Hispanic Baptists urged to stand firm in faith


AUSTIN - An estimated 11 million Hispanics live in Texas, with projections of Hispanics becoming the largest ethnic group in the state within a decade. Currently, there are more than 1,100 Hispanic Baptist churches seeking to share the Gospel with this ever-increasing ethnic group.

This year, Convencion Bautista Hispana de Texas was hosted by Hyde Park Baptist Church in Austin, June 28-30, with 1,529 registrants in attendance, including 487 messengers. Many area church members also joined for worship services, with approximately 2,100 in attendance on Sunday evening.

"From the challenging messages in the pulpit, to the informative instruction in the workshops, to great fellowship in the hallways, Convencion 2015 was a great celebration for our family of faith," said Executive Director Jesse Rincones. "Thanks to Texas Baptists for their support of our annual gathering. A very special thanks to Rolando Rodriguez and Gabriel Cortez of the Office of Hispanic Ministry and their director, Lorenzo Peña."

Rincones will assume a full-time position for the Hispanic Convention in San Antonio later this summer, only the second person to work full-time for the convention. He has volunteered in this position for three years and will now be the first paid staff member, officing from the campus of the Baptist University of the Americas.

During the business session on Monday morning, a budget increase from $65,000 in 2015 to $93,700 for 2016 was approved. With the approval of the budget, funds will be available to support this paid position by the convention.

"My first responsibility will be to move forward with our long-range planning effort that we started several months ago in collaboration with Rolando Rodriguez and the Office of Hispanic Ministries," Rincones said. "I will work to increase the amount of Spanish language resources available to our churches, and foster partnerships that will resource Hispanic Baptist work in Texas. The mission is to help build stronger Hispanic Baptist churches, pastors and leaders. The result is that Texas Baptists will have stronger partners in Kingdom work. We can't do everything, but we can do something, and we must do more."

Monday evening, preaching from Matthew 16:13-19, Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, encouraged Hispanic Baptists to stand firm in their faith, not responding to questions about Jesus' identity based on what culture suggests, but rather what the scriptures proclaim.

"If the church does not know who Jesus is, how will the world know who Jesus is?," Rodriguez asked attendees. "Do we know who Jesus is? How can we reach people for Christ if we do not know who He is?"

"We are believers, followers of Jesus Christ. We are who we are because Jesus declared our identity," he said. "His word defines us. Christ is our center."

Officers were also elected for 2015-2016 including Bea Mesquias who will serve a third term as president, from United Baptist Church in Harlingen; Rolando Aguirre serving a second term as first vice president, from Calvary Baptist Church in McAllen; Ruben Chairez serving as second vice president, from Primera Iglesia Bautista Del Rio; and Joel Ake serving a second term as secretary, from Primera Iglesia Bautista Mexicana in Dallas.

On Monday, 100 volunteers participated in a mission project with Texas Baptists Disaster Recovery to package and prepare 10,000 meals to ship to Sierra Leone through Meals 4 Multitudes. This project is part of an on-going TBDR initiative to ship more than 1 million meals to victims of the Ebola crisis this past winter.

During Monday evening's session, 30 Hispanic students were recognized as recipients of $1,000 Hispanic Education Initiative scholarships. Gabriel Cortes, HEI director, noted this was an increase of 10 scholarships from the previous year. The family of Leobardo and Isabel Estrada were recognized for the establishment of an endowment which provided $10,000 for scholarships this year, a historic gift in the Hispanic Baptist community.

Harold Aguirre and Bethany Morales were also awarded scholarships to Dallas Baptist University, totaling $100,000. In recognition for his ongoing support for Hispanic education and notable servant leadership, Dr. Gary Cook, president of Dallas Baptist University, was presented with a servant leadership award.

Additionally, 19 students were recognized as HEI summer missionaries, working in churches around the state to encourage school-aged students to pursue educational goals, including higher education. Fifty-seven students also graduated from the Entrena-T leadership program, coordinated by the Office of Hispanic Ministry, in a ceremony at Hyde Park on Saturday night, led by Rene Maciel, president of Baptist University of the Americas, and professors from BUA.

The three-day event provided opportunities for Hispanic Baptist leaders to network, worship together and celebrate what God is doing in through churches around the state to advance the Kingdom.

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