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Connecting through language

The global community has never been more connected, thanks to mobile phones, tablets, and the Internet. As globalization brings people together, it’s important for ease of communications to know multiple languages. That said, Concordia Seminary students are learning there is a unique benefit to using a native language when it comes to connecting with congregations and communities in the U.S.

Students in the Center for Hispanic Studies (CHS) program at Concordia Seminary come from many Spanish-speaking countries, but they are assigned to serve churches with Hispanic populations in the mostly monolingual United States. These students experience a deep connection with their congregations because of what they share: a native language, a similar cultural heritage, and a common background and life experience.

See the video to learn more.

“Language is a window into a people’s culture and heart,” said Dr. Leopoldo Sánchez, director of CHS. “Through the Center for Hispanic Studies, Concordia Seminary forms Lutherans for Hispanic ministries in the U.S. Seminary-level formation is given primarily in Spanish, but the use of English is increasingly encouraged in the classroom and displayed by our students at various levels. Our approach reflects the bilingual and bicultural reality of Hispanic communities in the U.S. These are exciting times to pray for and support this important work.”

In this special feature, CHS students have shared their stories, in their own voices:

Juan Gabriel Vallejo Vázquez

Vicar at Trinity Lutheran
Church, Watsonville, California

I am Juan Vallejo, born in Guatemala, Central America. I have lived in the United States since I was a young boy. I am very proud of my rich cultural heritage as well as my very, very rich Lutheran heritage.

My father is a Lutheran pastor (he was a graduate of the Hispanic Institute of Theology, which was the predecessor of the Center for Hispanic Studies) and some years ago, the Lord also called me to study and become a pastor. So following the loving encouragement of my parents, I have been studying at the Center for Hispanic Studies. After finishing my first year, I took a leave of absence to finish a degree in psychology at San Jose State University, because I wanted to continue my theological formation at the Seminary by completing the M.A. delivered in Spanish. This will give me so many opportunities to serve the Lord in Spanish and in English.

Left: Juan Vallejo with a cross carved by his
grandfather. Above: Prof. Mark Kempff, CHS
instructor and assistant to the CHS director (left), keeps a cross made by Vallejo’s grandfather
for his father, Rev Gerhard Kempff, in his office
as a reminder of his heritage and those who came before him.

And now to my Lutheran heritage: My grandfather, Alfredo Vázquez, was a carpenter; he made caskets for funeral homes in the small town of Zacapa, Guatemala. He and his family were faithful Christians and members of various Lutheran congregations in Guatemala and California.

He was instrumental in bringing the Lutheran Church to Zacapa. Rev. Gerhard Kempff (’50) was one of the first Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) missionaries in Zacapa. My grandfather had a great love and respect for “Don Lico” as Rev. Kempff was nicknamed, and made him a special cross. This cross was always placed in a prominent place in Rev. Kempff’s study, and it traveled with him to Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and then to parishes in Montana, Texas, and Washington. Recently, Rev. Kempff’s widow sent that cross to her son Marcos, who serves as one of my instructors in the Center for Hispanic Studies at Concordia Seminary, so that he could give it to me as a precious reminder of my grandfather Alfredo. Full circle.

There is so much history and so many memories shared with that beautiful handmade cross, so carefully made in the summer of 1952. I decided to have Marcos keep that cross because my father, Rev. Gabriel Enrique Vallejo, gave me a very similar cross that my grandfather gave to him. My mother told me to treasure that small cross as a reminder of God’s love through the death and resurrection of His Son Jesus. Now Marcos and I have the very same emotional opportunity, the joy, and the flood of memories as we keep these crosses in our places of ministry as a testament of those who came before us in the love of Jesus Christ.

I wish to thank all, and I pray that the Lord continues to enable me to serve in Him, and in His love, be His consecrated instrument of peace.

Ligia Isabel Morales Cameros

Deaconess student, M.A. graduate
Deaconess at Prince of Peace
Lutheran Church, Orlando, Florida

I was born in Jutiapa, Guatemala March 25, 1964. By God’s grace, I attended church regularly with my family and actively participated in it as a young girl. Since my childhood and adolescence, I participated in all the youth groups and boards. I completed my elementary and middle school studies in Jutiapa. To complete my high school education, I moved to the country’s capital where I studied accounting at the Evangelical School of Latin America (Colegio Evangélico America Latina). There, I participated in the Christian Leaders group, the Camps for Kids Organization, and as a counselor. After graduating, I worked for three years in my profession.

“The Lord put in my heart the desire to serve Him”
– Ligia Isabel Morales Cameros

It’s important to mention that ever since I was young, the Lord put in my heart the desire to serve Him, and that desire strengthened in high school. The Lord allowed me to study theology part time at the Central American Theological Seminary (Seminario Teológico Centroamericano). A year later, God opened the door for me to study for a bachelor’s degree in Bible and theology full time. At the seminary, I met my husband, Adolfo Borges (adjunct instructor for CHS and current Ph.D. student at Concordia Seminary), and we were married in 1988. While taking classes at the seminary, I served in Sunday school, youth groups, and ladies groups, and the Lord gave me the opportunity to form a young women’s group in one of the churches, which continues to function today.

Ligia Isabel Morales Cameros and her
husband, Rev. Adolfo Borges, at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, Orlando, Fla.

When my husband and I finished our studies, we moved to Costa Rica, my husband’s country, to work in the ministry. Our three children, Ligia Raquel, Samuel Esteban, and Moisés Adolfo, were born in Costa Rica. After four years of serving in the ministry, my husband received a call to work at Christ the King Lutheran Church in Guatemala (Iglesia Luterana Cristo Rey). We moved to Guatemala where my husband was an associate pastor for many years. There I continued to support my husband’s ministry through the Sunday school and youth group. I advanced in my studies and the Lord allowed me to obtain a master’s degree from the seminary. After five or six years, some of the members from Christ the King had the vision to plant a new church in Guatemala City.

The new church started with Bible studies and Kids’ Club, of which I was in charge. The Kids’ Club grew, and the families of the children began to attend the Bible studies. After a year of working with the Kid’s Club, the missionary in charge of the new church asked me to work as the church’s administrator. I also led Bible classes at A Mighty Fortress School. The Lord blessed the ministry, and it was consolidated into A Mighty Fortress Lutheran Church.

In 2001, God opened the doors for my husband to work in this country as a pastor in Orlando, Florida. My husband became an associate pastor at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church and the pastor for Iglesia Luterana Príncipe de Paz. During these years, I studied in Concordia Seminary’s CHS deaconess studies program, and I completed my two-year internship at Príncipe de Paz. I finished my courses in 2009 and I was certified in 2010. I was then accepted into Concordia Seminary’s M.A. program, which was delivered in Spanish. When I finished in 2013, I was the first CHS deaconess student to complete this degree.

I am now a member of the board of directors for the fifth National Hispanic Lutheran Convention, where I serve with its current president, Dr. Leo Sánchez, and I have written devotionals for Portals of Prayer in Spanish. I am delighted and overjoyed to be able to teach classes for the deaconess program with the Center for Hispanic Studies at Concordia Seminary.

The Lord, in His infinite grace, has allowed me to work in different ministries and to participate and support the pastoral ministry of my husband. I like teaching, discipleship, and training new leaders.

Arturo Méndez

Vicar at Trinity Lutheran Church,
Houston, Texas

The peace of the Lord be with you. My name is Vicar Arturo Méndez and by God’s grace and mercy, the Lord came into my life six years ago. I am originally from northern México, and my life was a mess; I was immersed in esotericism and gnosticism, and I was reading extensively about metaphysics.

Arturo Méndez distributes school supplies at Trinity Lutheran Church, Houston, Texas as part of a student outreach program.

But Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has forgiven all my sins and has called me to serve Him. I started attending the Christian Family Center Church with Rev. Lincon Guerra, a graduate of the Center for Hispanic Studies (CHS) program. Later I was given the opportunity to attend Concordia Seminary and CHS myself. I can clearly affirm now that the Center has helped me in biblical and theological studies.

At this moment I am serving at Trinity Lutheran Church in Houston, Texas. I am indeed very grateful to God for giving me the opportunity to prepare myself theologically and provide me with the knowledge to lead others to Christ, because God has put them in my life.

I am a worker-priest; I also work as a professional photographer. Life is not easy and I wish I could serve the Lord full time. But I am sure He has me in the right place at the right time and with the right people, so that I may give witness to the Good News of Jesus Christ­—wherever I go and with whomever I interact. I am His instrument.

“Through the Center for Hispanic Studies, Concordia Seminary forms Lutherans for Hispanic ministries in the U.S. … These are exciting times to pray for and support this important work.”
– Dr. Leo Sánchez

Thank you for your unconditional love toward us. Thank you for that heart of service which helps carry out this work of support and preparation for all students, to fulfill the Great Commission, which our Lord Jesus Christ has entrusted to us. God bless you all.

Edilberto “Beto” Alzate

Pastor at LINC-North Texas,
Dallas, Texas

My name is Edilberto “Beto” Alzate, of Colombia, South America. I have been married for 27 years and have two grown children. I currently serve as director of Hispanic Ministries at LINC-North Texas in Dallas, Texas.

I come from a very poor family­­—life was very, very difficult. My mother showed me how to stand strong and strive for a life worthy of respect and dignity. And here I am.

Edilberto “Beto” Alzate teaches a parenting class at a North Dallas school.

In my spiritual quest, God has led me to get to know Rev. Oscar Benavides, director of LINC-North Texas. After a short time, God confirmed to me that He had chosen me to work with Hispanics in this part of Dallas. I immediately connected with Concordia Seminary and the Center for Hispanic Studies. It has been such a blessing to study in this prestigious Lutheran seminary. I was accepted immediately and since then I have been a dedicated student. I received a call to serve the Lord with LINC-North Texas and was ordained Sunday, Feb. 15, 2015. After so many years of preparation, I see now how the Lord has fulfilled His promises. As I continue to serve Him, I am confident that His Word fills and enables us all to trust in Him, so that we can serve others in His love, and follow His lead as His instruments of peace, proclaiming His Word.

I thank God, you, and all those who have invested their lives and resources so I could graduate and become certified to serve as a Lutheran pastor.

I thank God for the lives of all those who continue to support this Hispanic ministry, because God’s Word is being spread; it can and will touch hundreds of lives, and many fruits will be collected in the different places where God is leading us.

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