LEWISTOWN - For almost a decade, a Hispanic Bible study has wandered around the community without a place to call home.
Frank Hernandez, who began the Bible study in 2001, said he felt God's calling to seek out a permanent location for Spanish-speaking families to worship in Lewistown.
The Rev. Bernard Carpenter described a recent meeting with Hernandez as "one of those right-now moments" when he asked the man about his ministry and discovered that he needed a place to host Spanish services.
Sentinel photo by MICAIAH WISE BILGER
Frank Hernandez sits at his desk in the Bethel AME Church in Lewistown. Hernandez is the leader of Aguas Vivas Living Water Church, a new Hispanic congregation that will hold its first service at 1 p.m. Sunday in the Bethel AME HOPE Center.
Carpenter offered Hernandez the church's HOPE Center, and this Sunday, the newly established Aguas Vivas Living Water Church will host its first Spanish worship services.
"People can register in their minds this is their place," Hernandez said.
He has a faithful group of about 15 participate in his Bible study. Hernandez said he wants the group to feel a sense of belonging; and with a permanent home, he hopes more people will come to worship.
Many Hispanic families have worked in the area for years but never went to church because there are so few Spanish services, he said.
Once the congregation is established, Hernandez hopes the Hispanics will intermingle with English-speakers at community and church events.
He and Carpenter imagined hosting a big feast between the two congregations with the baking skills of Bethel AME and the cooking by Aguas Vivas.
Hernandez proposed combining the Hispanics' love for cooking with English-speaking families love for baking to make the event happen.
Originally from the Bronx, Hernandez has a Puerto Rican heritage. He served in the Army for 20 years in Vietnam and later in Texas, where he was stationed near the border. There he met many people and learned to communicate in different dialects.
A 17-year Lewistown resident, Hernandez now ministers in the prisons and serves as an interpreter for the courts.
Interpretation comes naturally for Hernandez. He said he does not have to think about what he is saying when interpreting - the Holy Spirit takes over.
Hernandez said he also gained confidence in talking with people of all statuses, whether it be a prestigious doctor or lawyer, or a poor adult with almost no education.
The man toyed with the idea of beginning a church service for some time, but he worked slowly to make sure God really wanted him to pursue it.
The HOPE Center is a blessing from the Lord, he said. Carpenter's offer to let him use it was just the push Hernandez needed to start the services.
Over the past few weeks, the HOPE Center was prepared with a sound system and a slide projector for English translations. Down the hall, Hernandez set up an office of his own. Stacked on the shelves are Bibles, devotionals and children's story books in Spanish and English that Hernandez has been collecting for the church.
A name plate for outside the HOPE Center is being donated.
"God is putting this puzzle together," Hernandez said.
The opening service will be held at 1 p.m. Sunday at the HOPE Center. His first sermon will be on the topic, "Getting serious about God." Spanish and English speaking families are welcome to attend.
His wife who works at the Grace Covenant Church's Hide and Seek Christian Day Care is planning children's activities and lessons. She has recruited helpers to work in the basement children's area, a colorful room with toys, tables and large paintings of Bible stories on the walls.
Hernandez said he tried to schedule the service around the factory hours that many Hispanic families work. Depending on what works best for local families, he said service times could change.
Hernandez hopes to reach out in other ways, too. Many Spanish-speaking families are not well informed about social welfare programs, school happenings and community events simply because they do not understand English well, he said.
One mother told him she thought the community was prejudice against Hispanics because her child came home from school every day with a note. The woman, who could not read the note as it was written in English, handed it to Hernandez who interpreted it for her. The contents were simply reminding her about her child's immunization requirements, he said.
Hernandez offers himself as a resource to families who have questions or need help. He hopes his office in Lewistown will become a point of contact for struggling Hispanics.
"They're going through a lot of problems," Hernandez said. "The need is so big, so vast."