April 5th, 2013 at 10:42 am
WACO – Worship services during Congreso are full of adrenaline-pumping, ground-shaking music and students who raise their hands and voices to the sky. The energy is palpable as they sing praises to God that echo throughout the building.
While such a scene is stirring, the event’s most important moments happen in near silence. The bands don’t play. The audience doesn’t sing. It’s there that each student considers his or her relationship with God, converses with Him about and takes action.
In this quietude, heads are bowed, tears fall and lives change.
““We just let the Spirit take over the students and the place,” said Frank Palos, director of Texas Baptists’ Hispanic Evangelism Office. “We ask the music guys to get it going and then let the students take a moment to stop and pray and think and reflect.”
That’s the heart of Congreso, made possible gifts to missions through the Texas Baptist Cooperative Program that support Texas Baptists’ Hispanic Evangelism Office, assistance from Baylor University and support from Hispanic Baptist churches who send their youth to the gathering.
At least 625 students were “fearless” – building on Congreso’s theme – as they walked to the front of the arena to indicate they had made a decision Christ. Many more decisions were made that were not recorded, including a significant response that took place March 29.
Youth groups embraced new believers. Mothers and fathers prayed with their children. Hurts were healed. Lives started fresh.
“Be Fearless in your witness,” Palos said of the message of Congreso. “Be fearless in your love. Be fearless in your service. Don’t say, ‘I don’t have it.’ Don’t worry about it. God has it for you. Don’t say, ‘I don’t know what to say.’ God has the words.”
The message was received, according to church leaders.
“We had a great experience,” Benito Villarreal, Jr., youth minister of Genesis Church in Hereford. “This is our third year in a row to take a group down there. Each time we get a little closer as a group and to the Lord.”
The experience helps students understand there is a vast group of young people who also are following God daily, said Jorge Zapata, pastor of New Wine Church in Harlingen. Each year, at least one member of the congregation’s youth group returns from Congreso feeling called to ministry.
“Congreso is one of the areas where we see the movement of God in their lives,” he said. “They see other kids like them and they see God moving in their lives.”
For many students in the crowd, Congreso is the culmination of a year of planning, praying and preparing.
As soon as one Congreso ends, young people begin looking forward to the next one. They pray about going. They attend regional Congreso rallies. They participate in fundraising efforts. They talk to their friends and classmates about Congreso and invite them to come.
They choose to be fearless at their schools and in their communities, Palos said. When their friends come to Congreso, God does the rest.
That approach is similar to the one a teacher took regarding a young Afshin Ziafat, who was born in Iran to Muslim parents and came to the United States during the Iran hostage crisis. Hostilities toward Iranians were high in United States, but one person chose another path and gave him a Bible.
“One teacher decided to be fearless,” Ziafat noted during a Congreso worship session. “She said, ‘I don’t care that he’s from Iran, I’m going to love him.’”
Ten years later, he would begin reading that Bible secretly, even sometimes hidden beneath his bed sheets so his parents wouldn’t know.
As a result of reading and visiting with friends, Ziafat committed his life to Christ. His parents would later disown him because of his new faith. He felt a call to ministry, which his parents also did not approve.
Where his parents didn’t support him, God did, Ziafat said. The Lord guided him to people who helped him to go seminary and mentored him as he grew in his faith. Today, he is the lead pastor of Providence Church in Frisco and regularly takes trips to the Middle East where he trains Iranian pastors.
Ziafat reminded young people at Congreso that following Christ comes at a cost. Doing what Christ would have a person do sometimes leads to mocking, ridicule and worse. Christ’s life exemplifies the cost of following God. Yet that cost pales in comparison to the rewards.
“The call of Christ on your life young man, the call of Christ on your life, young lady, is to follow Him,” Ziafat preached.
“There’s a cost to following Him to laying your life down for Him – and it’s worth it.”
“Coach Val” Juan Valenzuela, pastor of Community Bible Church in San Antonio also spoke during Congreso. Gabe De La Garza led worship. Jeremy Camp also ministered through music.
Next year, Congreso will celebrate its 50th anniversary. For more information about Congreso, visit www.texasbaptists.org/congreso