By LINDA M. LINONIS
Representing the Hispanic/Latino community in the Mahoning Valley in seven areas is the goal of the Ohio Chapter of National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.
Juan Rivera, senior pastor of New Life Church in Poland, was named to the national board of NHCLC and director of the Ohio Chapter. He also serves as a commissioner on the Ohio Latino Affairs Commission.
Pastor Rivera and Pastor Rolando Rojas of Spanish Evangelical Church, a multicultural, bilingual and urban ministry in the city, recently hosted an organizational meeting of the Ohio Chapter at Spanish Evangelical. Pastor Rivera said the goal is to establish NHCLC chapters in Cleveland, Cincinnati, Dayton and Toledo.
“We want to involve top Hispanic and Latino leaders,” Pastor Rivera said. He added that the organization membership is open to pastors and lay people. “We want people from various fields such as business, education and legal,” he continued, noting input from various fields would be valuable.
The pastors said the organization will give the Hispanic-Latino community “a voice” on issues.
Pastor Rivera said seven areas are to be targeted:
Education: Pastor Rivera said studies have shown that 50 percent of Hispanic-Latino students don’t graduate and of the 25 percent who attend college, 17 percent graduate with a degree. “We want to demonstrate to our youth that education is an opportunity,” he said.
Pastor Rojas said several Hispanic churches already offer tutoring and mentoring. That’s a step to bolster the importance of education among youth. The pastor said he recently was asked by a local district to interpret official records of students from Puerto Rico that were in Spanish. “To get the students properly placed in the right grades, that was important,” he said.
“We believe in the horizontal and vertical planes of the cross,” Pastor Rivera, adding that people are often asked to pick a side in an issue. “We serve God and the Holy Word. It’s not an either-or decision, but both,” he said, explaining that the horizontal plane reflects social-justice ideas and the vertical represents the religious message of salvation. “We want to effect positive change.”
Justice: “How we treat people, especially in immigration laws is an issue,” Pastor Rivera said. Undocumented immigrants are in the U.S. and work here but have no voice, he said.
Stewardship: “We are part of a debt and consumer society,” he said. At his church, classes are offered to teach families about finances. He noted that a statistic from 2010 reported 59 percent ended in divorce and 80 percent of those cited finances as a major issue. Pastor Rivera said classes on budgeting teach participants “how to find money” and get out of debt.
Youth: “We can’t survive without upcoming generations,” he said. It’s predicted that by 2050, the Hispanic population in the U.S. will be the majority.
Family: “Most Hispanic-Latino are from c onservative backgrounds with family values,” he said. “We don’t want to miss an opportunity to involve young people in family and church activities.”
Compassionate evangelism: Pastor Rivera said the “stomach has ears,” meaning that providing food to people in need is an act of compassion and way get their attention.
Life: Every person is created in God’s image, he said.
Pastor Rivera said Hispanic-Latino leaders should be examples and inspiration for youth. He noted he graduated from Woodrow Wilson High School in 1994 and lived in public housing in the inner city on the South and West sides. “I got support from my family and through sports,” he said.
“The lack of Hispanic representation is an issue,” Pastor Rojas said. “We want to organize to be a voice. With God’s grace and His blessing, we will send a positive message.”
For information on the Ohio Chapter of NHCLC, contact Pastor Rivera at 330-757-0727 or Pastor Rojas at 330-743-2836. Visit www.nhclc.org.