Aida Isela Ramos is an assistant professor of sociology at George Fox University in Oregon and co-author of Latino Protestants in America: Growing and Diverse.
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The Rise of Latino Protestants
DURING ONE OF my first visits to a church in San Antonio for the Latino Protestant Congregations Project, the pastor invited a church member to speak about his experience in a federal immigration detention center. An elderly gentleman rose from his seat with a Bible tucked under his arm. For the next hour, this man, a Salvadoran undocumented immigrant, told his story.
He had been handed over to immigration officials after a minor traffic violation and was transferred to one of the largest detainment centers in south Texas. Without being overtly political, he stated matter-of-factly the conditions he endured at the overpopulated detention center, including the loud crying by men in the cells next to him throughout the night. His case for amnesty looked grim. He prepared mentally for deportation to El Salvador, a place he had left to escape violence.
Then he remembered Peter’s imprisonment in Acts 12 and decided to start a Bible study for male detainees. He was given permission to preach twice a day. He said that 150 detainees attended his gatherings and 58 converted to the gospel. On hearing this, the congregation erupted in applause and cheers of “Hallelujah!”
This church had worked tirelessly to get him released. They raised money to pay court fees, hire an attorney, and support his spouse. Endless phone calls were made to track down his records in El Salvador. Local leaders vouched for his character. The church’s efforts were eventually rewarded with his release. He—and they—understood his release as nothing short of a miracle. This Latino Protestant church provided him a platform to humanize his traumatic experience. While not intentionally political, his testimony carried political implications.