by Heber Ticas
(Glendora’s 15th Hispanic Heritage Day was graced with the appearance of Pastor Heber Ticas and wife Xochlit with son Chris. Both Heber and Xochlit are natives of El Salvador and now look after Grace Communion International congregations in Sun Valley and Los Angeles, CA. They have grown from a church of 50 people to two campuses and 225 in attendance on Sundays. The Ticas’ have a strong interest in church planting and assimilating diverse peoples from Latin America and elsewhere into the Christian body)
Thank you for your kind invitation to join you here for Cinco de Mayo.
Some of my members are from Puebla outside Mexico City where the battle happened on May 5, 1862 and speak of it often. But Pastor Neil is right. The Fifth of May is celebrated with much more gusto here in the United States than it is in Mexico itself. Mexico puts great stress on Mexican Independence Day every September 16.
In fact around 15 September we host a special service to highlight the international diversity we have in our churches. People from El Salvador, Guatemala, Colombia, Argentina and elsewhere dress up in their native costumes with dancing and special foods. It is a great day and with all these immigrant people coming to us for church we sometimes have as many as 139 children for the Blessing of Children which we do twice a year.
I grew up in El Salvador with a mother who was a devoted member of the Church of God (Seventh Day). I was called to ministry here in America at the age of 25 but was not interested. I desired the American Dream of financial independence. But at age 29 I found myself serving as an elder with a pastor who was burnt out and who finally bailed on the congregation. That is where our pastoral journey began. I had been a student at Jack Hayford’s Kings College, studying theology, but only for my own personal interest. But God had other plans. Now I serve in pastoral ministry, passionately, trying to make up for the years in the ministry wilderness.
Some time back, eleven of our Saturday Sabbath congregations began to question whether the Sabbath was required for salvation. This led to our looking for an evangelical congregation to fellowship with. As a result there are now seven Hispanic congregations in Southern California fellowshipping with Grace Communion International. Five years ago we planted a satellite church out of our congregation and continue to desire to participate in planting missional churches.
Very soon now our Church Planting Team of GCI pastors in Eagle Rock and elsewhere are hoping to welcome Mr. and Mrs. Tabin from the Philippines to plant Filipino-based churches across Los Angeles. They made a start a couple of years ago but now hope to build on that. It’s been a patient process to bring them into this country for that purpose but things are looking good now for the first time in months.
That brings me to my message today.
We are all of us in GCI much interested in mission among different people groups. But this can present some tough challenges for us as Christians. We can see this in the passage in Luke 9:51-55. It is the well-known story of Jesus going to face death in Jerusalem and wanting to pass through a Samaritan village. We all know the enmity between Jews and Samaritans. One considered another group “half breeds” and so on. But the Samaritans didn’t like Jesus’ destination and turned him down.
Immediately James and John wanted Jesus to “nuke” those who had rejected the Messiah. “You’re not one of us!” was the saying in the village. Jesus’ disciples reacted the typical way when there is an ethnic and religious tension. “Lord, do you want us to command and to come down from heaven and consume them as Elijah did?”
We know what Jesus’ answer was: “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them.”
Jesus simply moved on to another village.
That’s the way it is with all of us, right?
We’re all comfortable in our little villages. Where we grew up and where we came from and how we learned to look at life – that could be our little village. And we’re all comfortable with that. As a pastor I get called upon to work with all kinds of different people. One man showed up in our church who was living in an AIDS hospice. I knew because my mother was working there at the time. I had to stretch my thinking. Soon this man had three or four others from the hospice attending with us.
God calls us to stop being so territorial in our thinking. Some time back a member wanted me to pray that her brother – who was planning to cross the border illegally – would make it across safely. What do you do in these situations? How do you react in such cases? I had to think missionally and incarnationally. That means thinking like the Lord Jesus. I had to think like the people caught up in their problems think. I had to be willing to enter into their suffering. Jesus suffered with those who suffer. Yes, I prayed that her brother would be okay.
Why could I do this?
Well, there are three reasons I want to share with you today.
First, as Christians we have to be Christ and Cross-centered. It’s not enough to be Christ-centered. Lots of people “like” Jesus but don’t take up His cross. Being cross-centered means we see the suffering that could be involved when we are called to bear each other’s burdens.
Second, we must stay Kingdom-focused. We all have to stop being so territorial and that is hard. The cultural problems and the religious problems are out there. Raging. It causes divisions. But we are a “sent” people – sent intro this world with a message that is not territorial.
Third, we have to think missionally and incarnationally. Our lives are not our own. I had to enter into the experience of the sister with her brother attempting to cross the border. I had to get out of my mental and spiritual “village” and think beyond my own cultural borders and barriers.
Jesus refused to burn the Samaritan village because his mission was to save not to condemn. These three simple reminders might help us get out of our restricting villages. Days such as Cinco de Mayo where we enjoy different cultures and experiences are good for reminding us that the cultural and ethnic problems are out there, but they can be solved. They’re out there and we must have the missional heart to cross those barriers when we find them and to leave our own villages for the sake of the Gospel. For the truth is that we are a “sent” people, sent out of our villages, sent into the world with the message of Christ.