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A Challenging Hispanic Example of “Mature and Multiply”

By Jewel Showalter

“You may have come from generations who’ve served the Lord, but I’m the first in my family,” Alejandro Colindres, the leader of Fraternidad Cristiana, a rapidly multiplying network of churches in New England, told CMC leaders in a special one-day Encounter in Montgomery, Indiana, July 19, 2018.

Along with his co-worker/translator Dennis Perdomo, Colindres told the story of how he was led to Christ as part of the work of a Mennonite missionary who was working with young people in Honduras.

“He held meetings in homes with ‘crazy’ young people. We found a spiritual home in this group. I’d never seen a Bible or been inside a church until I was 23. We saw a movement among the youth. We felt such passion to reach our families for Christ. We were all trained to preach the gospel and start cell groups wherever we went.”

Colindres had never intended to move to the U.S. but came for medical treatment for his young daughter 33 years ago, and worked in restaurants to support his family. By the time his daughter had completed three months of medical treatments he had started cell groups in Long Island McDonalds and Burger Kings. Over 30 people had joined the movement.

“After being here in the U.S. I learned that in order to be a missionary you have to go to school and raise a lot of money! I didn’t know that. We teach people if they start cell groups next door they’re missionaries,” Colindres said.

As Colindres and co-workers discipled the new believers and taught them how to build relationships and evangelize, the movement took off. None of their churches own buildings, but instead rent schools, bars, hotels, and community centers for larger weekly gatherings in addition to the weekly cell groups that meet in homes. They’re called to invest in people not property.

As church members make friends with co-workers, neighbors, and fellow students they invite the groups of around 30-50 new friends to Encounter Retreats. During the Encounters teachers explain the basics of Christian faith – who Jesus is, forgiveness, worship, prayer, baptism – and invite people to become followers of Jesus. 80 percent of those attending these day-long Encounters give their lives to Christ and are then connected to cell groups in their neighborhoods and invited to participate in their worship services.

Colindres said they started this pattern about 10 years ago and now there are four to five Encounters each month in different communities.

Since playing guitar and starting cell groups in New York City restaurants, Colindres and the movement he helped to spark have spread north into New England. He said what took one month in New York took two years in New England, but now there’s an explosion of new churches. “We see a hunger for God. We believe in what God wants to do here in New England.”

The movement follows a 25-minute standard. No one should have to go further than 25 minutes for a cell group. If there’s no cell group near you, start one, and keep rippling out. The movement keeps spreading – New York, Connecticut, New Jersey. There are also clusters of church plants in Florida and Atlanta.

Although the movement is primarily among Hispanics, Colindres said they also have a vision to reach their Anglo-American employers and neighbors. Nannies teach the children they care for about Jesus. Christian employees have a good reputation because of their honesty and hard-work. Recently a 14-year old Hispanic boy baptized his father’s Anglo boss in the man’s own Jacuzzi.

“We inspire each other to work, not to compare, criticize or compete. The Holy Spirit has deposited something in each of us!”“Most Anglos who come to faith through our movement end up going to other churches, but in the Spirit, we feed off each other. We inspire each other to work, not to compare, criticize or compete. The Holy Spirit has deposited something in each of us!”

Perdomo pastors an English-medium church in Norwalk, Connecticut, but most of the cell groups and churches in the network use Spanish. This has not stopped them from spreading internationally. Currently members minister in India, Kenya, Egypt, Tanzania, Pakistan, and Indonesia in addition to a plethora of Central American, South American, and Caribbean countries where the majority of the U.S.-based members hail from.

International ministries have often sprung out of times of ministry and intercession – as several years ago when a cell group became burdened for Indonesia, while not even sure where the archipelago was. As they prayed all night many began to speak in strange tongues that Indonesian neighbors recognized as their mother tongue – a small Indonesian dialect.

Through these contacts a team travelled to Indonesia for ministry. It was so life-changing for Perdomo, who was working as a finance manager for a local company, that he gave up his job to work full-time in the ministry.

“I have no regrets,” Perdomo said, although at the time his immigrant parents who had invested sacrificially in his education, questioned him giving up his lucrative job.

“We need to train people in practical skills – like praying for the sick,” Colindres said. “When Jesus sent out his disciples he said ‘go do what I am doing.’ This calls for flexibility. Jesus taught about LIFE – not image and authority. Our people are trained to serve – and to operate in the supernatural. We have the church that we deserve, the church that we’ve decided to have.”

“Every church is birthed naturally, but we complicate things by buying land, buses, going to seminary. These are good but not the main goal. We’ve tried to maintain one focus – cell groups and discipleship. I invest my time in training leaders for this ever-expanding movement. We’ve started hundreds of cell groups and sent out close to 50 missionaries.

“God wants us to be open to change. There’s no one set way to baptize. We don’t have to meet only on Sundays – but whenever it suits the people. Some of our churches meet on Saturday evenings, some on Mondays, some on Sunday evenings when the bars are empty and glad to rent us their space.

“If we don’t change, the world is lost. We must pray and open ourselves. People have so many issues, but the solutions are spiritual, not political or economic. We teach our young children how to pray. They offer to pray for their teachers in the classroom. That’s the best way to get prayer into our public schools! Wherever we go God calls us to be channels of blessing. What we’ve seen, heard, and touched, we share. Don’t look for models or formulas.

“Seek God and do good. Have compassion for all people. They’re not scary Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, or secular New Englanders – but ‘sheep without a shepherd.’”

In closing Colindres challenged his mostly-Anglo audience: “Love this nation. Be in prayer for this nation. We can reach people you can’t. You can reach people we can’t. We’re not just employees. We’re ministers of the gospel. All of us are one body, one team.”