July 28, 1999

Baptists invited to help embrace El Paso
___By Mark Wingfield
___Managing Editor
___EL PASO--El Paso Baptists hope Texas Baptists will embrace a new idea at this year's Baptist General Convention of Texas annual session and in so doing help them embrace their city with the love of God.
___For the first time, messengers to the annual session are invited to come early to the host city and help with a massive evangelism and ministry campaign called "Abrazando El Paso."
MESSENGERS to the annual session of the Baptist General Convention of Texas to be held in El Paso are invited to come early to help with an evangelism and ministry campaign.
___In Spanish, that means "Embracing El Paso," although the word carries multiple meanings in the local culture, explained Lorenzo Peña, director of missions for El Paso Baptist Association. It also conveys caring, loving and friendship, he said.
___This is not just a campaign for those comfortable with door-to-door evangelism, Peña said, although that will be one aspect of the work. Many other opportunities exist for volunteers to perform tasks as non-threatening as handing out hot dogs at block parties.
___The major emphasis of Abrazando El Paso will occur Nov. 6, the Saturday before the BGCT annual session begins on Nov. 8. However, some training sessions will be held on Friday night, Nov. 5, and a major celebration event and Hispanic evangelism rally is scheduled for Sunday.
___Volunteers from around the state are needed to help with block fiestas, prayer walks, direct evangelism, community ministry and other outreach projects devised by local churches.
___Pena's goal is for each of the association's 62 churches and missions to plan at least one outreach event that will meet needs in their own communities. Each church is asked to plan its own events, with help available from the association for training members and recruiting out-of-town volunteers.
___Abrazando is part of a larger emphasis in the association in which Pena hopes to focus churches on reaching out to the communities where they are located and meeting the needs found "in their context."
___"We believe this is going to be a renewing, a spark, an encouragement for many of our churches," he said. "Many of our churches don't know the context of where they are."
___This will change as churches invite residents of their neighborhoods to block fiestas where they will be fed and entertained, as they distribute ministry kits of various kinds door-to-door, as they distribute video copies of the "Jesus" film door-to-door and as they assess the spiritual needs of their communities.
___Baptist volunteers from across the state are needed to help with these projects because the scope is so large and Baptists are such a relatively small percentage of the El Paso population.
___Only 2 percent of El Paso residents attend a Baptist church, Pena reported, out of a total population of 750,000. And less than 10 percent attend an evangelical Christian church of any kind.
___El Paso has only one Baptist church per 10,500 residents, compared to a statewide average of one Baptist church per 3,500 residents. That gives El Paso Baptist Association the highest ratio of population to churches of any association in Texas, Pena said.
___While many would assume most everyone in El Paso is Catholic, that is not the case, he continued. "Twenty-one percent of the population has no religious affiliation at all, not even Catholic."
___Texas Baptists should realize the area they are going to for the November annual session really is a mission field, he declared.
___"We believe we're at the front lines. We need to seize the opportunity to tell our story, to reveal to Texas Baptists that they have a mission field right at their front door. What better way to do that than through our annual convention?"
___Thirty percent of the association's churches already are making plans for the citywide event, and others are gaining interest, Pena said. August is planned as a key recruitment month for churches.
___The association believes this could be the largest volunteer effort ever for Baptists in El Paso.
___At Congregation Bautista Westside, members have voted unanimously to engage in door-to-door visitation during Abrazando. "This will give us a great opportunity we were waiting for to go and seek for Hispanics in one of the affluent areas of El Paso," said Pastor Angel Vela.
___More than 25,000 Hispanics are believed to live in the area where the one-year-old congregation is based. With help from volunteers, Vela hopes his congregation can make contact with each of those households.
___"This will enhance not only our church but the kingdom of God," he said.
___At Iglesia Bautista Northeast, Pastor Elias Benitez hopes to engage all the Baptist churches in his area in a large-scale project to distribute video copies of the "Jesus" film.
___"We're not necessarily going to try to win them to the Lord right there but give them something they can profit from," he said. The project also would include a means of following up on those who take the videos.
___To canvass all of Northeast El Paso could require as many as 500 people, he predicted.
___One congregation that will be helping Benitez in the "Jesus" film project is Pleasant View Community Church, a new church start designed to reach English-speaking Hispanics.
___Pastor David Vela said his church not only will distribute the "Jesus" videos but will throw a block fiesta.
___He hopes the citywide effort will renew a zeal for evangelism in the Baptist churches but also send a clear message to El Paso residents that Baptists are warm and friendly people who care about their neighbors.
___"For non-believers, this will dispel some fears about who we are as Baptists," he said.
___Co-chairs for Abranzando El Paso are Levi Price, pastor of the city's First Baptist Church, and Mario Gonzales, pastor of Primera Iglesia Bautista.
___Both Price and Gonzales appear on a video presentation specifically designed to promote Abrazando El Paso among Texas Baptists. Copies of the video are available in each of the state's associational offices or directly from El Paso Baptist Association.
___To request a copy of the video or to sign up to work as a volunteer in November, call (800) 711-3909.

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