It was the second week into our Hispanic Heritage Month celebration and we were just wrapping up our Spanish-language service. Beyond the canopies and chairs that we set up for our outdoor services, beyond the stage and the Latin American flags hanging against the fence was a familiar face at the entrance of our parking lot.
Pastor Edgar Rodriguez Jr., of Puerto Rican descent and formerly of New City Church in Humboldt Park, made his way up to me with his wife and two of his sons. He was scheduled to be our guest speaker for our English-language service. Though he gave a very culturally sensitive and powerful message, it was his comment to me just two minutes into greeting one another that impacted me the most. “Sometimes I feel I’m not Latino enough around you guys,” Pastor Edgar joked.
Not Latino enough? What does that even mean?
He was half kidding of course, but I knew that he was also telling the truth. I knew exactly what he meant. A statement like this isn’t unheard of among Latinos, especially for those who were born and raised in the United States. The demand of fitting in—in either Latino or American culture—can be overwhelming and exhausting.
The pursuit of identity is often met with disappointment and second guessing of who one really is. That is until one finds it in the person of Jesus Christ. One new believer can find fulfillment in Christ; another may find purpose. But for someone like Pastor Edgar or me, we find identidad.
Despite our newfound understanding of identity, we are still left wrestling with the question of why God created us this way. Couldn’t it have been easier to live within the parameters of one culture instead of two, or sometimes three? Did God allow us to become bi-cultural or bi-lingual with a special purpose in mind? Can he use my experience as an acculturated Latino to advance his Kingdom, as he did with the Hellenized Jews in Acts 6?
The answer to these questions is a firm “yes!” At Starting Point Community Church, our mission is to tackle such questions head on, to give the believer a sense of purpose, and the tools to live out that purpose.
Since the start of our ministry in Belmont-Cragin neighborhood in 2014, we have taken advantage of Hispanic Heritage Month, celebrated from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 to give more focus and attention to these questions. This is an appropriate opportunity for outreach and evangelism, given that the Chicago neighborhood we serve in is 80% Latino. Sure, we hang up flags and other Latin American decor. We include worship music that incorporates Latin American styles. We even bring in food from Latin American restaurants to enhance fellowship, all of which creates a joyful experience and environment for everyone. However, it is our message that truly separates us from just having a good time to being commissioned for something greater.
For four weeks, in two languages, we tackle themes such as what it means to be a foreigner in a new land; how God can use a sojourner; where our citizenship truly lies; and how God can use the outcast, the uneducated, the poor, and the marginalized all for his glory.
For some, this month was a time to celebrate independence, but for our church, it served as a reminder of why we exist. It became an exhortation to advance the gospel exactly how God designed us, as Latinos, to do.