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God’s Heart for All People: The Story of a La Viña

Justin Juntunen

Justin Juntunen

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One of the key phrases in the Vineyard is, “Everyone gets to play.” That means everyone – not just those whose first language is English!

As of 2011, there were 10.7 million Hispanic family households in the United States. 16.7% of the nation’s total population is Hispanic. Knowing how quickly this population has grown in the U.S., the Vineyard has set a goal of planting 750 new Vineyard communities in the next 10 years, and we believe 200 of these churches will be Spanish-speaking.

Several Vineyard churches across the United States have been experimenting with planting Spanish-speaking churches in their cities, and stories of success are blooming. One such story belongs to Homero and Claudia Garcia-Cover.

Not long after Homero and Claudia began regularly attending their Vineyard church in Chicago, the pastor asked them to start serving in the church’s ministry to the poor. In their part of town, this people group predominantly spoke Spanish. No one else in the church was fluent in the language, so Homero and Claudia quickly agreed.

As they began delivering food to people in need, the couple invited their newfound friends to Sunday morning, English-speaking services – only to watch them fall asleep. “They were not getting anything from the service,” Homero said. Something needed to be done in order for their friends to connect. Homero and Claudia met with the senior pastor and began to share both their concerns and the deep desires they had to reach the Spanish-speaking population.

The pastor looked at Homero and said, “Why don’t you start a church?”

“I know I should have said, ‘Are you crazy or what?’” Homero remembered. “But instead, for some strange reason – maybe I was just trying to be nice to him! – I said, ‘Okay.’”

“He said, ‘And why don’t you start your church this Sunday?’”

So Homero launched the first Spanish-language service at the church a mere 48 hours after accepting his pastor’s invitation. This “kamikaze method,” he quipped, is not typically recommended by church planting coaches. When Homero and Claudia came on Sunday, the room was empty. “Only three people showed in that service – my wife, me, and the Holy Spirit,” Homero said.

The service remained otherwise empty for several weeks. Finally a man showed up – full of other kinds of wine and spirits, Homero recalled. He never came back. Eventually, a family, and then another, accepted Jesus and stayed at the church. For a while there were women and children coming, but few or no men.

As people came – and went – Homero and Claudia were swept along on an emotional roller coaster, feeling like their attempts at outreach were utterly failing. “For months and years we were evangelizing like crazy, without seeing significant results,” Homero said. “We tried all kinds: servant evangelism, testimonial evangelism, sports evangelism – even strange forms of evangelism like ‘haircut evangelism.’ Free haircuts! ‘I will tell you about Jesus while I have you sitting down. Don’t move or I might cut off your ears.’

We had garage sale evangelism: ‘Come to our garage sale and let me tell you about Jesus while you shop!’ Mariachi evangelism: We hired a mariachi band to perform, and at the end of the show, we shared the gospel.

But no big conversions. No significant growth in our church after three years.”

Homero and Claudia were struggling to get people to stay. Deeply discouraged, Homero was ready to pack things up. But during one last prayer session, a passage from Luke came to Claudia’s mind.

Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’”

“‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’” (Luke 13:6-9)

The couple decided to “fertilize the soil” around their church for one more year.

And things started to turn around.

Looking back, Homero said the turnaround was precipitated by two key ingredients: more prayer and more discipleship. A Brazilian pastor visited the church and began to disciple Homero and Claudia, walking them through several deeply personal aspects of their lives, relationship and ministry.

“God used this man to heal our wounded hearts, to set us free from demonic oppression and to restore our marriage,” Homero said. “The way he discipled us literally changed our lives, our marriage and our church.

At that time, we were having a number of church activities, but none of them involved praying,” he remembered. “So we decided to have a prayer meeting once a week. The Lord continued to speak to us about the importance of prayer, so we added one more prayer meeting. Then the Lord gave us a word through a sister in Christ and said that we needed more prayer. So we added one more prayer meeting!”

Homero and Claudia began to notice some changes. A few people accepted Christ. Some were being healed from various forms of oppression. “The people from our church began to be hungry for the Lord,” he said. “Most of them would come to our prayer meetings and stay for the whole meeting, which was sometimes two hours long.”

The church ended up holding prayer gatherings every weekday. “As a result of that,” Homero said, “the church began to be healthier.”

Discipleship was the other linchpin in the church’s gradual turnaround. It wasn’t simply about giving people the first steps of the Christian life, not only about teaching them the Bible, “but holding them accountable to apply it to their lives,” Homero said. “It was also about spending a lot of time with the people and dealing with very personal stuff that we don’t usually deal with in our churches. Stuff like personal sins, emotional wounds, and even demons.”

Homero loved what the Lord did through this kind of hands-on discipleship, so he decided to implement it more and more deeply. “The Lord started to do some amazing things in the people of our congregation,” he recalled. “People were confessing their sins. Some were being healed physically and emotionally. Marriages were restored. Many of them were being delivered from demonic forces. The people from our church started to grow spiritually like never before.”

After these two practices became rooted in the essence of the church, Homero noticed that something different was happening: The people were staying.

As the church became healthier, he said, it began to grow.

Homero and Claudia’s church, La Viña, now has 600 attendees and has planted eight other La Viña churches. Homero attributes La Viña’s success to regular prayer gatherings, discipleship and the equipping of leaders and ongoing support to its church plants.

What they did was extremely risky, but Homero and Claudia believe God calls us to take risks and to lean into his heart for others.

If we desire to be a people after God’s own heart, we must embrace this kind of vision and reach people from all cultures and languages. Several times throughout Scripture we see God’s heart for reaching all the nations. Jonah was sent to Nineveh. Abraham traveled through several ancient empires, and God’s power was displayed to people on the way. Jesus sent his disciples out to several places to witness – and later on, the Holy Spirit caused the apostles to speak in different languages so that many different groups could hear about Christ.

Today, we can and should be praying to increase diversity in our established churches – and to plant new churches that are already multicultural.

The Vineyard Church Multiplication Team is working alongside the Vineyard Missions team to develop a process for planting diverse churches in the United States. We’ve developed some proven methods for planting successful La Viña communities, and we would love to share more information with you. If you want to know more about planting a Spanish-speaking church, please contact Homero at [email protected] or the Vineyard Church Multiplication Team’s office at [email protected].

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