There’s a new man in town with big visions and the belief to make them happen.
Rev. Juan Rivera is the Missions Ambassador at the Church of the Cross in Bluffton; he was called out of retirement to help open doors for the Latino community at the church.
“The prayer warriors at Church of the Cross had been praying for years to find a way to open doors for the Hispanic community. Rev. Owens asked me to join and I felt it was a call from God,” Rivera said. “The congregation is forward-looking. Rather than cloister, we made the decision to open up the church to all human beings and to be the arms and legs of Jesus to serve the influx of people in tremendous need … to build up the Kingdom of God.”
Rivera is the son of immigrants, born in Brooklyn, and is of Cuban and Puerto Rican descent.
“I’m just a simple man, a regular Joe. I see churches as embassies,” he said. In only six months, this “regular Joe” has already made a significant impact in developing trust with the Latino community and creating new programs.
A new ESL (English as a Second Language) class at the church offers both evening and daytime sessions; in only four weeks, more than 50 students have joined. The classes are conducted by volunteer teacher teams, who are encouraged to offer additional help such as filling out employment applications, transportation to medical appointments, or helping in emergency situations.
The classes are divided into small groups, each with three teachers, and meals and childcare are provided for the classes. The “textbook” they use is the Gospel of Mark because it is Biblical, but more importantly, Rivera said, because “It tells the story of when Jesus began calling his disciples: workers, fishermen, the poor. This gospel is the stories of humanity.”
“We want our students to become something great, and we want to be a beacon of hope,” Rivera said. “We also want to help other churches establish ESL programs to not only teach English, but also to help Latinos be part of a community.”
To that end, Rivera has put together an association of Hispanic pastors in Beaufort and Jasper counties to create a partnership. They have already created a fluid five-year plan.
Rivera has also brought music to the church’s food bank by playing his guitar for the 60 to 100 people that are served each week. “Remember the movie ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’?” he asked. “The aliens taught us that music is the cosmic, mathematical magic of communication. Music brings out the beauty of the soul through sound. It interprets feelings and thoughts and unites people.”
This is another example of how a “regular Joe” is opening doors.
Edwina Hoyle is a freelance writer in Bluffton.