‘Religious Visa’ brings ministers to U.S. churches

By Sarah Powers
Borderzine

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. — Yolanda Miranda welcomes her Sunday morning congregation with hugs and handshakes. She seemed to know all 20 members at Manantial de Vida United Methodist Church. Miranda came from Costa Rica to Abingdon, Va., in 1990, later changing her visitor’s visa to a religious worker’s visa as she began missions work.

At that time Miranda knew of no Latino community in the area. But as Miranda said, that’s when God sent her angels: Bob and Carol Jones, an Abingdon couple who took her to the immigration offices to help her change her visa.

“They introduced me to this Methodist church,” said Miranda. “They are the ones that gave me all the help I needed, in all sense of the word, to begin this ministry.”

A 2007 study by the Pew Hispanic Center predicts Latinos will bring some important changes to the American church, due to the growth of the Hispanic population. The changes started because of the need for services in Spanish for a mostly Latino congregation.

A 2006 study by the University of Notre Dame’s Institute for Latino Studies said Latino churches provide the largest volunteer workforce in their communities. According to the report, “Leadership Matters: The Role of Latino/a Religious Leadership in Social Ministry,” churches also serve as learning environments to help people gain skills that are important for leadership and civic involvement.

The Leadership Matters study says immigrants rely on churches to meet people of similar social, cultural and economic backgrounds. These churches give immigrants the opportunity to lead Bible-study classes, work with others on church committees and gain other skills that can be used to help them adjust to American life.

The need for Spanish-speaking ministers is growing in America because of the number of Hispanics in churches. If a church could not find a minister in the United States, they may bring one in on a missionary visa.

Methodist churches looking for missionaries go to The General Board of Global Ministries for help.

“If we know of a district that is in need of a missionary, we have a list of people who would like to come in for missionary work and we pick from them,” said Glenda Roberts of the General Board’s New York office.

In the United Methodist Church, the search starts with a pastor.

“Let’s say I went over to a farm and saw that there was a missionary need for those people. I would bring it to the attention of my district superintendent,” said the Rev. Will Shewey, of Salem United Methodist Church in Kingsport, Tenn.

His request would then go through two people before going to the global ministries offices, which would send a missionary if there were a need.

For some churches, like Iglesia Bautista La Gran Comisión in Morristown, Tenn., bringing in missionaries is more than just help for the church. The missionaries also help the…

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