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Hispanic ministry blossoms out of Hurricane Charley recovery (Sept. 1, 2004)

Hispanic ministry blossoms out of Hurricane Charley recovery (Sept. 1, 2004)

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Hispanic ministry blossoms out of Hurricane Charley recovery

Sept. 1, 2004    News media contact:  Michael Wacht*    
407-897-1140     Orlando  {0154}

n  Church member begins new church while helping hurricane victims.

An e-Review Feature
By J.A. Buchholz**

ARCADIA — Hispanic residents here make up 60 percent of the county's population of 32,000. Primarily citrus, construction or migrant workers, they have very little disposable income because the majority of their money is sent back home to their native countries, and most aren't members of a church family. Trinity United Methodist Church here is working to meet their spiritual, as well as physical needs, in the wake of Hurricane Charley by starting a Hispanic church for them. Photo by Michael Wacht, Photo #04-0086.

ARCADIA — Gricel Hernandez refuses to allow Arcadia's Hispanic community to fall between the cracks during the recovery from Hurricane Charley.

Hernandez, a member of Trinity United Methodist Church here, has been instrumental in providing relief to the area's hurricane victims. Now, she is taking recovery efforts a step further by starting a Hispanic church to reach Arcadia's largely unchurched Hispanic community.

Arcadia's Hispanic residents make up 60 percent of the county's population of 32,000. They are primarily citrus, construction or migrant workers and live off very little income because the majority of their money is sent back home to their native countries, Hernandez said.

Hernandez says she began considering the idea of starting a Hispanic ministry years ago, but said it has really taken shape while helping residents cope with Hurricane Charley, which made landfall Aug. 13  about 20 to 30 miles from Arcadia.

Hernandez was in the community offering food, water and ice less than 24 hours after the storm roared through the area. She said what she saw there was heartbreaking. Parts of mobile homes were scattered throughout the predominately Hispanic area, with some pieces caught in trees, and many of the people whose homes were destroyed were living in tents. Because many of the residents didn't have transportation to go to relief centers Hernandez said they greeted her warmly and readily accepted the provisions she had brought.

She said she knew venturing into the Hispanic community with the supplies in a desperate time of need would appeal to residents and help them be more open to the idea of receiving God's love in a formal setting, such as a church.

The Rev. David Harris, pastor of Trinity United Methodist Church, Arcadia, had also been looking for an opportunity to minister to the Hispanic community and thought Hernandez was the right person to start the ministry. Although Hernandez works in the health-care profession and is used to caring for the physical well-being of people, she said the idea of leading people in their spiritual lives leaves her with a nervous feeling. She also says she is up to the challenge.

"It's a big responsibility, but it's something that needs to be done for the community," said Hernandez, who has been a member of Trinity for a year and a half. "And I've known for a long time that I have a calling for helping people in my heart. There is such a large Hispanic community here, and this is the best way to reach out to them."

The ministry will reach out to people like Emma Martinez, who has lived in Arcadia for 30 years, but has never been to a local church. She stopped at Trinity in the days after Hurricane Charley hit when she noticed the church's distribution area for supplies, which her family greatly needed.

Martinez, who had only minor damage at her home, said she would be open to the idea of worshipping in a local church.

"The good Lord blessed us, and we are very grateful," she said.

The new Hispanic church could begin meeting at Trinity within a month, Hernandez said, adding it's important for residents who need help to make a connection to the church now, during recovery efforts.

ARCADIA — The homes of many of Arcadia's Hispanic residents were either significantly damaged or destroyed Aug. 13 by Hurricane Charley, whose winds were so strong here that pieces of mobile homes were found in trees. Many families lost all their belongings along with their homes. Photo by Michael Wacht, Photo #04-0087.

"We don't want to lose them," she said. "The storm has changed a lot of people. It's going to take a while to get things back to the way they used to be...They are lost and don't know where to begin again."

The Rev. Edwin Santos, director of the Florida Conference's Hispanic Ministries, echoes those sentiments. He visited Arcadia and its Hispanic area last month.

"This is the best time to reach out to the Hispanic community," he said. "They are suffering and in a lot of pain."

Santos said he has received a deluge of interest from conferences wanting to send volunteers to minister to the Hispanic community. He said volunteers can assist during relief efforts, but it's going to take a special person with a heart for the Hispanic culture to get the upstart church off the ground.

Rosa Carrion has visited the area several times and said she thinks the community would be receptive to a Hispanic church. Carrion's husband, the Jose Carrion, is pastor of the Hispanic Mission of First United Methodist Church, Kissimmee.

"They are very scared. Many are undocumented and fear deportation," she said. "I think this is a good time for the church to be going in there. The people are hungry for the word of the Lord."

Some residents have asked where they can go to express their thankfulness for what the church has already provided. Carrion said she has directed them to Trinity.

Hernandez said she and Harris are counting on the church to be an integral part of the rebuilding process for Arcadia's Hispanics, as well as the rest of the community. She said the word-of-mouth about what she is doing in the community now will also help get the word out about the new church.

"They see what I'm doing," she said. "In the Hispanic community, the best way to get attention is to let people see your good works. What I'm doing by being in the community every day with water and ice and food is helping to build up the trust factor. We want them to know they have not been forgotten."

Florida Conference United Methodists are encouraged to send contributions to "Florida Storm Recovery Fund" Conference Special #605 to their local church. Church offerings should be sent to the Florida Conference Treasurer, The United Methodist Church, P.O. Box 3767, Lakeland, FL 33802.

Individuals or groups interested in coordinating a group to assist with hurricane relief and recovery efforts should contact the Florida Storm Recovery Center at 1-800-282-8011, extension 149. The Florida Conference Storm Recovery Team can be contacted by e-mail at

For conference news and updates related to Hurricane Charley go to


This article relates to Florida Conference Disaster Response.

*Wacht is director of Florida United Methodist Communications and managing editor
of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Buchholz is a staff writer for e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.