The Birth of a Hispanic Residency Program

By Keila Diaz

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In 2017, two church planters embarked on a journey that would eventually lead to the creation of a remarkable church residency program. Little did they know God would lead their endeavor to spawn 20 additional residencies, impacting lives across different regions and communities.

Julio Crespo, who today directs the Oklahoma City-based Send Network residency at Iglesia Bautista Central, found himself facing an unexpected opportunity in 2017. A friend reached out, presenting him with the possibility of serving as an Air Force reservist in Oklahoma for three months. Embracing the idea, he consulted the team of the church he was pastoring at the time and was met with their resounding support.

It was during this time that he recalled Félix Cabrera’s presence in Oklahoma and realized he could leverage this connection to find a church community. Cabrera is currently the vice president of Send Network Español.

Upon reaching out to Cabrera, who was pastoring Iglesia Bautista Central at the time, the unexpected unfolded. Cabrera informed Crespo that he had been contacted by Send Network to establish a Spanish-language residency. Intrigued but uncertain, Crespo sought an understanding of what exactly a residency entailed. The duo explored various options, discovering a gap in the landscape – with none fully addressing the needs they saw in church planting for the Hispanic community.

Diving headfirst into the challenge, they dedicated six months of rigorous effort to piece together their vision of a comprehensive pastoral residency program. What started as a six-month program has evolved into a year-long curriculum, encompassing four core pillars: a healthy ecclesiology, personal and family well-being, and a profound grasp of the gospel, along with a deep understanding of pastoral ministry.

Over six years, the Oklahoma residency program has consistently hosted four to five residents annually. The impact has been widespread, with the 30th resident preparing for the upcoming August intake. The reach of this initiative extends far beyond its inception in 2017. Graduating residents have gone on to plant eight churches in Oklahoma, three in Utah, five in Puerto Rico, one in Georiga and another in Missouri.

Resident after resident has testified to the profound impact of being immersed in a church environment. By pastoring individuals under the guidance of established leaders, residents are exposed to a higher level of spiritual growth and understanding. Their journey comes full circle when they return to preach, showcasing their growth and development to the congregations that witnessed their journey.

“Planting a church entails more than mere structure and hierarchy. It’s a journey of discipleship, especially when working with new believers,” said Crespo.

The residency experience within a local church setting offers an invaluable blueprint of what a community fully committed to the gospel embodies. It equips residents not only to lead but also to engage with those who may be less engaged in the church, bridging the gap between different levels of spiritual commitment.

What began as a serendipitous connection and a desire to serve has blossomed into a dynamic program that has birthed numerous church plants. The legacy being built, one resident at a time, serves as a testament to the commitment to fostering authentic growth, equipping leaders and spreading the transformative power of the gospel.

Published August 31, 2023

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Keila Diaz

Keila Diaz writes for the North American Mission Board.