.”

Medina calls what God is doing in Una Nueva Familia “a miracle.”

“God is showing us that we don’t need money, we don’t need spaces, we don’t need materials; we just need the heart,” Medina says.

“If God touched me to do this, he will open the doors financially. I tell people not to put up barriers. Sometimes we put up the barriers.”

If it’s just for one family, Medina says, it’s worth it.

“We’re not thinking in material stuff; we’re thinking in how God changes lives. When I see families changing, when I see every Sunday the people are happy, why would we say we’re not going to do the church because we don’t have enough space or enough money to pay me per month—that does not make sense. Jesus didn’t pray in pretty places; he didn’t charge money to anybody; he did it for free.”

Brent Lightsey, youth and missions pastor at Normandale, is excited about what God has done over the past year.

“Each week there are 50-60 Spanish speakers coming to our building, growing in their relationship with Christ, who were not coming here a year ago,” Lightsey says.  

“Our church has a huge desire to reach our community. The language barrier does prevent many of us from actually talking to our Spanish-speaking neighbors about Jesus, but Iglesia Una Nueva Familia allows our church a practical way to still impact our community.”

Texan Correspondent
Keith Collier
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