La Casa de Mi Padre: My Father’s House

Published 9:09 pm Friday, July 24, 2009

Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines “outreach” as “the extending of services or assistance beyond current or usual limits.” With its current Hispanic ministry, the United Methodist Church is doing just that.

“It’s a ministry to those who are new to our country to try to meet their needs in ways more established organizations may not be able to,” explained United Methodist Church district superintendent John Bonner.

“Quite a number [of the local Hispanics] are on their way to citizenship. We try to bridge cultural differences so these people can have a place where they are comfortable.”

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The Methodist district office hired the Rev. Jose Luis Zamora in February 2008 to lead the Hispanic ministries in the district. The district includes a nine-county region reaching from Jackson to Centreville.

“We looked at demographics and saw that the largest Hispanic population was concentrated in Demopolis,” Bonner said. “Because of the economy, the population is currently shifting.”

The ministry offers English as a Second Language (ESL) classes every Saturday evening from 5 to 7 p.m. at the First United Methodist Church on Decatur Street. Weekly worship services are held in Jackson on Sunday nights, and the ministry is looking to hold Spanish worship services on Saturday evenings in Demopolis beginning in the fall.

Zamora expressed optimism about the mission and direction of the program.

“Our role in the Hispanic ministry here is to build trust among Hispanic and American people,” he said. “We have many different kinds of Spanish people here with different cultures. Some even speak indigenous languages. We are here to help them understand the system and cultures of this country.”

This past week, the Hispanic ministry conducted a week-long Bible school entitled “La Casa de mi Padre,” or “The House of My Father.” Heriberto and Alicia Martnez — along with their children, Alicia, Eliel and Heriberto Jr. — traveled from Mexico to conduct the Bible school among 38 local Hispanic children and mothers.

“The first thing we do in the day is to say the pledge to the American and Christian flags and the Bible,” said Martnez. “After this, they go to classes to learn a story form the Bible. They also learn songs and choreography.”

The week-long Bible school culminated in a “grand celebration” Friday at 1 p.m. at FUMC. Children performed songs and presented Biblical messages they had learned during the week.

“Hispanics have a lot to teach us culturally,” said Bonner. “The idea of ‘fiesta’ and celebrating life together with family and friends is something I feel has been lost in our own culture.”

Bonner said that the Biblical foundation for the Hispanic ministry is in Matthew 25.

“Jesus encourages us to understand that he is with us in all forms,” Bonner said. “This ministry is not to ask what these people can do for us, but what we can do for them in the name of Christ. The book of Hebrews also says to welcome others because we ourselves have been welcomed.”

Zamora agreed with this principle.

“The most important thing is that we are working to lead people to find a better life,” he said. “We are working with spiritual issues by preaching the Bible and the Gospel. We believe this is the only way to change lifestyles.”