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Open eyes for Hispanic/Latino ministry

Children at VBS at La Nueva Esperanza

Sonya Luna, Michigan’s Missionary for Hispanic/Latino Ministry, shares her excitement. Third in a series for Hispanic Heritage Month.

Senior Content Editor

Hispanic Heritage Month is currently underway across the United States. Michigan’s two Hispanic-Latino congregations – Grand Rapids: La Nueva Esperanza and Detroit: Centro Familiar Cristiano UMC – are joining in the celebration along with many around the state.

According to a recent article in The Detroit News (June 21, 2018 | “Hispanic, Asians Fuel Michigan Population Rise) the number of Hispanics in Michigan grew at a faster than the national pace in 2017. Reporter Christine MacDonald stated: “The state’s Hispanic population surpassed half a million for the first time — reaching 504,857 as of July 2017 — an increase of 2.2 percent, according to U.S. Census Bureau.” Further, the data indicates that the median age for the state’s Hispanics is 25.7 compared with 43.3 for whites. That means there’s much to celebrate.

Mexican food enjoyed during Hispanic Heritage Month
What is a celebration without food?! A colorful and flavorful Mexican luncheon being prepared at La Nueva Esperanza UMC in Grand Rapids. ~ Facebook photo

So why is National Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15-October 15) important? Sonya Luna is the Hispanic/Latino Missionary assigned to The Michigan Conference by the General Board of Global Ministries. Sonya says, “Much of the national news right now has a negative perception of Hispanic-Latinos. We celebrate those same people because they have a lot to offer the United States, the state of Michigan and the church.” Sonya characterizes Hispanic/Latinos as a “faithful group and culture, very brave and willing to start new things.”

While much of the celebration focuses on food and music and colorful dress, Sonya puts the emphasis elsewhere. “It is important to lift up how people are connecting with each other and to get to know them more.”  She continues, “These people have faith after all the struggles they have been through. It’s important to recognize their gifts and the attributes of the culture that shine positively around our communities.”

Two Hispanic/Latino congregations “shine positively” in Grand Rapids and Detroit. Both have experienced change.

In 1982 El Buen Pastor was founded in Detroit as the first Hispanic/Latino congregation. Two years ago, in 2016, the church was reborn as Centro Familiar Cristiano UMC under the leadership of Pastor Patty Gandarilla. Sonya Luna reports that the congregation will soon move from their building in Detroit to a new location. Melvindale: New Hope UMC was closed by action of the 2018 Michigan Annual Conference and Centro Familiar Cristiano UMC will soon be making it home.

La Nueva Esperanza is now in its 35th year of ministry. The Rev. Nohemi Ramirez, their pastor from 2013-2018, has moved on to new ministry in Sherman, Texas. The congregation welcomed a new leader on July 1, 2018, the Rev. Laura Feliciano.

“Both congregations are strong and growing,” Sonya says.

At the 2018 Michigan Annual Conference a TOM Talk described the transformational ministries going on among the Hispanic/Latino community in Michigan. The Committee on Hispanic/Latino Ministries has three areas of focus: 1) Youth Engagement; 2) Community Engagement; and 3) Multicultural Leadership Engagement. Click here to access the video, “Con la Gente” (“Engage with the People”).

Featured in the video are Centro Familiar Cristiano UMC, and outreach to farm workers taking place with the involvement of St. Johns First and Port Hope UMCs.

Sewing Class Graduates
Sonya Luna and Rev. Patty Gandarilla celebrate with graduates of the sewing/embroidery/quilting classes hosted at Centro Familiar Cristiano UMC last spring. ~ Facebook photo

HYLA, the Hispanic Youth Leadership Academy was developed by the National Hispanic Plan of The United Methodist Church 15 years ago and came to Michigan in 2014. Another 3-year grant has been awarded to the Michigan Committee from the national organization so HYLA will continue its annual session at Adrian College. Two youth graduated from the Michigan Academy in 2018 after three years of participation. Sonya notes,We want to work with youth and young people. In terms of leadership in church we have to start young.”

Sonya reports on other emerging ministries … English as Second Language (ESL) classes at Hartford UMC, that just received a grant from the Committee on Hispanic/Latino Ministries to hire a teacher.  Ypsilanti: First UMC continues ESL classes and hopes to resurrect a Spanish-language worship service. Pontiac: Grace and Peace is also involved with ESL and are hosting Quinceañeras (celebration of a girl’s 15th birthday). Quinceañeras are also being held in the tabernacle at Crystal Springs Campground. Sonya offers to assist congregations interested in hosting such traditional parties.

Sonya hopes to continue to create “new places for new faces.” She describes Vacation Bible Schools, Diner Church, sewing and cooking classes as “fun things that can reach out and connect with Hispanic/Latino neighbors.”

“I have been working at this since 2008,” Sonya says. “People tend to be isolated. So, the first step is to open your eyes to the people right there in your midst.” Sonya encourages visits to Hispanic grocery stores and restaurants with the intention of making connections. She describes how Hispanic/Latino ministries began at Ypsilanti: First UMC. “Rev. Melanie Carey was in a grocery store when someone came up and asked her how to use food stamps. From there a book study was started at the church. It is important to be open to possible interactions.”

Sonya stressed the importance of keeping ears open to news, as well. “In Grand Rapids people heard about children moved from the Mexican border into Michigan. They formed a network with ACLU and others and are now helping families.”

Michigan participants at General Commission on Religion and Race Event
Michigan’s diverse faith community was present at a recent training by the General Commission on Religion and Race. L-r: Sonya Luna, Rev. Sari Brown, Rev. Dr. Jerome DeVine, Rev. Nohemi Ramirez, and Rev. Jennifer Jue. ~ photo courtesy Sonya Luna

Sonya Luna is grateful for the support that she gets as a missionary of The National Plan for Hispanic and Latino Ministries. Interaction with fellow missionaries, cards and greetings generated by the United Methodist Women’s Prayer Calendar help “know I am cared for.” She is available for salary support through Spotlight Church and Six Lanes of the Advance, #3019618. Those wishing to engage Sonya for a mission moment or program may call 517-347-4030 x4074 or email

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