My mom constantly reminds me that she was my first teacher. She is not wrong. For as long as I can remember I knew how to speak, read, and write in Spanish. I went to a Spanish speaking church and most if not all of my interactions were in Spanish. My Spanish was even so good that I needed to repeat kindergarten so that I could teach the other kids in my class how to speak it too. However, the older I became the more I quickly realized that my Spanish was not as great as I thought it was and that linguistically and culturally, I was somewhere in the middle. Never completely from here but also never completely from over there.
There is a common term in the Spanish speaking community for someone who doesn’t know how to speak Spanish well or who is not aware of certain cultural norms. They refer to them as “no sabo” kids. Anyone can be a “no sabo” kid because the term is more about how someone who may appear to be a Spanish speaker does not know it hardly at all. Many of our youth and young people in our Spanish speaking churches are still connected to their culture and heritage but are more cross-culture than they realize. Our Spanish speaking churches are filled with people who are culturally diverse, speak “Spanglish”, and yet feel most at home attending a church which is primarily Spanish speaking. The pastors of these churches are becoming more multi-cultural as they minister not only to the Spanish speaking members but to those who embrace other languages and cultures as well.
Daniel Silva is one of those pastors. Prior to accepting the call to serve as the administrative pastor at College View Church in August 2023, he served as the senior pastor of the Wichita East, Wichita West and Arkansas City Spanish speaking churches for four years. The most interesting aspect of this is that Daniel is not a native Spanish speaker. He is from Brazil and speaks Portuguese natively. It was during his undergraduate studies that Daniel learned to speak Spanish. Upon arriving to Andrews University to pursue his Master of Divinity, Daniel served as a volunteer pastor to the Berrien Springs Spanish Church. Daniel never considered speaking Spanish to be a barrier to his ministry and has embraced the chance to minister across languages and cultures. This is seen mostly clearly when he accepted the call to the Kansas-Nebraska Conference to continue serving as a pastor to the Spanish speaking churches in Wichita, KS.
When speaking to Daniel about how he approached ministering to young people in his church that embrace multiple languages and are culturally somewhere in-between, Daniel said
“I believe that when we have young people who speak English in a Hispanic family context, there is a need for intentional interaction between the church and that cultural diversity.”
Daniel made it a point to be intentional about both acknowledging and meeting the needs of the young people of his churches. They too need to find a place to belong and to be in community. One Sabbath a month the young people of his churches would be responsible for the entire worship experience. They organized a dynamic Sabbath school program, worship service and music. By having this intentional integration of young people, they immediately knew that they had a place to belong that fully embraced them.
“The young people sometimes have a difficult time expressing themselves clearly at church because they speak English during the week and speak Spanish on Saturdays, but with time and confidence this is no longer a problem for young people. At the beginning of the year,
it is worth mentioning that as a pastor I prepared the leaders and members to be patient and appreciate the young people, when they have a difficult time speaking Spanish correctly.
Over time, everything changed and the interest in being part of the church as the body of Christ made young people a new generation of leaders for the church and for life.” It is no easy task to be in front of people and know that you may not say everything correctly and you may struggle to communicate clearly because of the language. Even though they may struggle at times, this is where they have found community and the place where they feel accepted. Sometimes the older we get, the more difficult it is to accept change, and to be patient when things aren’t “perfect” during our worship services on Sabbath.
Daniel continues sharing with me about a youth week of prayer that one of the churches hosted. “In the month of July, we always have a youth week of prayer and the young people are always involved in all departments so that the youth week is done as they decide. They choose the songs, the preachers for the week, the themes for each day, and what the purpose of the week of prayer is.
I always guide the themes so that they have a Christocentric message, but they decide what is important to preach to the young people who will be invited to be in the week of prayer.
Some preachers came to me about the possibility of having some sermons in English or at least in Spanglish, and I was completely supportive. After that decision they invited non-English speaking friends and preached about Jesus to people who never knew of Christ’s love for them. Young people must feel supported and develop enough confidence to preach the word of God to young people who don’t know Jesus. After the week of prayer we had a dinner where everyone could enjoy good conversation and pray for our guests. Guests and young people felt completely at ease being in the church because they didn’t have a language problem and many came back to participate, sing, socialize and be active members of the church.
When young people are included in the church, they stop thinking about difficulties and start living as part of the body of Christ.
Each young person has the capacity to grow but we must give them the opportunity within the environment where they feel most comfortable to develop leadership and continue growing in faith.”
Pastors of these Spanish speaking churches are ministering more and more to people who are “in-between” a Spanish speaking culture and an English speaking one. People who speak one language at school or work but come to worship on Sabbath in a Spanish speaking church. I am appreciative of all the pastors, like Daniel, who are intentional about giving these young people a place to belong, a place to grow and a place to develop as leaders. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9:20-22 (NIV), “To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.” The task laid before us is to continue sharing Jesus with those around us, to become “all things to all people” that they might hear the message of the cross. This may even mean hearing some “Spanglish” at times!