By Michael Hight, Director of Hispanic Church Planting
As featured in mission:world magazine
Several years ago, missionary Buddy Johnson had a vision for a Hispanic men’s retreat that would gather men together away from their homes and jobs for a weekend of spiritual renewal. The goal was simple: We were going to have preaching, singing and praying asking God to call some of these men into ministry. The retreat was held at Daniel Springs Baptist Camp and has continued to be used by God ever since. The Hombre a Hombre conference was and continues to be the largest gathering of Hispanic men in the BMA.
I still remember the first one I attended. My Spanish was in its early stages and I could only understand about 60% of what was being said. But it didn’t take a fluent person to understand the opportunity that this was giving to our Hispanic brethren. There were late night conversations and early morning coffee discussions. I can still remember thinking, “Are they ever going to stop talking and go to sleep?” I realized two things on this first trip. 1) We have an obvious need for God to call more men to the work, and 2) these men desperately need more opportunities to build relationships with one another.
Over the years, the speakers and musicians have changed. We have highlighted some of our best preachers both in the United States and from other countries. We have heard from current and former missionaries and pastors. We have even highlighted speakers who are the second generation to come out of some of our mission work here in the States. They have challenged us in every area from surrendering to God’s call, leading our families, repenting of sin in our lives to leaving a legacy for those who follow in our steps. Our own churches have rejoiced at the opportunities to bring their musicians to Gary, Texas, to prepare our hearts for the Word. It is a time when a number of our men get to serve and speak in a way that they do not get to on a typical Sunday.
Buddy’s ministry has since carried him on to other things, but the conference that he launched continues to be a major part of our Hispanic work here in the States. The format changes some from time to time, but there is always preaching, singing and fellowship. Typically, there is a good soccer game as well! In all seriousness, God never fails to move on the hearts of the men that are present. We don’t desire to have a conference for a conference’s sake; we genuinely want to see God move in ways that impact the men for the kingdom’s sake.
There have been some occasions during which it was obvious that God was moving. I remember one year as the speaker was giving the invitation a couple of guys got together and began praying. Then a couple more joined in, and the next thing you know there were groups of fifteen to twenty men gathered around each other praying for one another, repenting of their sins and asking God to raise up new leaders. It was very moving and humbling to see men respond like this, to lose the facade and machismo and just be real. On other occasions, there have been men who were convicted of their sins and received Christ as their Savior. Many of the men that have made commitments at this conference are faithfully serving in their local churches.
One year the theme was “Leaving a Legacy,” and one of the speakers challenged the men to go to someone who has spiritually impacted their lives and thank them. He challenged them to do it in a timely and practical manner. One young man did just that. He made a video and presented it to the person who led him to the Lord, thanking him for the investment he had put into his life. But he didn’t stop there. The challenge was for the men to recognize those who had gone on before them but to also make a decision to leave spiritual legacies of their own. This young man took that seriously. He went back and told the mother of his two children that God was going to use him, and he needed to make things right. He asked her to marry him, and they are planning a ceremony to bring their lives into obedience to God’s Word. Why? Because he made a commitment to start a spiritual legacy in his family for his two sons. Who knows what God will do not only in his life but in his family’s lives as well! He is now leading in small groups and his wife, who is a Catholic, is becoming more and more faithful to the church they are attending.
Someone may ask, “Is an annual conference really that big of a deal?” For those who go, it is. Many of these men take off work, drive a long way (Gary, Texas, is not really close to anything.), leave their families for a couple of days and sit through hours of preaching and teaching. What are the benefits to them? There are several. In our work, with the exception of a few areas, most of the leaders are miles and even hours away from other BMA churches. Many of them feel isolated and like they are on an island. Our Anglo churches make a lot of effort to include them in their activities, but it’s just a little different when the activities are in your “heart language” and people with whom you share a common cultural heritage. The conference gives them an opportunity to connect to other leaders in the same type ministry as they are in.
Secondly, this conference gives them a time to be spiritually fed. As pastors, we are generally the ones feeding others, but sometimes we just need to be fed. To listen to others whom God has anointed to preach his Word.
Thirdly, it gives them a break from the routine of life and ministry. It is amazing what a change of scenery can do to facilitate a change in perspective. Sometimes we just need to get out of the routine and into a new area where we can hear God speak. We return physically tired but spiritually renewed to start afresh the work that God has given us to do.
When we evaluate this conference, it is important that we don’t look at it as a conference that “we put on for Hispanics.” It is more accurate to say that these men are the BMA, and this conference just happens to be in Spanish. Many of them will never be known by the majority of our churches. Their names will not appear on a list of “who’s who” of BMA pastors, but they are a vital and growing part of this association. We host this conference because we care about our own. We care about their needs. We care about their need for opportunities for spiritual growth. We care about them having an opportunity to participate in the BMA and we care about the work they are doing for the Lord. Please pray for future conferences that will be hosted. Pray that we will be creative in our approach and sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit for the content of each meeting. Pray that we can use this conference ministry in a way that honors and glorifies God as we minister to his servants.
As our Hispanic ministry grows in the United States, the need for conferences that are more regional in nature continually becomes apparent. Some of our works are so separated that we are missing the opportunity to minister to many of the leaders. We are also aware of the pressing need to minister to Hispanic women in the BMA. Our pastors could not do what they do were it not for their wives. We know that women played a key role in the ministry of Jesus and the early church and that they continue their importance in the lives of churches today. We need wisdom, finances, locations and opportunities to try to fill in the gaps of ministry. Please join us in praying for a Spanish conference ministry that can be effective at blessing all our Hispanic work. Thank you for all your support and prayers!