By Jess Torres
COLUMBIA—On Aug. 19, the pastor and nearly 40 members of Trenholm Road United Methodist Church made a five mile trip to the old skating rink on Decker Blvd.
But since the skating rink has been closed for years, there was a much different reason—in fact, a much higher reason—for the trip. They were going to help with the end-of-summer vacation Bible school/outreach ministry of Centro Cristiano Cristo Reina, one of the largest and fastest growing Hispanic congregations in South Carolina. With members from 11 Spanish-speaking nations in Central and South America and the Caribbean, this Assembly of God congregation has already outgrown its previous two worship facilities.
So with more than 100 backpacks filled with school supplies, Trenholm Road members went to not only give the backpacks to the children attending the VBS, but also to help teach classes and grill hot dogs and hamburgers for everyone involved.
After lunch, Trenholm Road members presented the pastors of Centro Cristiano with a check for $10,000 to aid in the massive remodeling project that will eventually transform the old skating rink into a multi-purpose church building.
In fact, this is just the latest chapter in a growing ministry partnership that began in October 2015, when Trenholm Road UMC became the hub of flood relief efforts for the entire Midlands. It was during that time that pastors Henry Alfaro and the Rev. Mike Smith of Trenholm Road developed a friendship that has proven to be the answer to years of prayer that God would provide an opportunity for the church to be in mission and ministry with the Hispanic community in Columbia.
“I knew the Lord Jesus was in this place the minute we walked in the church gym and I knew that Pastor Mike was truly a man the Lord was using because of the way he embraced me and his church welcome us without question and treated us not as people who shouldn’t be here, but as brothers and sisters,” Alfaro said.
Since that day, the congregations have established a relationship of friendship, compassion, love, respect and shared ministry that includes two pulpit exchanges; two Hispanic Pastors’ Conferences held at Trenholm Road (one statewide, one city-wide); two shared mission projects (one in the summer and one at Christmas); a joint, bilingual Christmas Eve children’s service at Trenholm Road; a Food Fiesta with indigenous food from all 11 nations in Centro Cristiano and barbecue from Trenholm Road; assistance by Trenholm Road attorneys with citizenship paperwork; a “Dinner and a Movie” night featuring the movie “Romero,” about the life and martyrdom of Archbishop of El Salvador Oscar Romero, followed by a dinner of authentic Salvadoran food prepared by members of Centro Cristiano; assistance by Trenholm Road contractors and developers with building repair and renovation advice; a shared VBS and community outreach project; a $10,000 check from Trenholm Road to help with building renovation; and plans to provide work teams from Trenholm Road to help with the renovation once it begins.
“Trenholm Road has a great legacy of mission and ministry in El Salvador, thanks to the leadership of people like Tim Teaster and Dr. Ozzie Shuler. But being in ministry with and to the local Hispanic community has been something that, though our church has been praying for, has never really materialized,” said Smith, Trenholm Road’s pastor. “But in the amazing providence of God, He used a catastrophe—the flood—to bring our two churches and our two communities together in ways we never dreamed.”
Smith added, “As I told Pastor Henry one day this summer, ‘A long time ago, the Lord brought two of my spiritual forefathers together in a barn and one of them (Philip William Otterbein) said to the other (Martin Boehm), ‘Wir sind Brüder!’ (We are brothers!) And with that a revival began that helped transform America. Some 250 years later, because the Lord brought us together in a gym, we are able to say the same thing to each other: we are brothers! Except, of course, we drop the German and say it in Spanish: Somos hermanos! And hopefully, prayerfully, through our relationship, another revival might begin that will help transform our city.”
Torres is Trenholm Road Lay Member of Annual Conference.