Bienvenidos — the Spanish word for welcome — is not a greeting often heard in the Bismarck-Mandan area.
The salutation is posted on a sign outside a new church for Spanish speakers: Iglesia el Faro Asambleas de Dios, or Lighthouse Assembly of God. The name speaks to one of the key missions of this Bismarck church: the ability to bring people home, showing the light of God’s love in perhaps a rough season of life.
In 2010, Jessica Cruz met her now-husband Michael Cruz during a mission trip in Nicaragua, his homeland. He was in his second year of a program called Master’s Commission, which trains and equips people of the area to do mission and pastoral work. After they fostered a long-distance relationship for six years, Michael was granted a K1 (fiance) visa to come to the United States in February.
“I came here, and all I know to do is ministry. That’s my passion; that is just my call,” he said.
So the couple started planning a Spanish-speaking church.
“I just always grew up in church, and I have a big heart for missions, to minister to people who aren’t necessarily from my background,” Jessica said. “What a great opportunity to be able to bring them together and make them feel like they have a place they can belong, a place where there are friends and a place where they can worship the Lord in their own language.”
Church-goer Clara Lugo Martinez says being able to attend a place of worship that embraces the Latino culture and her native language has helped boost her faith.
“We moved from Puerto Rico. … We needed a change in our family,” Lugo Martinez said. “And all of a sudden, (my husband) got a job here in North Dakota. And the first week we arrived in North Dakota, they talked to us about this church. ... We love this church, our faith has grown a lot — our children love it. And it’s been a blessing all around.”
There were obstacles: It took months to secure a spot to hold services, the first one taking place in August 2016. But through those months, the Cruzes made house calls to the Hispanic community and conducted home Bible studies. They continued to pray for a space to minister to that community, and one day a pastor said they could use his facility for their church.
“And right after we found somewhere — which is where we are now — things started happening,” Michael said. “The word has been spreading around the Hispanic community.”
Michael serves as lead pastor, while Jessica is the associate/children’s pastor. The size of the congregation has grown from three to nearly 40.
In addition to worship services, free English classes are conducted by Jairo Ramos, a member of the congregation, starting an hour before the church service. These are open to any Spanish-speaker wanting to learn English, even those not interested in attending church.
Ramos came to Bismarck a year and a half ago, attending the same church Jessica Cruz was involved in previously. But he wasn’t ready to become a member of that other church.
“Something in my inside was telling me to wait. I don’t know; I just decided to wait,” he said. “Because if I go to another church, I feel like I don’t want to just sit and listen. I want to sit, I want to listen -- but I want to give."
Along with Ramos' language lessons, a prayer service is held on Saturdays.
In the future, the Cruzes aim to offer more programs, and they want to get more of the congregation involved.
“I know that this is something that is going to be around awhile, as people come and they settle and they find a new life here,” Jessica said. “I’m just hanging on for the ride. I know that God is going to do great things, and, as long as we are faithful to him, I know that great things are in store for the Hispanic community in this part of the world.”