By Darrell Todd Maurina: CNJ Staff Writer
One of the smaller Southern Baptist churches in Clovis hosted a state Baptist convention this week. It wasn’t the main New Mexico Baptist Convention, which counts hundreds of churches and tens of thousands of members, but rather the Hispanic Baptist Convention of New Mexico.
While small — the convention has about 40 churches and mission works — the Hispanic Baptist convention has been in existence for 82 years due to the efforts of Southern Baptist missionaries in the state.
The Rev. Pedro Escobar, convention president and pastor of Iglesia Bautista Belen in Clovis, said local Hispanic Baptists are pleased to see some of the Southern Baptist Convention’s most prominent Spanish-language missionaries come to Clovis. Those men include the keynote speaker, the Rev. Hernan Rios, director of language evangelism and stewardship for the Florida Baptist Convention, whose final message will be at 10:50 a.m. today in the church.
As with many denominational meetings, this week’s session had a central theme on which the convention’s speakers focused.
“This year, the emphasis in our convention is on preparation,” Escobar said. “We need more spiritual preparation in our Hispanic families. One of the biggest problems in our Hispanic families is we need to be better prepared to meet the challenges of the world.”
Escobar said he owes his own conversion to Southern Baptist missionaries in the Central American nation of El Salvador and serves as a Southern Baptist pastor because he wants to bring the same Gospel to those living in the United States that American missionaries brought to his country.
In 1971, Escobar responded to an appeal for church leaders within his own country and enrolled in an independent evangelical seminary in Costa Rica.
“At that time, the Baptist Convention of El Salvador was looking for young people who wanted to be prepared for the ministry, and when the opportunity presented, the call of God came upon my life,” Escobar said. “I met some missionaries and came to the United States to visit, but because of the war (in my country) I couldn’t go back after 1978.”
The Southern Baptist Convention then helped Escobar begin a Hispanic ministry in Clovis, where he served for 10 years before going to another Hispanic Baptist church in Lovington. Escobar returned to Clovis four years later and had been pastoring Iglesia Bautista Belen since 1995.
The church has about 60 members from a number of different countries. Some, including Juan Romero, come from families that have lived in New Mexico since before it was part of the United States. Romero joined the church in 1979 and serves as its treasurer and translator.
“I think God put us here for a purpose,” Romero said. “I believe this doctrine is the right doctrine for me, and we have a great pastor here who can communicate it to us. Southern Baptist doctrine is the one I chose of all the churches I’ve gone to, because I believe it is faithful to the Bible.”
Romero said he’s fluent in English and Spanish but prefers to attend Iglesia Bautista Belen because he can improve his Spanish. Romero said Southern Baptists who visit his church would find the same teaching preached from the pulpit but a different style of worship.
“We have different types of music, not just one style,” Romero said. “We have mariachi music here played by some of our members, and we’ve got people from Honduras here and they play their music.”
While there’s only one Hispanic Baptist church in Clovis and two in Portales, other nearby churches include one in Lovington and another in Roswell. Escobar said the convention’s leaders want to see more Hispanic Southern Baptist churches start.
“This is our goal in the convention, to plant new churches, however we focus on leadership preparation,” Escobar said. “We pray for the Lord to send laborers. New Mexico needs more preachers and more Hispanic churches.”