Archive for Saturday, November 15, 2003

Speak for yourself

Spanish-language church forms in Lawrence

November 15, 2003


God surely hears prayers spoken in every human language.

But it's still nice to be able to address the divine in your own native tongue in a spiritual community made up of those from the same cultural background.

That's the idea behind a new, Spanish-language church that has recently formed in Lawrence, called Centro Cristiano Torre Fuerte. The name means "strong tower Christian center." It's a natural fit for the congregation, according to its pastor, Ted Sauer, of Lawrence.

Noemi Martinez, one of the church's members, was praying aloud during worship when she thanked God for being the tiny congregation's "strong tower."

"Something in me just said, 'That sounds like the name for our church.' When we got done praying, everybody felt good about it," said Sauer, who works full time at the Wal-Mart distribution center in Ottawa.

So the name stuck, and it's an apt description for the role the nondenominational, evangelical church has come to play in the lives of its 10 to 12 members.

"I think it's great. I mean, all of us need some kind of (pastoral) ministration. The Bible and worship are very important for us. We needed that (new church), because down in Mexico, we used to go to the church everyday," said Fernando Palacios, a 30-year-old graduate student at Kansas University who belongs to the fledgling church.

"Because of the language barrier, we didn't go to any church (before Centro Cristiano Torre Fuerte). So this is very important for us. For me, the best experience is worshipping together."

Like most of the church's members, Palacios is a native of Mexico. He moved from a town called Aguascalientes, in the middle of the country, to the United States in 1991. He is working toward a master's degree in software engineering.

Members of Centro Cristanto Torre Fuente gather for a
Spanish-language worship service. From left, facing the camera, are
Guadalupe Amaya, Jafet Martinez, Natalie Sauer and Fernando
Palacios. The group meets Sundays for praper and Bible teachings.

Members of Centro Cristanto Torre Fuente gather for a Spanish-language worship service. From left, facing the camera, are Guadalupe Amaya, Jafet Martinez, Natalie Sauer and Fernando Palacios. The group meets Sundays for praper and Bible teachings.

For now, the church meets Sunday evenings for prayer, Bible study and worship in the Lawrence home of Hiram and Noemi Martinez.

But Sauer and his wife, Gay, who are helping to foster the congregation, believe more growth is in the church's future. Renting a space to meet might be the next step.

Which is fine with Palacios.

"We are waiting for God's will about this church and to see what happens. We are expecting that this church will grow; we are hoping that this works. For me, the important thing is that everybody knows the word of God," he said.

The Spanish-language church's first meeting for worship was Sept. 28.

A new, Spanish-language church, Centro Cristiano Torre Fuerte, has formed in Lawrence.The church, which is nondenominational and evangelical, is open to the community.Members meet at 6 p.m. Sundays for prayer, Bible study, worship and devotions. The church meets in the home of Hiram and Noemi Martinez.For more information about the church, and directions to the Martinez home, call Ted and Gay Sauer at 841-0600.

Experienced in planting churches

Right now, the Sauers are taking the lead in extending the opportunity for Spanish-language worship to Lawrence's Hispanic population.

Outreach to people who are from Mexico is nothing new to the couple.

Ted, a longtime member of Mustard Seed Christian Fellowship, 700 Wakarusa Drive, served as a missionary to Mexico from 1982 to 1991. Gay joined him there after they were married in 1984.

His assignment was to plant new churches and foster them into becoming self-reliant.

Working with an organization called World Indigenous Missions, Ted attended a language school in McAllen, Texas. In a nine-month course, he covered four years of college-level Spanish.

He later spent about 31/2 years of his time abroad in the Mexican state of Tlaxcala. The couple grew to love Mexico and its people.

"When we were there, we almost got to the point where we felt more Mexican than American. People just seem to spend more time with family and friends. They really value relationships, and that's what we like a lot," Gay said.

Through Mustard Seed, members of the Hispanic community found out about Ted's earlier work as a missionary in Mexico. They eventually approached him to ask if he would like to be involved in forming a Spanish-language church in Lawrence.

"I was excited about it. We started churches in Mexico, and so it was something that we've done. So the idea of doing it here in Lawrence appealed to me," Ted said.

The idea sounded great to the leadership of Mustard Seed, which, for the past three years, had been thinking about ways to reach out to the city's Spanish-speaking community.

"This really was an answer to our prayers and their prayers," said the Rev. Pieter Willems, the church's pastor.

Mustard Seed is providing spiritual oversight to Centro Cristiano Torre Fuerte, in hopes that it will become both self sustaining and a sister church.

"We kind of just fell into it. We have to give God the credit for making the opportunity," Willems said.

Devoted to God

Worship at Centro Cristiano Torre Fuerte is a sincere, heartfelt experience, a time when children and adults come together to pray, sing, study the Bible and share stories of how God has worked in their lives.

The atmosphere is intimate, informal and friendly, and Ted leads the service in the Martinez home in a low-key and approachable style.

Meanwhile, members laugh, shed a few tears and focus intently on connecting with the sacred. They pray for one another and will sometimes lay their hands on a member in need of physical or spiritual healing.

The Sauers are volunteering their time and efforts to build the church and hope to develop leadership from among the members, so that they can eventually step aside.

"I'm doing this because I love the Latin people. After living in Mexico for nine years, I feel very much like a Mexican and I have a heart for the people. It's something that I want to do," Ted said.

"I think the church members are great, a wonderful group of people. They're very sweet, very devoted to God and desirous of growing in their faith."

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