By Megan K. Mertz
On Sunday, Feb. 2, Iglesia Evangelica Luterana Esperanza Viva, a Hispanic congregation in Orlando, Fla., became one of only three chartered Hispanic churches in the LCMS Florida-Georgia District.
Esperanza Viva, which means “living hope,” started in 2004, when district missionary at-large Rev. Roberto Rojas established a mission start at Hope Lutheran Church, Orlando. The congregation currently has 75 members and meets in the former St. Luke’s Lutheran Church preschool building, which is owned by Lutheran Haven in Oviedo, Fla.
Rojas, Esperanza Viva’s pastor and a native of Chile, has spent 31 years in the United States working with mission starts around the country.
He said the congregation embarked on the yearlong chartering process so that it could take “more responsibility” and be treated “as a colleague, as a partner in the same God, our Lord Jesus Christ.” To promote ownership within the congregation, Rojas invited every adult member of Esperanza Viva to sign the charter.
The chartering process included creating a mission and ministry plan with the Rev. Douglas Kallesen, Florida-Georgia District mission executive.
“Chartered” congregations — in contrast with ministries or mission starts — may send delegates to district and national LCMS conventions, and borrow money from Lutheran Church Extension Fund, among other things. And their pastors can serve as circuit counselors.
“It’s important for our church body because it gives us a Spanish voice at our convention,” said Kallesen. “It’s much bigger than it sounds because it brings awareness. It’s an opportunity to have voting delegates, and it is eligible for leadership within our district and Synod.”
The Rev. Dr. Carlos Hernandez, director of LCMS Church and Community Engagement, which includes the strategic development of Hispanic ministry, also emphasized the importance of bringing Hispanic congregations into the Synod.
“Mission congregations are looked at as being on the receiving end,” said Hernandez, “but they also want to be on the giving end, to establish formal ways of carrying on ongoing conversations with the larger church. That’s one of our goals.”
Rojas says the hard work of a team of five lay leaders from Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Cuba was instrumental in bringing the congregation through the chartering process. He also gives credit to his wife, Deaconess Irma Rojas, who works “behind the scenes.”
According to Hernandez, “the growth in numbers, the development of lay leadership and the leadership of Pastor Rojas and his wife … made them ready” to take the step from mission start to chartered congregation.
In the future, Rojas says he hopes to purchase land and build a church building in an area that is more accessible to the Latino community.
“The Florida-Georgia District serves a large and growing Hispanic population,” said Florida-Georgia District President Rev. Gregory Walton. “People come from all over South America, Cuba and the Caribbean and settle in our district. We have a great challenge and opportunity to reach people with the truth of the Gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ.”
“We continue to work with the congregation and encourage them not only to reach out to the growing Hispanic population in the northern part of Orlando, but also to all people who need to be connected to Jesus,” said Walton.
Megan K. Mertz is a staff writer for LCMS Communications.