by Erik M. Lunsford
Satan tried to stop the Gospel from spreading among the Hispanic population of rural Sheboygan, Wis., but thanks be to God, he failed.
Instead, God sent Vicar David Blas, missionary at-large at LCMS Sheboygan County Hispanic Outreach and St. John’s Lutheran Church in nearby Plymouth, Wis., to expand Hispanic ministry in the area.
Blas, 36, is Puerto Rican by birth, married with two sons and a role model for his classmates at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis.
Although he was raised in a Pentecostal environment, his faith came through hearing the Lutheran doctrine from a friend, continued through catechism study and finally led to his admittance in the seminary’s Center for Hispanic Studies program.
Along the way, Blas said evil has tried to sideline his ministry. At one point, his roof caved in at his family’s apartment, destroying the majority of their possessions.
Then one month into his seminary education, his wife was diagnosed with a brain tumor and needed surgery. She has since had a second tumor and a second surgery, but despite all, Blas still believes you only give your best to God for His gifts graciously given.
Now, his presence as vicar in Plymouth is evidence of the continuation of God’s invisible hand at work and the beginning of the end result of five local congregations coming together to ask, “Why are we here?”
The Rev. Nathan Meador, senior pastor of St. John’s and Blas’ supervisor, said the answer to their question “came back very Lutheran and very biblical. We are here for the sake of others.”
There are 21 congregations in Sheboygan County, most dating back to German immigrants. The U.S. Census estimates that there are about 115,000 residents in the county as of 2014, which includes bucolic Plymouth.
St. John’s hired a consultant in December 2014, and from that renewal work they became a catalyst among the local congregations to engage the growing Hispanic population.
The project went from idea to execution in 13 months. During that time, the congregations together lifted up Hispanic outreach, paving the way through congregational, district and Synod support for the placement of a vicar in the community.
The Rev. Dr. Carlos Hernandez, director of LCMS Church and Community Engagement, said the work in Wisconsin is a perfect model of collaboration. To support the work, the Synod gave a small grant of $7,500.
“This is a real example of the churches in the [Sheboygan] area, the two circuits, realizing the challenges of Hispanic ministry, and not only talking about it, but pulling the resources together,” Hernandez said.
Blas’ love for the vocation is evident in his pastoral zeal. He witnesses in the community, striking up relationships in barbershops, Hispanic grocery stores, dairy farms and Mexican restaurants.
“I preach the word,” Blas said, “but He’s the one who does the work. He touches the heart, touches the people, and He brought the people who need to be saved, not me. I’m just His voice, His hands and feet, and God has all the credit.”
Still, Meador wrestles with challenges and questions of how the ministry will grow. It’s akin to “grafting Hispanic roots on the Lutheran tree,” he said. “We don’t have to come up with something new. What we have is the gold standard, the Gospel … we just have to translate it into a culture of the world in the communities we’re already living in.”
Those questions will be answered in God’s time.View photo gallery
Erik M. Lunsford is manager of Photojournalism for LCMS Communications.