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Immersion experience helps members reach Hispanic neighbors in their own language

Immersion experience helps members reach Hispanic neighbors in their own language

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Immersion experience helps members reach neighbors in their own language

Aug. 31, 2007  News media contact: Tita Parham*
800-282-8011  Orlando {0732}

An e-Review Commentary
By Bonnie Brown**

“We’re required to speak only Spanish when we get out of our cars at the retreat center?” I asked, unbelieving.

“Si, es cierto,” replied the Rev. Kirk Reed, founder of Pueblo Hispano. 

Bonnie Brown (left) buddies with Guide Elvira Ramirez, a member of Humboldt Park United Methodist Church in Chicago, after impersonating Elvira in a Spanish skit. Photo courtesy of Bonnie Brown. Photo #07-0660.

Twenty-five people — 12 learners or “pilgrims” (peregrinos), 12 native Spanish-speaking “guides” (guías) and one facilitator — spent one week earlier this month at the Bishop Lane Retreat Center in Rockford, Ill., speaking only Spanish.

Peregrinos came from all over the United States, many of them pastors or active members in United Methodist churches across the country. This was Pueblo Hispano’s second year in existence.

Pueblo Hispano, or Spanishtown, is a unique immersion program developed by Reed, pastor of Trinity United Methodist Church in Wilmette, Ill., and former chair of the Northern Illinois Conference Committee to Implement the National Plan for Hispanic/Latino Ministry.

Laity and clergy of the Florida Conference have an opportunity to participate in this unique experience through the conference’s first Spanishtown Oct. 22-26 at the Life Enrichment Center in Fruitland Park.

Reed developed the program after he became convinced that Anglo church leaders will minister more effectively in Latino communities when they can communicate clearly and confidently in Spanish. In his own efforts to become fluent in Spanish, Reed was unable to find a program that helped him really learn to speak the language, even though he traveled to Mexico and spent time there in classes.

Then Reed saw an article in the Chicago Tribune about the internationally-recognized English Town experience in Valdelavilla, Spain. Reed went there to learn how that model worked so he could bring it back to the United States. With that experience, he worked with the Northern Illinois Conference, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary (G-ETS) and an advisory board to develop the Spanishtown program.

A goal of the program is to incorporate different accents and cultural backgrounds, so guides are natives of Guatemala, Mexico, Puerto Rico and Cuba.

Much of the time — five hours each day — was spent in one-on-one conversations between a pilgrim and a guide. Pairs rotated so that individuals got the chance to interact with different speakers.

Group activities, singing and planning worship services together increased participant interaction. No matter what we did, everyone in the group had to speak Spanish at all times.

When the time at the retreat center ended Saturday morning with a graduation ceremony, pilgrims who wished to take it a step further were sent to spend the weekend with Spanish-speaking families and attend Spanish worship services.

“I know now how much I don’t know,” I replied in Spanish when asked at the end of the week what I thought of the program.

It became apparent, however, that thinking in Spanish had actually taken place. On Wednesday during the week I was awakened in the middle of the night to a loud alarm sounding. Half asleep, I opened my door and asked — in Spanish — what had happened.

Peregrinos and guias perform a skit in Spanish during the weeklong Pueblo Hispano. Photo courtesy of Bonnie Brown. Photo #07-0661.

By the end of the week, the group experienced a new sense of community, according to another peregrino. “I don’t think I’ve ever had so intense an experience with people of another culture and language,” he said. “The bonding was incredible for all of us.”

Regarding the guides’ sentiments, Reed says “they discovered that we (Anglos) can be vulnerable because of our language insecurities.”

“But we all learned that we have a sense of humor that enables us to connect even when our language wasn’t so great,” he added.

The fees peregrinos pay cover the costs of room and board for the guides, many of whom take a week of vacation from their jobs in order to participate. The numbers are kept relatively small for more one-on-one speaking time.

“In many areas of the United States the future of our church depends on our reaching our Hispanic neighbors with the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus,” one peregrino commented.

In my estimation, this is a great way to begin that journey of discipleship. Bendiciones (Blessings!)

More information about the Pueblo Hispano taking place in Florida in October is available by contacting Icel Rodriguez, associate director of the conference’s Global Mission and Justice Ministries, at 800-282-8011, extension 182, or e-mailing The cost of room, board and tuition per peregrino (participant) is $750.

More information about the program in general is available by contacting Reed at or 847-309-3629.

A portion of the information for this article was taken from


This article relates to Outreach.

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Brown is a freelance writer and member of First United Methodist Church in Raymondville, Texas.