Movement of God in Northeast Houston church fueled by heart for gospel, vibrant ESL ministry

The English as a Second Language program at Cross Community Church, a church plant in Northeast Houston, is among the largest in the city. Photo submitted

‘We’re just there to share Jesus’

Abilingual church plant is reaching a Latino population in Northeast Houston troubled by gang activity, drug cartels, and human trafficking—proving through door-to-door evangelism and a robust English as a Second Language program that gospel hope is available to all.

Del Traffanstedt left corporate America to become a missions pastor at Northeast Houston Baptist Church, where he was mentored by the church’s former pastor, Nathan Lino. Traffanstedt later served as a pastor in Odessa for three years but couldn’t stop thinking about Houston—especially inside the beltway.

“The people caught my heart. It’s just a very inner-city, urban, heavily Latino area—just great, solid people who love their community, but there’s a lack of gospel-oriented churches,” Traffanstedt said of the area where he would eventually plant. “There’s plenty of churches here, just not a lot that are actually reaching the community and trying to engage the community.”

When Lino called Traffanstedt in Odessa in early 2021 and said Northeast Houston Baptist Church wanted to plant a church in that specific area of Houston, Traffanstedt was able to share with him a specific plan God had already given him for the task should the opportunity ever arise.

Traffanstedt moved back to Houston a few months later and partnered with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention and several churches to plant Cross Community Church, meeting at the Northeast Houston Community Center (owned by Northeast Houston Baptist Church).

More than 10 churches helped the core team knock on doors in the six weeks leading up to the launch and for two weeks after the launch, Traffanstedt said. “The community responded. It was great. We ended up reaching in that first go-round around 5,000 homes.”

On launch Sunday in September of last year, Cross Community baptized a person who had accepted Christ during the door-to-door effort, and the plant baptized at least one person every week for the first 10 weeks, leading to 20 baptisms by its first anniversary. 

“We’ve had around 60 professions of faith, and several of those are still working through the baptism process of understanding what that is,” Traffanstedt said. “The community is heavily steeped in cultural Catholicism, so we have to do a lot of discipling [about] baptism.”

Cross Community baptized at least one person every week for its first 10 weeks, leading to 20 baptisms by its first anniversary.

"The people caught my heart. It’s just a very inner-city, urban, heavily Latino area—just great, solid people who love their community, but there’s a lack of gospel-oriented churches."

About 100 people attend Sunday services now, and roughly every other Sunday the worship songs are a blend of English and Spanish—the stanza in one language and the refrain in the other. A real-time translation of the sermon is available so that those who prefer can hear Spanish through an earpiece and connected device. 

The community is mainly second- and third-generation immigrants, and most of them are bilingual, Traffanstedt said. 

“Everything else in their lives is integrated, and we offer a worship experience that’s integrated as well, which is different than most of the churches around here. … That’s attractive to a lot of the unchurched young Latino couples that we’ve ministered to and baptized and are discipling,” the pastor said.

Cross Community is partnering with two local schools to show Christ’s love, primarily through giving teachers Starbucks and Amazon gift cards. They’ve bought uniforms for students, and—partially with the North American Mission Board’s help—distributed more than 600 backpacks, which include gospel tracts in English and Spanish. 

The church plant’s main community outreach is its ESL program, which at more than 30 members its first semester is among Houston’s largest. More than 15 family units from the program have visited the church, and school partners have asked Cross Community to start an ESL program for children.

Though they weren’t quite ready to support a full class for children, Cross Community hosted a weeklong ESL camp for kids before the start of school. 

“It looks maybe like a VBS, only with some intentional English instruction on basic classroom vocabulary,” Traffanstedt said. About 40 children attended, most of them in kindergarten through third grade. 

Traffanstedt is half Salvadorian, he said, though he didn’t grow up with his first-generation immigrant father. “I have studied Spanish, but I’m not conversational. I do understand it very well, and I can communicate at a basic level.” 

When he needs to communicate evangelistically with someone from the 20 percent of non-English speakers in the surrounding community, Traffanstedt has five members of his core team who can translate. “Between me, my translator, the individual, and the Holy Spirit, we’re just able to work it out,” he said.

Traffanstedt can’t point to a bad experience the church has had going door-to-door in the community. People there are more receptive to a gospel witness than people in suburbs, he has found, and though crime is high, his groups are careful and have earned a good reputation. 

“We don’t try to be the police,” he said. “We’re just there to share Jesus.”

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