For Pastor Herman Perez, the Midwest is filled with both opportunity and need. As Hispanic populations grow throughout the region, he and others are working to bring the gospel to them.
“Every little town between Sioux Falls and Rapid City is full of Hispanics,” he said. “They come here to work—egg farms, pig farms, agricultural plants. We are trying to break the barriers that keep them away so that they can go to church.”
After spending more than two decades working as a missionary in Mexico and Guatemala, Pastor Perez moved to Sioux Falls nine years ago and began planting churches. For the past four years, he has pastored a congregation hosted in Sunnycrest UMC. The ministry has now expanded to include services in Mitchell and Plankinton.
Sunnycrest UMC is part of the Dakotas Annual Conference.
Even so, the need continues to outpace the number of churches. Some people drive 90 minutes or more to attend services, according to Pastor Herman. The problem is especially acute in rural areas. Thankfully, online platforms have provided a virtual space in which people can worship.
“Some people are watching the service while they’re working on farms,” Pastor Herman said. “What’s amazing is that they are even sending in their offerings because they want to support the work of the church.”
In addition, lay people have stepped in to fill the gaps of congregational care. While Pastor Herman regularly visits each congregation he oversees to pray and officiate services, a group of volunteers has arisen to take care of day-to-day needs.
“We had to close the church for eight or nine months during the pandemic,” Pastor Herman said. “I started to work one-on-one with the leaders—hours each week. Now those leaders are the ones meeting with people, praying with them and caring for them. They take care of Plankinton and Mitchell in amazing ways. I learned that it’s not me—it’s God.”
The Minnesota Annual Conference also continues to make spaces for Hispanic ministry. Earlier this month, Rev. Ben Ingebretson and Rev. Fred Vanderwerf helped lead the Hispanic Ministries Reach Event at Community UMC in Monticello, Minnesota, where Pastor Celia Navas works with the Isaiah 61:1 Church. Other church planters and partners in ministry from the Dakotas and Minnesota also attended.
“The goal was just get everyone in the same room,” said Rev. Fred Vanderwerf, the Southern Prairie District Superintendent. “Let’s see what opportunities they are seeing that can guide strategy, and let’s see what united approach we can give to resourcing.”
Both Vanderwerf and Ingebretson see energy rising up around Hispanic ministries across the nation. These movements, often sparked by passionate leaders, are creating new spaces for Hispanic peoples with the help of multiple partners, according to Vanderwerf.
As always, there is more work yet to be done. The Dakotas congregations plan to host Noches de Salvacion y Milagros with Guatemalan evangelist Mario Ixquereu March 30 in Plankinton and March 31-April 2 in Sioux Falls. Pastor Herman also plans to help with new church starts in South Dakota and Kansas later this year.
excerpt from a story by Rev. Eric Van Meter, Dakotas UMC
This story represents how United Methodist local churches through their Annual Conferences are living as Vital Congregations. A vital congregation is the body of Christ making and engaging disciples for the transformation of the world. Vital congregations are shaped by and witnessed through four focus areas: calling and shaping principled Christian leaders; creating and sustaining new places for new people; ministries with poor people and communities; and abundant health for all.