- Baptist Beacon
HISPANIC CHURCH BEAMS GOSPEL TO ITS COMMUNITY
SAVANNAH, GA (BP) – A young mother may turn to 94.7 on her radio dial for health tips for herself and her family as well as children's programming. An auto mechanic may listen to the station to hear a two-way discussion of a previous week's sermon or a broadcast on anger management. Radio PESCA, the Spanish word for fish, streams into homes that may never be reached by a knock on the door. Through a variety of ad-free programming, the station seeks to glorify God and direct listeners to a church not too far away -- Primera Iglesia Bautista Hispana, or First Hispanic Baptist Church.
The low-watt station is the brainchild of pastor Samuel Rodriguez and others who donate their time to provide programming. It is also just the tip of the iceberg of how Primera Iglesia is thinking outside the box to bring Christ to homes and businesses on the east side of Savannah, Ga. The 24-hour radio station offers a diverse schedule, with each day having a special emphasis. Monday is business, Tuesday is medical information, Wednesday focuses on domestic violence, Thursday on anger management, Friday on a discussion on a previous sermon at the church, and Saturday on children's programming.
"We teach how to start a business, how to prepare for a job interview, and other related topics," Rodriquez said examples of the daily programming. PESCA is an acronym for the objectives of the station: P stands for "Preach the Gospel," E for "Educate God's people," S for "Serve by showing the love of the Lord," C for "Companionship among God's family" through involvement in a local church, and A for "Adore God as He deserves." Rodriquez appreciates a good challenge, with Radio PESCA but one example.
"It was a step of faith from the very beginning," Rodriguez said with a guarded chuckle, not wanting to minimize the seriousness of venturing onto the airwaves. "We knew nothing about operating a radio station but just took a step of faith. We sat down and began researching the Internet for suggestions on what steps we needed to take. As a result of this ministry, God has opened up so many doors for us here in Savannah. "The step of faith was for me, our church and our on-air personalities. None of us had any radio experience but we wanted programming that spoke from the heart to solve everyday problems our listeners may be having. We wanted to share helpful information from a Christian perspective."
Last year the church received an FCC permit for the nonprofit low-watt station. Rodriguez credits two volunteers, Iris Sarria from Peru and Isabel Haring from Honduras, for keeping the programs on schedule. Both are on-air Radio PESCA personalities, while Haring, who had a medical ministry for 15 years in her native country, also serves as station director. Upwards of 10 other people work behind the scenes to make the station a success. The church is active in the community and works in conjunction with the Red Cross, United Way and government agencies to help new and current immigrants assimilate to life in America, thus Radio PESCA carries programming dealing with health issues, immigration advice, employment and food assistance.
The church also hosts the Mexican Consulate from Atlanta each April to process passports and provide Mexican ID cards. The three-day event usually processes upwards of 5,000 residents. "This is another way to show the Hispanic community that we are here to share the love of the Lord with them. We want them to have the joy we have and to know the peace and love of God," Rodriguez said. In addition, the congregation has a food and clothing ministry and its annex is known as the Hispanic Community Center. There are about 25,000 Hispanics in Savannah and Chatham County, with 15,000 in a seven-mile radius of the church.
Rodriguez accepted the pastorate of the struggling mission of Bull Street Baptist Church in 1995 with only eight members. Five years later Primera Iglesia Bautista Hispana began meeting at Wilder Memorial Baptist Church. The Hispanic congregation was growing while Wilder was in decline -- signaling the future of both congregations. The mission constituted as a church in 2001 and, Rodriguez said, owes much of its growth to the English as a Second Language classes it provided at Jasper Springs Baptist Church and First Baptist Church of Garden City. Worship and language classes also were held at Emmanuel Baptist Church. "Our English classes are an important part of who we are and why we have grown. There is an incredible need for this ministry and it is a valuable way to bring people into your congregation," he added.
In 2010 Wilder Memorial Baptist Church disbanded and donated its property to Primera Iglesia Bautista Hispana. Last year Primera Iglesia Bautista Hispana started a mission in Hilton Head, S.C., meeting in a nondenominational church on Sunday evenings with about 10 attendees. The congregation doesn't focus only on missions in the Savannah area but looks to mission trips to nations where its members are from. Trips to Mexico, Nicaragua and Costa Rica are common. Peru is being added this year.
At Radio PESCA, six hours a day are devoted to live programming, the rest is filled with music and short devotionals. The station is broadcast simultaneously on the Internet. What sets the station apart from many traditional religious stations is that it does not focus on preaching or the broadcasting of worship services. "I do not want a preaching station. Instead, on Fridays my program focuses on a two-way discussion between myself and Isabel. She will ask questions that I use to go into a more in-depth discussion of the previous week's sermon. It's a much more interactive approach to delivering the Gospel," he said.
Rodriguez wants to expand the station's footprint by purchasing equipment that would allow for remote broadcasts from community events and festivals. But for now the station remains the flagship ministry of the growing congregation. "I sometimes do crazy things and take chances to spread the Gospel. You know what they say," Rodriguez said with a grin. "Nothing ventured, nothing gained."
ABOUT THE AUTHOR Joe Westbury is managing editor of The Christian Index (www.christianindex.org), newsjournal of the Georgia Baptist Convention.