Los Angeles is a large city. In 2016, it grew to over four million inhabitants. Its greater metropolitan area has an estimated population of over eighteen million people. Los Angeles is also a diverse city. Thirty-seven percent of the population is estimated to be foreign-born. Only forty-one percent of the population speaks exclusively English in their homes. In fact, Los Angeles was recently named the city with the most native Spanish speakers in the world second to Mexico City, Mexico.
Our synod recently started a mission revitalization project in one of the Los Angeles Gateway Cities, Bell Gardens. Bell Gardens also has a large and diverse population. An estimated sixty thousand people live in this 2.4-square-mile city. Over ninety-seven percent of these people are Hispanic or Latino.
This means two things. First, there is no shortage of people to reach in our community with the good news. Second, our work is clearly cross-cultural with focus on Hispanics and Latinos. Fortunately, the principles of the Lutheran Reformation help guide us in our mission.
Martin Luther’s principles of maintaining continuity with much of the Roman Catholic church works to our advantage. For the most part, our target audience has strong cultural ties to Catholicism. Many in our community view any denomination outside the Roman Catholic church with skepticism. The more we can showcase our common ground, the more opportunities we create to evangelize.
For example, historical orders of worship, liturgical music, and traditional vestments are attractive to our target audience. The use of confession and absolution, the recitation of the creeds, and the praying of the Lord’s Prayer allow our guests and new members to feel comfortable.
Showing respect for the various saints and the Virgin Mary, very important cultural and spiritual figures in our community, can also build bridges. Instead of immediately communicating that we don’t worship saints, we explain that through Jesus Christ, we are all saints in God’s eyes. When we are accused of “not believing” in the Virgin Mary, we affirm that we believe God’s own Son, Jesus Christ, the Savior of the World, was born through her. Working to build common ground helps us build an audience for the Gospel.
However, another set of principles from the Lutheran Reformation provides us with even more guidance. A focus on Grace Alone, Faith Alone, and Scripture Alone are at the core of our work. Thanks to the Reformation, we can communicate God’s undeserved love to people who never knew it existed. We can share that simple faith in Jesus is the difference between heaven and hell. We can show people that our teachings are all based on God’s Word alone.
The forgiveness of sins and the certainty of eternal life through Jesus Christ is a message our community needs and wants to hear. Thanks to Martin Luther and the Lutheran Reformation, it’s a message we get to share.
Reverend Matt Behmer
Cristo Rey Lutheran Church
Bell Gardens, CA