NASHVILLE (BP) — New executive director of Hispanic relations and mobilization Julio Arriola officially began his role with the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee January 1, 2020.
As 2019 came to an end, Arriola moved from Mexico to Nashville with his wife Carla and their three children, Daniel, David and Elizabeth.
In 2017, Arriola planted Iglesia Vida, currently the largest Baptist church in Guadalajara, Mexico. Before his church planting role in Mexico, Arriola served as global worship pastor at Cross Church in Arkansas, under the leadership of then-pastor Ronnie Floyd. Arriola has also served as a worship leader and student pastor in Texas.
Between meetings and phone calls during his first days in the office, Arriola spoke with Baptist Press regarding his vision, plans and hopes for the Hispanic Southern Baptist family in particular and the Southern Baptist family in general.
BP: How does your unique Hispanic background help you relate to the diversity of Hispanics in the nation?
Arriola: Without my knowing it, God has been preparing me for this position for many years. I was born in Mexico physically and also spiritually. After my college studies, Carla and I got married and went to live in Argentina, where we studied the Word of God at the Bible Institute of Word of Life. In that place we had friendships with students from all over Latin America and Europe. I traveled through South America singing and sharing the Word of God during that time, and I came to understand a lot about the differences and similarities between Hispanics.
All this prepared me greatly to be able to better serve our people in the United States, from the time we arrived in Texas and Arkansas. Along with everything I learned during that time, I also learned that our Hispanic people in the USA are unique in different ways. For example, first generation Hispanics are very different from second and third generation. Texas Hispanics are very different from California or Eastern U.S. Hispanics. Still, all this strengthens and enriches us, although occasionally it can be challenging.
BP: One of the greatest areas of growth in the SBC has been from ethnic churches. How do you see more churches reaching Hispanics and other mission fields?
Arriola: The hope for this world has to come from the Church. The churches of our SBC will begin to see our Hispanic people not only as recipients of the Gospel but as the ambassadors of Christ to the nations. We are 3500 Hispanic churches/congregations but if we are the largest minority in this beautiful country, I think we have the potential to become thousands of more churches in a short time. The answer lies in empowering those who are called to go, with fresh and effective strategies while receiving biblical training.
BP: What do you hope to see in Hispanic unity across SBC life to promote our united mission as part of the whole?
Arriola: In the near future I see Hispanics within our congregations committing more than ever to be part of those who make a difference, without focusing so much on whether or not they are Hispanic, but simply on seeing their neighbor as who they are: people in need of a relationship with our Lord Jesus.
BP: With the various generations of Hispanics in our nation, how can churches unite to reach all peoples in a united church model?
Arriola: I believe that our convention is working hard so that all those who wish to respond to our Lord’s call to “go” can be prepared in the best way. For example, we have several of our seminaries training many students in our Spanish language at fairly affordable prices, literally a fraction of what it costs to study in English. For example, The Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, offers online theological studies. You can get up to a master’s in theological studies, at your own pace, from your home for $160 per class per semester.
Or the Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary program where you can study a doctorate in ministry. Our churches should know this, and it should be promoted not only to pastors and missionaries but also to lay leaders and members. The church we founded [in Mexico] currently has eight students in the seminary completing their master’s studies, including me and my wife.
BP: How do you plan to relate to the different existing Hispanic works across the states?
Arriola: My plan is to serve, listen and encourage our pastors and leaders throughout the country to fulfill the purpose for which we have been placed in this beautiful nation, to reach as many people as we can with the Gospel of Jesus Christ for them to become disciples committed to the Lord in love.
BP: What would you like to see in leadership and church involvement at SBC levels across the nation?
Arriola: We will be seeing more and more Hispanics participating in all levels of leadership in our convention. My friend, pastor and president and CEO of the Executive Committee of our Convention, Dr. Ronnie Floyd, knows and believes that Hispanics are and will be key to the fulfillment of the Great Commission. I observed him since I served under his leadership at Cross Church in Arkansas, and I can testify that he reflects the heart of where the Southern Baptist Convention is headed.
Therefore, let us get to work. “He told them, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. 3 Go!'” (Luke 10: 2-3a)