Archive for Spanish-Speaking Ministries

Conscience and Responsibility

On March 26th I received my second dose of Pfizer to protect me and others from the coronavirus. I, like many Latinos, was not sure about getting vaccinated, although I knew it was very necessary.

Usually I do not like to take medicine, because I believe that my body creates its own immunity. My grandmother’s advice was that it was not good to take many medicines, because, even though they helped some conditions, they could also affect the body in bad ways. She also said that natural medicine is better, since it comes from certain plants which have natural chemicals that can help us. There are an infinite number of home treatments, herbal remedies that help a lot. These remedies have been used successfully by ancient Latin American natives to present day populations.

Today’s conditions are not like those in my grandmother’s time. There is already a lot of air and water pollution. Diseases like the coronavirus are becoming more resistant to medicines, and natural medicines are not enough.

This story of my grandmother is very similar to those of many Latinos, where the grandmother is highly respected. In many Mexican households’ families believe that the matriarchy is very strong. Once women reach the age of adulthood, they are highly respected, and they are obeyed. There is no stronger authority than a grandmother who has already gone through many difficulties and has developed a strong and respected character. Grandmothers can be sweet or very nagging, but respect for them is strong. Married grown children, whether women or men, teach their children to obey their grandmother.

For those who interact with these matriarchal communities, it’s important to realize why they don’t intend to get vaccinated. Because of their culture, they believe that a natural medicine will help them. In addition, there is the sad reality that Hispanic families do not have money to go to doctors and to pay for medicine. So, they must rely on home remedies.

Since receiving my second dose of the vaccine, I have been posting my experiences on social networks and praying that people will take one more step and lose their fear. As I’ve mentioned before, religious leaders, along with grandmothers, are also respected by the community, and they follow their recommendations. I have taken the liberty of promoting the vaccine and reminding my parishioners that home remedies are not enough. In each Facebook broadcast I am reminding listeners that I have already been vaccinated, and nothing bad happened to me. As a result of the inoculation, I am prepared to resist the coronavirus. I also tell them that if we get vaccinated and then contract the disease, it will not kill us so easily. Also, getting vaccinated is just one more way that we can take care of our grandparents and older adults. This is a good example of showing our love for them.

Mi Vacuna del Covid-19

Apparently my message is working in San Jose, because every day that goes by someone in the Latino congregation tells me that s/he has already been vaccinated. I celebrate the decision and ask them to encourage their family, friends, and neighbors to do the same. Thank God my councils are working here! The Latino congregation members are getting vaccinated and so are my brothers and their families here in California. That makes me very happy.

In Atotonilco and its surroundings there are no tests to detect the coronavirus. Where they are available, people have to pay for them. Also, there are no vaccines available. It is a tremendous crisis as people die from lack of information, tests and vaccines. People have not only lost work but family members as well. Also, many Latinos do not make the decision to quarantine, since they need to work to survive. Grandma’s remedies are not enough to avoid contracting the disease. Unfortunately, I have already lost three family members to Covid—a nephew and two cousins in Mexico—and also many acquaintances.

I am also concerned about the congregation of Cristo Vive in El Maguey and for my older brothers and their families in other parts of Mexico. My concern also extends to all people who live in Latin America, since they do not have the same opportunity as those of us who live in the United States.

I remember that my mother used to tell me that God said, “help yourself and I will help you”. We are not supposed to leave everything to God. To Latinos and to the entire English-speaking congregation I recommend that they get vaccinated since they have the opportunity. Protecting ourselves from this disease allows us to be well and to take care of those we love the most—our children, grandparents, and relatives. In this country we are blessed to be able to take advantage of the opportunity to receive the vaccine. This is a good time to reflect and become aware of what is happening. Because of the vaccine, fewer people are dying. We have the opportunity; we have to take the responsibility to take the vaccine.

I invite you to post your experience when you get vaccinated, so that more people will follow your example of listening to your conscience and taking responsibility.

Pastor Gerardo Vázquez

Times of Change

I remember a saying that my mother used to repeat: nothing is forever, everything has its time

My memory makes me look to the past, reviewing my call and the part of my life on August 17, 2007 when Cristo Vive began. I felt the call to unite my community in El Maguey, to eat together, to read the Bible, and to be one in Christ. My house was a very humble dwelling, made of dirt. The garage of my house was not covered, so we were out in the open. I was equal to, maybe even poorer than, my debt-ridden and hopeless neighbors. But I wanted with all my heart to do something for others, since I had been left alone, as you may know, and did not want to live without a purpose. My motive was and is to help my neighbors, wherever I am. Most importantly, I wanted God to walk with me to make things right.

In January 2010, my neighbors from the El Maguey and Atotonilco neighborhoods got together and officially registered the Iglesia de Cristo Vive with the Secretary of Foreign Relations of Mexico. Sometime later agents of the Social Services of the State of Jalisco came to approve the facilities of Cristo Vive and to ascertain that this church and its leaders were ready for this great project. Our aim was to help the poorest; however, the irony was that we didn’t see that we were very poor, too.

When the social workers arrived, they could not find the location of Cristo Vive, and they were going around in circles. The small group of people waiting for them—mostly women and children—were nervous, because we needed the registration. Without it the local church could interfere so that Cristo Vive could not be independent and Protestant.

I heard about a truck that was driving around the village, so I went out to see who it was. Here they were . . . these frustrated social workers who could not find us and were now in front of us. I told them, “Here it is! I am the president of Cristo Vive.” Astonished and with great respect they greeted us. I imagine it was a surprise for them. They visit other organizations, which are usually located in huge buildings and are run by entrepreneurs. What they had in front of them was a group of poor people in a humble house wanting to help the poor.

They entered the house and we shared with them water and fruit, which was all that we had to offer. They received it with much respect and gratitude. I apologized and told them to forgive me, because the house was very poor and had a dirt floor. But we wanted to help people, and we wanted the name of Cristo Vive for our organization. They told us not be ashamed. They said this type of project bears better fruit than others, because you have the intention and the courage to undertake something new. They also pointed out that later they would return, and by that time Cristo Vive would have its own building. They couldn’t say when, but only that it would happen, because they believed in us. They made their report and left.

A month later a small group of people from Cristo Vive joined me on a trip to the office of Social Services in Guadalajara, the state capital. The purpose of our visit was to get documentation which would provide recognition of Cristo Vive as a non-profit organization serving the community.

Since that visit, Cristo Vive has changed a lot with God’s blessing. It is located at the intersection of two streets. One is Columba Domínguez Street which extends to the main entrance of El Maguey. The local government has paved it, since it was in very bad condition. The school is across Ester Fernández Street, opposite the library side of our building. We’ve been holding our festivities and anniversaries on Ester Fernández Street for several years. But over the last 8 months we’ve had the generous support of San Jose First Church and the Methodist Women’s Group. We use that street, since it is spacious, but in the live broadcasts on Facebook it looked very neglected. With the help of God, I think that the local government felt sorry for how the street appeared as we carried out our activities. In the last three weeks they have been cleaning it and installing new hydraulic concrete there. Our neighbors and members of Cristo Vive are the most benefited, since when it is finished, it will be in better condition for our services and celebrations. The elderly will be safer, since chairs will be set on a firmer place. In truth, that street is our patio or esplanade for Cristo Vive.

There is no doubt that God chooses where He wants members of the community and neighbors to meet: at the corner of Calle Columba Domínguez and Ester Fernández in La Colonia El Maguey (and including neighbors from Atotonilco El Alto), as well as on North 5th and Santa Clara Streets in San José, California.

God’s timing is perfect. It only takes time, faith, and love for the neighbors to have a place to meet to worship Him. The social workers did not doubt that Cristo Vive is the right place for the neighborhood to meet and live in harmony. It works because of the hand of God and every one of those who participate with their financial support and volunteer work.

Changes are often sad and hard, but many times they are necessary. Nothing is forever, and everything changes. You just have to trust God’s timing and believe and live to achieve a dream of helping those who need it most.

God bless you.
Pastor Gerardo Vázquez-Padilla

Nota del pastor

Queridos amigos,

Como probablemente ya sabrá, San José First UMC se encuentra en medio de una significativa transición en lo que se refiere al ministerio futuro y la misión de la iglesia; es decir, para hacer la transición de SJ First a una Iglesia Metodista Unida Hispana / Latina y descontinuar los servicios de habla en inglés.

Soy consciente de que las transiciones como esta son difíciles y traen consigo una mezcla de emociones, particularmente sentimientos de dolor y pérdida.

 Por favor, sepa que el pastor Gerardo y yo estamos aquí para apoyarlo en lo mejor de nuestra capacidad. Nuestras copresidentas de atención congregacional, Ellen Shaner y Susan Cassens, también estamos aquí para apoyarlo y cuidarlo a medida que avanzamos con la transición y la visión de futuro de SJ First.

Una visión para que SJ First se convierta en La Primera Iglesia Metodista Unida hispana / latino insignia en la Conferencia Anual, un Centro de Ministerio en el Centro de San José:

  • Donde las personas hispanas / latinas son líderes de la iglesia que aman.
  • Donde las culturas y tradiciones se entrelazan con lo teológico y tejido eclesial de la iglesia.
  • Donde el edificio se utiliza para el ministerio en todo su potencial.
  • Dónde la iglesia se conecta con la comunidad circundante.
  • Donde la iglesia tiene un espacio sagrado por generaciones pasadas a bautizar y hacer discípulos para las generaciones venideras.

Durante los próximos meses, el pastor Gerardo y yo estaremos trabajando con nuestros hermanos y hermanas hispanos / latinos en Cristo, preparándolos para el liderazgo.

La transición del comité. Anticipo el primer comité al que haremos la transición será el Comité de Nominaciones / Liderazgo Laico en nuestro VLT de marzo reunión. Esta acción permitirá la nominación y elección de otros comités en abril y, si es necesario, mayo.

En este momento, lamentablemente no tenemos una fecha para cuando los hablantes de inglés los servicios se suspenderán, aunque probablemente será antes del 1 de julio.

Estamos trabajando duro en esto y nos aseguraremos de compartir esa información con todos ustedes tan pronto como podamos.

En una fecha posterior, cuando podamos reabrir el edificio y mantener en persona de manera segura servicios de adoración de nuevo, habrá un servicio de adoración especial para todos.

Se invitará a miembros y electores de habla en ingles a marcar la ocasión pasando la antorcha, por así decirlo, y bendecir al pastor Gerardo y a la congregación hispana / latina a medida que llevan el legado de SJ First al futuro.

Paz y gracia,
Rev. Jeffrey Hall

God’s Mission in El Maguey

The love for my call to the service of God is the best thing that could happen to me. For me, it is a privilege to serve God, since his blessings are immense.

During this pandemic, many very sad experiences have emerged with loss of work, education, family reunions, life of a family member, and the social contact that we need to live as humans. Fortunately, technology has helped us to be in touch with our loved ones and with the world.

With the grace of God, I decided to preach on Facebook to the Hispanic/Latino congregation of San José First UMC. The people of Atotonilco El Alto, Jalisco, were added to our broadcasts and were able to learn more about our church and Methodism. The addition of this group brings more love and solidarity with our neighbors, even if they are far from us and we don’t know them in person.

Pastor Gerardo leading worship service

With the love and kindness that characterizes our heavenly Father, He did the miracle of touching the group of Methodist women and members of our Church to express solidarity with the Cristo Vive church. In fact, the entire El Maguey community has been generously supported by them with grocery bags for the last 6 months.

I felt the need to go to El Maguey, not only to bring food to the tables of the families there, but I also decided to take my vacation time with them. In the midst of a pandemic I knew that it was not the safest thing to do, but I felt the security of God’s will. There were many people waiting for me to arrive, so that I could pray for them and reaffirm their faith on the second Sunday of January. Among those waiting was Luis Ramírez, one of the young people from El Maguey and a member of Cristo Vive. His mother, María Isabel, and his brothers have been attending Cristo Vive for more than 10 years. Luis was going through the terrible disease of leukemia, and every transmission day he connected and asked me to praise God and to ask for him to be well.

On December 10th he and his mother sent me a photo of the results of his medical exams. He was free of leukemia! It was a tremendous joy for them and for me to see that miracle. There was only one step left: Luis took his final week of daily chemotherapy in the mornings and afternoons to ensure that the cancer would not return.

He finished the routine, but after taking it he started to feel bad again. He knew that I would arrive on December 28th and he was waiting for me to pray for him again. On Saturday, December 26th, he gladly wrote to me that he was waiting for me with open arms. Luis’s condition began to get serious, so they took him to the hospital in Guadalajara. There they found that the last week of chemotherapy had resulted in the burning of his lungs, kidneys and the platelets that produce blood. Everything happened very fast. They tubed him so he could breathe. When I arrived at the Guadalajara airport, I decided to go to the hospital to see him; however, when I was renting a car I got the news from María Isabel that Luis had died.

I went to Atotonilco and spoke with María Isabel by phone, to get informed of the time she would arrive with her son’s body, so I could grieve with the family. They arrived at the funeral home at midnight with the body of 18-year-old Luis. I went there to see him and offer the praises to God, that—night after night on Facebook—he had asked me for. I could see in his face that he was peaceful, knowing that I was able to pray for him before he went to his grave.

It was devastating for his parents and for me. I am a man who speaks of faith and miracles, yet Luis died. We embraced each other and became stronger in dealing with the great loss. Both María Isabel and her husband, Javier Ramírez, in the midst of their pain, treated me with respect and love, since I shared the pain with them, with the family, and with all of Luis’s young friends. For me it was an experience that I still cannot explain. I watched hundreds of people, young and old, crying and suffering for the loss of Luis, while at the same time letting myself be led by me as a pastor and friend, singing praises and praying for the family. To me, a possible explanation is that God sent me to be with them to provide love and pastoral care.

Three Kings Day (Epiphany) January 6th

Holy Magi caravan with children gathered round

This was a special day which, for the first time in the community of El Maguey—and I dare say in the entire region—a caravan with the Holy Magi made its appearance. The Magi were represented in costumes by Juan Carlos Anaya, Eduardo Anaya, and Pedro Vázquez. To make this possible, these three and a huge group of volunteers toured the El Maguey neighborhood, (sections Pascual Rojas, and Madre Luisita) where the girls and boys went out to see this festive sight. They received sweets and soccer balls that filled the community members, both young and old, with joy. Christmas carols enlivened the night with smiles and hope, alleviating the stress that people carried during this pandemic. Also, with First Church’s donations, the blessings of God, and the leaders of Cristo Vive, we were able to distribute grocery bags to 200 families in El Maguey.

On January 10th, the day of the baptism of Our Lord Jesus Christ, we began our healing and faith renewal service, scheduled according to the safety protocols in El Maguey with masks and antibacterial gel. On this very important day for Methodism and Christianity, children, youth, adults and the elderly—and without fail María Isabel Aguirre, mother of our angel in heaven, Luis Ramírez, and his family—appeared at this important service directed by Pastors Juan Carlos Anaya and Gerardo Vázquez. The pastors, their servants and the leaders of Cristo Vive all contributed to a service full of faith and love for our neighbors, and praying for the members of San José First, since we are one in God.

I want to express my gratitude in the name of God for all those who made this possible, since it is the call of God to love and respect each other, to cry, to laugh, and to celebrate in union, since that is how we grow stronger.

May the blessing of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit descend upon us. Amen.

Pastor Gerardo Vázquez-Padilla

Pastor Gerardo’s Message from El Maguey

Whoever is generous will be blessed,
for he shares his food with the poor.
Proverbs 22:9

May the blessings of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit be with you.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, I am writing here to thank you for your help with the El Maguey community during these difficult times caused by the pandemic. In mid-June I approached Susan to ask if there were still funds from the last mission trip to El Maguey. When I heard funds were still available I then spoke at the next VLT meeting, to see if it was possible to send the remaining funds to El Maguey for the members of Cristo Vive. The response surprised me when the Methodist Women’s group raised their hands to offer help by giving $4000! In addition to this generous gift, the group, as well as members of the congregation, continue to donate.

Viewing photographs of the long lines of people outside my house waiting to receive a grocery bag, one can see that women, men, and their children have relied on this help. Seeing so many needy people made my heart begin to fret, and something told me that I had to go to El Maguey. My purpose was not only to deliver groceries, but to encourage the people and to pray for them. I felt that they needed to be fed spiritually, and I wanted to bring them the greetings of the Methodist women and the members of San José First Church and to show the generosity that is in their hearts. They needed to know that in the United States of America there are people who care about them. In spite of the warnings against traveling in times of a pandemic, I felt the responsibility to go to Mexico.

On August 19 of this year, Cristo Vive completed 13 years of service to the community. The leaders of Cristo Vive and I decided to make the biggest presentation to honor God for the anniversary. There was an attendance of more than 1,200 people including children, the elderly, and the disabled outside my house. That day we passed out 327 bags of groceries to families. We also provided salads, snacks and drinks to everybody. I was afraid we wouldn’t have enough food for so many people; however, as it turned out, we had plenty.

It was already 7:30 PM when I arrived at the front of the crowd to give my message and instructions. When I looked at the group of 300 children staring at me, my legs began to shake as they looked at me so intently. I felt the presence of the Holy Spirit watching me doing what He himself planned for El Maguey. I want to tell you that the blessings that came out of your hearts for the people of El Maguey were multiplied by God. He multiplies them in return, since all the people benefited from the aid you provided. These families bless you for your noble gesture of love for your neighbor.

May God bless you,
Pastor Gerardo Vázquez

Advent and Christmas 2019

Sunday, December 1: Advent begins with Hope
On the first Sunday of Advent, we’ll celebrate with a bilingual service

Sunday, December 8: The Sunday of Peace
The second Sunday of Advent and our Annual All-Church Conference
Refreshments will be served after the 10:00am worship services and the Church Conference will begin at 11:30am. Join us as we celebrate our ministry together and look forward to 2020 and beyond. District Superintendent, Rev. Shinya Goto, will preside at this important meeting. Everyone is encouraged to attend.

Sunday, December 15: The Sunday of Joy
We’ll celebrate the third Sunday of Advent with a Christmas lunch provided by the church. You’re invited to bring cookies for dessert.

Thursday, December 19: Las Posada
The celebration begins with a procession holding candles and singing Christmas carols. Meet at Wesley UMC at 6:00pm if you would like to walk. The service will follow at San Jose First UMC from 7:00-9:00pm. Experience the Mexican representation of Christmas with its traditional costumes, Biblical readings, and songs.

Sunday, December 22: The Sunday of Love
The fourth Sunday of Advent

Tuesday, December 24: Christmas Eve at 8:00pm
Special music, carols, juBELLation choir, and candles

La Posada San Jose