Solid Rock's Hispanic service gains momentum
A New Richmond church is helping to minister to migrant workers who live in western Wisconsin during the growing season.
For more than a year, Solid Rock Fellowship Church has offered a weekly Spanish-speaking church service on Sunday nights.
The idea for the new ministry began because church members Kathy and Paul Frederickson house a migrant worker and his wife each summer.
The Fredricksons asked Solid Rock Pastor Ken Mettler if he would allow Refugio "Cuco" Garcia to sing in Spanish on one Sunday.
"Before you knew it, the leaders of the church said let him preach," Mettler recalled.
Pastor "Cuco," who is a trained minister, so impressed the congregation that the idea for a new Hispanic ministry began being discussed. The church eventually asked Cuco if he would consider leading a weekly Hispanic service. After praying about the suggestion, Cuco agreed.
"It's an adventure with God," Cuco said of his calling to serve as a part-time pastor with the Solid Rock.
Solid Rock began as a small roving congregation meeting in Mary Park in 2009. Mettler, a retired Evangelical preacher living in St. Croix Falls with his wife Barb, accepted the offer to serve the new church and the congregation has since settled in a building in New Richmond's Business and Technical Park.
Their own nomadic past meshes well with the life of migrant workers.
From December to June each year, Cuco serves as a co-pastor and missionary in Texas and Mexico. The rest of the year he and his wife, Carmen, live with the Fredericksons in New Richmond while he works at Lakeside Food's canning operation. He has been working locally for the past six years.
After putting in 10-hour days, six days a week, in the quality control department at Lakeside, Cuco conducts a service Sunday evenings at "Iglesia Roca Solida."
"This Hispanic ministry really is a great blessing for us," said Chris Turany, director of outreach ministry for Solid Rock. "Aside from our service, I think the closest (Spanish-speaking service) might be in St. Paul."
Last year the service attracted around 18 per service, with attendees recruited mostly from among employees at Lakeside.
According to Turany, the initial arrangement was pretty informal with Solid Rock providing the facility, some technical support including the sound system, refreshments following the service and moral support.
Despite its meager beginnings, everyone felt this was a great opportunity and an immediate asset to the church.
"They knew about as much English as we knew Spanish," says Turany, so the church relied on other means of communication including music and food.
When the end of the season arrived last November, no one really knew what would happen next. Turany recalls saying, "See you in June" to Pastor Cuco, but it was as much a question as a farewell.
During the next six months, the church began to act on the opportunity before them.
"The vision was put on them. The dream was theirs," Cuco said. "The burden in the heart was theirs, but the plan was God's."
Mettler remained in contact with Cuco. Things began to come together when the church organized a team of volunteers for Hispanic Outreach with the help of two key non-members, Virginia Pavy and Claudia Earley. They are members of other churches but are united by their passion to support the Hispanic church during Cuco's tenure in town.
They began to help with translation issues. During the initial summer of services, there were no translation services available so Cuco's sermons were only accessible to Spanish-speaking attendees. This year Jenny Vasquez is present at each service translating Cuco's words into English so the whole congregation can appreciate the pastor's message.
But that's not all that's changing.
"This year's a little more formal," Mettler said. "He (Cuco) is officially a part-time pastor on our staff. Last year, he was a one-man show. This year there is a multiplicity of leaders."
The Hispanic worship team works with Turany's outreach ministries staff and together they've begun to develop a more comprehensive program.
"One of the benefits I see is they're learning English as we're learning Spanish," Turany said. "That's a big deal because, coming into a community that doesn't speak Spanish, it's hard to navigate. If they can pick up some of the communication we can teach them, that can be huge."
As the new growing season begins, and as church services start up, Turany said new faces are showing up on Sunday nights.
Last summer most of the adults attending the service came from the canning plant. This year there's been more of an effort to invite workers from the farms and factories in outlying areas that employ Hispanic workers full time, year round.
"This year we distributed hundreds of flyers and did several mailers," Turany explained. "We hosted an open house and had better than 70 people attend and share in a full potluck dinner. It was a wonderful experience."
Musician David Vasquez is a prime example of outreach success. Vasquez, Jenny's husband and a pastor's son from Guatemala, owns a restaurant in Baldwin specializing in authentic Hispanic cooking. David now provides each service with an energizing array of contemporary Christian music flavored with a Latin beat.
"We're very much encouraged because we're seeing new people this year that we did not see last year," he said. "Last year it was mainly adults. This year we are starting to see families come in with two, three, four children. So we now have a nursery staff for that."
The church has also started a Sunday school program for the children.
"Pastor Cuco knew that a lot of these folks had never been to a church, anywhere," Turany said. "So there was a big market there to bring the message of Jesus Christ to the workers."
The Hispanic church service is also working to increase its community presence. They hosted a float in this year's Fun Fest Parade featuring Cuco singing along with fellow members of the Hispanic worship team.
Watching the Hispanic service is almost like watching Letterman. Cuco's style is very animated. He quotes scripture and uses stories to convey his message. He incorporates chapters from his personal experiences, to essentially testify to the truth of the Gospel. He further engages his flock with songs he sings while playing his guitar. All of this is easily seen and felt without understanding a word of Spanish.
"The man has a preaching style like nobody's business," Mettler said. "He can go for two and a half hours without stopping and that's after working 10 hours at the factory."
The Hispanic service is longer, often two hours plus, not only because of Cuco's energy, but also because it serves as a social and cultural celebration for members. It's meant to sustain a longer-term fellowship not limited to seasonal visits and Sunday night services.
"We'd like to be part of the reason the migrant workers would feel welcome back to Wisconsin, to be with somebody they know who cares, instead of just coming back to have a job," Mettler said.
Cuco and Jenny Vasquez are still developing a rhythm during this season's services. It requires Cuco to consciously break his thoughts and sentences into short phrases so that the translator can hear them, convert what he's said into English, and then say that converted phrase to the audience.
Connecting with David and Jenny Vasquez reinforced how sincere Solid Rock is about making the Hispanic ministry more than just a service. It is a legitimate effort to reach out to an underserved population in this community, church members say.
"We are a team," Cuco confirms.
Both pastors said they understand that to grow the Hispanic members of the church as well as to meld all the members into one cohesive congregation is a slow steady process that requires patience and persistence.
"We're non-denominational and that's one of the strengths of Solid Rock," Mettler said. "We don't really care where you come from. Jesus is the person, not the name on the door. We embrace people of all Christian faiths. I think we are one of the most inclusive churches in town."
Cuco describes his mission; "I want to comply with the purpose God had when he sent his son Jesus Christ; for people to know Christ as their personal savior. I had no plan to establish work here. But God has opened doors here and I would like to use this opportunity to present the gospel.
Initially it started with people from Lakeside, but that was just the beginning. Now the emphasis is to reach the local farms and surrounding towns and I have gone to some of these places to share. If God allows it, we will establish here. My intention is to reach families. I want to see them restored by the power of God."
As to how people in the surrounding farms and towns will be convinced to attend the Hispanic service, Cuco said "I just preach. Faith is in the word of God. You have to hear the word. Faith comes from hearing. It is his holy spirit that will convince. The plan is not mine. It's God's."
Solid Rock Fellowship is located at 240 Wisconsin Drive in New Richmond.
The Hispanic service takes place each Sunday night starting at 6:30 p.m. More information can be found on their web site at: solidrockchurchnr.org.