FORT WORTH, Texas (SWBTS) – The locals meander into the room, sharing hugs and greeting one another in Spanish. Children bounce from cluster to cluster of adults seated in rows of brown plastic chairs. Murals cover the walls and silk vines trail up and down trellises on both sides of the room where an Anglo woman begins to play the organ from her keyboard. “Solamente en Cristo, solamente en El,” they sing. The nearly 60-person crowd ranges from babies sleeping in strollers to a 99-year-old birthday girl. A stew of nationalities—Columbians, Brazilians, Mexicans, Americans—they share the same genuine smile. Their smiles tell of a joy fresh and contagious—a joy from raw love for Jesus. A joy from the recent realization that grace is amazing. A joy found solamente en Cristo (only in Christ).
Homer Hawthorne, a Southwestern alumnus and retired missionary, planted Primera Iglesia Bautista Hispana through the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, under the umbrella of Travis Avenue Baptist Church in June 2010. Today the church plant, located at the corners of Berry and Hemphill streets, has 52 baptized believers in its membership.
Hawthorne and his wife, Sharon, served In Brazil, Belize and Mexico during their tenure with the International Mission Board (IMB). Homer says their family’s love for the Latin people abroad flooded over to the Hispanic neighborhoods in Fort Worth.
“It’s just like being back on the field. Sharon and I both have an affinity for Latinos,” Homer says. “The way we reach our people is by circles of influence because in the Spanish culture, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.”
Many of the people the church shares the Gospel with, he says, have never heard.For those, the Hawthornes and their church pray each Wednesday evening. Two-hundred and twenty-five people. By name. One. At. A. Time.
“I think evangelism without prayer doesn’t have any power to it,” Homer says. “We cannot save anybody. Salvation is about God. No one can stick their thumbs in their suspenders and say look at how good a missionary or pastor I am. It’s God.”
Homer aims to raise up fellow believers and not to simply have people pray a prayer.
“One of our main goals is to make disciples and not decisions,” Homer says, pointing to Christ’s Great Commission admonition. “Our whole desire is a reproducing, multiplying church.”
Making disciples begins with presenting the Gospel, which Homer does clearly and concisely in Sunday services at the Primera Iglesia.
Before he baptized three new believers and led the church in observing the Lord’s Supper, Sept. 25, Homer explained that the paga (wages) of pecado (sin) is muerte (death). He wrote the first half of Romans 6:23 on the left side of a rolling bulletin board and drew a cliff over it. On the opposite side, he drew another cliff with the words “el dádiva de Dios es vida eterna” (the gift of God is eternal life) underneath it. Homer explained the chasm created between man’s sin and God’s holiness and told the crowd that Jesus Christ died to create a bridge between man and God, making the “diferencia en el malo noticio y el bueno noticio” (the difference in the bad news and the good news).
Primera Iglesia Bautista Hispana has also become a solid fellowship for seminary evangelists to send new Spanish-speaking Christians to for discipleship, says evangelism professor Matt Queen.
“We were looking for a church that would follow-up on Hispanic decisions for Christ,” Queen says. “In order for us to be effective in what we do evangelistically on campus, we have to be partnering with the local church.”
Queen says one of his students introduced him to Homer and the new church plant, which has been helpful in seminary evangelism efforts. He says if other churches desire to help disciple new believers, he would welcome the chance to talk with the leadership about partnering together.
Former Columbian missionary Silas Klaassen, who attends the church plant with his wife Grace, says Homer has blessed the people in the neighborhood and created a much-needed ministry.
“It’s going really well,” Silas says. “There’s a good spirit among the people here and a lot of good enthusiasm that you need for a new church.”
Part of that enthusiasm, Homer says, comes from those only saved for a short time.
“It’s exciting with new Christians because they don’t have any preconceived notions,” Homer says. “It’s not about your opinion or my opinion but what God says through the Bible.”