Countering 'helplessness' with hope
Storm Lake may have the most prolific collection of Spanish-language religious services per capita in middle America, as the Christ in the City International program has helped seven local churches coordinate Spanish or bilingual services.
The need is obvious, according to Grant Mangold, who serves on a task force to bring ministry to multiple cultures.
"For us in the Evangelical church, the realization came when we discovered that Buena Vista County has the highest population of Hispanic people per capita in the state. We certainly wanted to respond to that opportunity," he said.
"The words we hear the most are 'hopeless' and 'helpless.' There are a combination of those needs for every person who comes into the community at some time," Mangold said. "Aside from immigration issues, there is the basic human need of wanting to help another person. We are concerned in the community about physical resources for our newcomers, but we realize that the real need includes the spiritual as well. We are opening doors and letting people know that they have opportunities and choices."
Organizers know that a community in which all residents feel welcomed into churches is likely to be a better and safe community for everyone.
That's where Christ in the City came in for the evangelical churches in the area.
The program was started by a native Iowan who grew up as a missionary in Costa Rica. Recently, Buena Vista County businessman Michael Ross left his career to become a missionary with the Christ in the City program.
Mostly, the program brings people to work in Latin American countries where the need is great, but with Storm Lake, it worked in reverse.
A team from Christ in the City in Costa Rica came to Storm Lake to help motivate services for the emerging Hispanic population in the city.
The pay off comes on Sunday, when churches are packed with new people sharing the Gospel. Among them:
The "Way of Salvation" Baptist Church meets in the Hope Evangelical building in Storm Lake, with Mario Pineda as pastor.
The Church of Christ in Storm Lake has Spanish worship with Pastor Juan Burgos.
Foursquare "Center of Life" Church meets at the Bomgaars Plaza with Pastors Saul and Elena Cortez.
The Lutheran Hispanic Church of Storm Lake, on East 4th Street, meets with Pastor Bo Brink.
The Pentacostal "Ebenezer" Church of God meets on Michigan Street in Storm Lake with Mario Flores as pastor.
And Summit Evangelical Free Church - "A Church of All Peoples," meets in Alta with Pastor Corlew, featuring language classes both for Spanish speakers learning English and for English speakers to learn conversational Spanish.
This comes in addition to the popular Spanish mass at St. Mary's and efforts by other denominations in the area.
Some of the churches are also utilizing special technology to translate services. For example, Summit utilizes headphones with translation of service script and "on the fly" commentary of the service into Spanish, Arabic and Mabaan languages (the latter for Sudanese immigrants.)
The churches have adopted the Christ in the City motto for their effort: "Helping people transform cities by transforming lives," Mangold said.
The Storm Lake churches also continue to reach out to other parts of the world. One of the Hispanic parishioners from Storm Lake recently traveled to Tijuana to work with the needy there. "The difference between the haves and the have-nots in this world is so great - we are constantly reminded of that," Mangold said.
The team that came to Storm Lake from Costa Rica, likewise, shared valuable first-hand knowledge for the community on what the needs of new immigrants from the Spanish-speaking nations would be.
"It was just a great opportunity for all of these churches to work together," Mangold said.
As the effort began, the Spanish-speaking ministers started to appear. "The more we became aware of the needs, the more people who had the skills to cross those cultures came forward," Mangold said, sometimes from the ranks of the parishioners.
The result has been a "tremendous bridge" between the cultures in Storm Lake, and a learning experience for all the races. "It helps people to realize they can take a step, even a small step, to initiate contact with people who are different to them," he said.
Most of the churches found that the best approach was to pair English and Spanish-speaking parishioners into teams and go door-to-door to let residents know that there are local churches that would welcome them, Mangold said.
"We realized that we had to get started, and do what we could do with the tools we have," he said.
The task force on which Mangold serves for the Iowa District of his faith is specifically looking at Hispanic ministry, as a first step toward compiling a "tool kit" to help churches minister to any other culture that may develop in their communities.
"Here in Iowa, the Hispanic culture in the immediate opportunity, but certainly there are and will be others, just as we see Sudanese people begin to settle in the Storm Lake area. We are all learning together as we go, and we would gladly share what we learn with others."
A local team has already gone to a couple of cities in Nebraska to do so, and there may be more opportunity to help elsewhere ahead.
For now, most of the churches are offering a separate Spanish language service or only a Spanish service. Whether this will continue, or the eventual effort will be to combine all into one multicultural service, will be up to each church to consider.
"It may be a generational thing," Mangold reflected. "Many of the older people, bilingual or not, prefer to hear their church service in their native language - that is a comfort to them - although they also want to practice English. Their children tend to be more comfortable hearing it in English," said Mangold.
So some of the churches are translating the English service into Spanish, and one if translating a Spanish service into English. The Baptist church has scheduled English and Spanish services back-to-back in such a way that the children of each culture can attend the same Sunday School classes in between.
"In a way, we are trying to help the community have one foot in each culture," Mangold said.