Carlos stared out of the small airplane window. He gazed at the turquoise waters of the Caribbean below. He imagined what it must be like to live on the seabed among the thousands of creatures that filled the sea. How simple their lives must be. How he wished he could spend his days swimming through the warm, tropical waters.
Suddenly he felt a tap on his shoulder, jolting him from his daydream.
“So where are you headed?” he heard the voice say.
He turned to see a fellow Ecuadorian with a smile on his face and a well-worn Bible in his lap. Carlos didn’t feel much like carrying on a conversation, but he knew the flight was far from over. And this man didn’t seem like the type to take no for an answer when it came to a chat.
“The United States,” Carlos replied.
The man’s smile grew wider as he excitedly shared that the U.S. was also his destination and that he was headed there to plant churches. Carlos nodded and smiled, fully intending to return to his Caribbean daydream. But his new travel companion, Manuel, continued to talk about his plans for the people he hoped to reach through his churches.
Then Manuel asked if he knew Jesus Christ as his Savior. Carlos quickly became agitated. Who is this guy asking me about some man named Jesus?
Manuel told him how important it was to make Jesus the Lord of his life. Carlos thought of the years of struggle and pain he and his family had experienced growing up in Ecuador. The poverty of many in the country, people going to bed hungry, how hard his father had to work to supply the basic needs of his family. And now he was headed to the United States where a good job and the possibility of achieving the American dream awaited him.
After a few minutes, he interrupted Manuel. “I appreciate what you’re trying to share with me, but my plan is to make a lot of money in the States and return to Ecuador to help my family. I don’t plan to give control of my life to some god I can’t even see.”
Eventually, they landed in Miami, and each man went his own way.
Transformed Hearts and Communities
After a few years, Carlos became successful in his job and started making the money he dreamed of as a boy in Ecuador. But for some reason, it wasn’t giving him the sense of accomplishment he expected. He couldn’t seem to forget the things Manuel had told him on the plane years before — that he could only experience true joy and fulfillment through Christ.
God had been working in his heart all this time. And one night, he fell to his knees and cried out to Christ to come and be his Lord and Savior. He soon got baptized at a church in Corona, New York.
That church was one of the churches in the area planted by Missions Door missionary Antonio De La Zerda. When Antonio arrived in the U.S. more than 20 years ago, he quickly noticed the severe lack of Latino pastors in the urban areas of the Northeast.
He joined forces with fellow pastors in the area to begin planting churches. But they didn’t stop there. They also opened training centers to train men in the churches who felt the call on their lives to become pastors. Every man who enrolls at these training centers receives the training he needs to become a pastor and plant more churches.
Coming Full Circle
After turning his life over to God, Carlos felt the calling to lead other people to Christ — much like Manuel had done for him. He enrolled in one of the training centers and began praying with some fellow students about planting a church in Spring Valley, New York, where they knew a large Ecuadorian community lived.
They journeyed to Spring Valley to begin work. Upon arrival, they climbed out of the car to meet their local contact. And Carlos could hardly believe his eyes when he saw Manuel waiting there to meet them! The same man who had introduced him to Christ so many years before was now going to help him plant a church.
Jesus El Buen Pastor de Spring Valley (Jesus The Good Shepherd of Spring Valley) recently celebrated its first year as a church. But with the sense of celebration comes the reminder of our continued need.
The training centers have recently graduated 36 new pastors who are eager to answer the call, but they lack the funding needed to start new churches. Your support is vital in continuing the ministry to the Latino community in the Northeast.