A small whiteboard sign welcomed guests to the Grace Espaol campus. The new yet nondescript room at Grace Community Church on Tyler’s Old Jacksonville Highway is the birthplace of a church campus for Spanish speakers within the already existing framework of the church.
At 51 years old, Grace Community has three locations in East Texas, two in Tyler and one in Lindale. This is the first time it’s had a Spanish campus and it is being launched at the already existing Old Jacksonville location.
On Sunday, Pastor Edgar Gald￡mez launched the first phase of Grace Espaol, a Bible study.
The church plans to continue the Bible study and have several prayer and praise nights in the coming months before it launches a Spanish worship service on Jan. 17. There also are plans to start one or more small groups.
“I believe there is need for reaching our Hispanic community with the Gospel,” Gald￡mez said.
The decision to have the church embrace more than one culture, and specifically more than one language, is reflective of a desire to create diversity in the church.
Stephen Wickliffe, the church’s pastor for missional life, said the church leadership believes heaven is going to be filled with people of multiple ethnicities and they want to reflect that now with God’s people.
“We want Grace to reflect not just the church local, but church global,” Wickliffe said.
The steps toward doing this started about three years ago, when a local accountant asked the Grace leadership if he could use the church for a Spanish-speaking congregation on Sunday afternoons.
The church allowed it, and after about a year, the two parties discussed the idea of making the Spanish congregation, which numbered about 30 people, a part of Grace.
All agreed it was a good decision, so Grace formed a team to work on the project and started searching for a campus pastor. They found Gald￡mez and the ball started rolling.
About 15 people attended Sunday’s Bible study. Since the campus doesn’t have a worship service yet, the study began with a short time of worship led by part-time worship leader Henry Centeno.
Gald￡mez preached out of the book of Acts in the Bible, discussing the start of the Christian church and what it means to be a church.
Gald￡mez said they desire to share the Gospel with people in Tyler. But there are some keys to making that happen.
The church cannot grow without the Holy Spirit, he said. The foundation of the church is the resurrection of Christ and Christ is full of the Holy Spirit.
As God’s people, full of the Holy Spirit, bear witness to His love, they desire to gain more followers for Christ.
Gald￡mez said they are going to depend on God for the future of this campus and ask God to raise up men and women to be leaders of it.
Edlin Acuna, 26, of Tyler, is one of those who already has committed to be a part of the campus’ core group. Ms. Acuna, who works as an occupational therapy tech, greeted guests at an exterior door on Sunday morning.
Ms. Acuna grew up in a Catholic household, but met friends who were Protestant and began attended the Grace Community Church in Lindale. She wanted to get more involved in the Spanish-speaking community, which is why she wants to be a part of this church.
“It was beautiful,” she said of Sunday’s Bible study.
Casey Bryans, 41, of Tyler, said God put on his heart 15 years ago to work with Spanish speakers. He and his wife and children did that in a big way by serving as missionaries in Ecuador from 2008 to 2012. Locally, they have Spanish speaking friends and acquaintances, he said.
“I think the goal of what we’re doing here is providing an opportunity for people to receive good, sound teaching and be able to worship in their heart language,” Bryans, a physical therapist, said.
Gal￩n Williams, 64, came to Tyler from Puerto Rico in the early 1990s. When Grace decided to expand its reach to Spanish speakers, she started praying for the effort. As a Hispanic, she said she wanted to see what the service was about.
“I’m here really because I want to support,” she said. “I’m going to try to help as much as I can.”
A key part of this church’s foundation is making sure its members are well integrated with the English speakers. Gald￡mez said that part of the challenge for some Spanish-speaking congregations in general has been that while they reach the Spanish-speakers, they often alienate the second-generation, meaning the immigrant’s children. This second generation can speak Spanish, but typically feel more comfortable speaking English because that is how they communicate with their peers in school.
In this sense, Grace is arranged perfectly because there are no plans to have Spanish-speaking children’s or youth departments.
The children and youth of those who attend Grace Espaol will attend the same classes as those of the English-speaking campus.
In addition, Wickliffe said the church plans to have short-term mission trips to Spanish-speaking countries that will include English and Spanish speakers from all Grace campuses.
Special events, such as a marriage event coming up in January and holiday services, also will be conducted jointly, Wickliffe said.
“Our hope is that the community will embrace it and see it as an opportunity to really diversify the church to not be segregated,” Wickliffe said. “We believe we’re already seeing that. … We’re just excited to start. We’re excited about what the future holds.”
ONLINE: To watch a video about Grace Espaol, visit TylerPaper.com.
BY THE NUMBERS:
35.4 million Latino adults in the U.S.
55 percent identify as Catholic
22 percent identify as Protestant
18 percent identify as religiously unaffiliated
3 percent identify as other Christian
1 percent identify as other
Source: Pew Research Center’s 2013 National Survey of Latinos and Religion