More than a Bible study

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By Zach Walker

162 Hispanics from Minnesota attended the 7th Spanish-Speaking Seminar for Pastors and Leaders on March 30, with the next conference scheduled for May 18.

Juan Hernández Jr. started his lesson. He gestured to a PowerPoint on Revelation, a subject he teaches every semester at Bethel University. But this time he taught in Spanish.

His voice echoed through loudspeakers to a crowd of people like him. A group that looked like him, spoke like him and worshiped like him.

Hernández, a professor of biblical and theological studies at Bethel University, led the seventh seminar for Spanish-speaking pastors and leaders March 30 in Bethel, with the eighth scheduled for May 18.

Attendance broke records with 162 members of Minnesota’s Hispanic community as well as Bethel students and faculty attending the event to learn more about the historical, cultural and theological background of the book. Apocalypse.

The group mingle and watch as a photographer prepares for a photo. Throughout the day, they had multiple opportunities to interact and meet new members of the community. “It’s such a good atmosphere,” said participant Edgar Martinez. “Everyone says hello and talks to you.” | Photo by Zach Walker

The previous record was set on April 2, 2016, when 135 attendees attended the first-ever seminar, an event sparked by Bethel’s interest in providing college-level instruction to an underrepresented Christian community.

“On a very obvious level, these are Bible studies,” Hernández said. “My true desire is more than just putting stuff in their heads. I’m very interested in inspiring them to engage in the life of the mind.

Covering four verses over four hours, Hernández spoke entirely in Spanish using an English PowerPoint. Attendees arrived armed with notebooks, laptops, and Bethel-branded paper to document the day’s learnings.

They came from congregations across Minnesota and played roles ranging from senior pastor to small group leader.

The Subway, a community space in Bethel, was filled with cheers, applause and laughter. The participants absorbed every line that appeared on the screen and every word emitted by Hernández’s lips. The silence of listening even seemed to touch the four walls.

Participants listen to Hernández explain the historical context of a verse from Revelation. Other materials included original translations and Bible stories. | Photo by Zach Walker.

“Some of the things he teaches are so profound.” Maranatha Minneapolis Church Men’s Leader Edgar Martinez said. “Everything he teaches is something new.”

Hermán Colón was seated at a round table in the front row, his chair facing the stage. Holding a notebook and a pen, he nodded to his old friend.

A senior pastor at Maranatha Minneapolis Church, Colón recalled when he only knew Hernández as a roommate of his best friend at Valley Forge Christian College in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania. The days when Hernández was made fun of for being so erudite.

The two kissed during a break and exchanged belly laughs. Colón went to fetch water for his friend after the hour-long Revelation analysis session and reviewed his notes.

“It’s that loyalty of Hispanic culture,” Colón said. “There’s so much love here…and appreciation for what this culture brings to the table, brings to America.”

Hermán Colón talks to two other participants during one of the two breaks. There was a food distribution offered during this time which included fruit, water, coffee, juice and tres leches cake to celebrate the seminar’s third anniversary. | Photo by Zach Walker.

Colón’s church, like many others represented at the seminary, is composed primarily of Hispanic worshipers. Most of his church members are lower class, working multiple jobs to support their families. Many are immigrants. Some undocumented.

Colón recounted a prayer meeting at his church where a man approached the microphone and began to cry. He shouted for the government and the president and America. He prayed for them.

“If you can’t trust the government or your status or your power and…you know you have a heavy accent…and maybe you have darker skin,” Hernández said. “So what do you do? You trust God and you get closer to your community.

According to a 2018 U.S. Census estimate, about 300,000 Hispanics currently reside in Minnesota, or 5.4% of the state’s population. This population has increased by 9% in five years, from 274,000 in 2014.

The Pew Research Center reported that 204,000 Hispanics in Minnesota were ineligible to vote in the 2016 election, or 65% of the Hispanic population.

While it’s impossible to confirm, chances are some were present, Hernández said.

“I tell them, ‘If you don’t have citizenship here, don’t worry,'” Colón said. “‘You have citizenship in the kingdom of heaven.'”

When 160 Hispanics entered the Bethel University campus, they were greeted by crisp morning air. They walked through hallways with white students wearing Patagonia vests and sat at tables with professors who fill the “upper class” circle in socioeconomic surveys.

They are different from the host culture in the money they earn, the clothes they wear and the skin color they are born with. But for four hours in the neon-lit student center that smelled of floor wax and stale coffee, they were the same.

“I was very deliberate about making sure they come here and see the host culture, and also the host culture sees them,” Hernández said. “You can’t call these people rapists, murderers and invaders when they come here on a Saturday morning of their own free will, with their own money to talk about God and the Bible.”

To end the session, Hernández announced that there would be another seminar on May 18 and asked those planning to attend to raise their hands. Every person in the room raised their arm to the ceiling.

“It’s important…that it’s not a ‘it’s our thing versus your thing,'” Hernández said. “It’s something we can all be a part of.”


Information about the May 18 event and registration page can be found here.

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