Church Sees Major Move of Holy Spirit Amid Multilingual, Multicultural Worship
By Carl Stagner
Did you know the word altar means the same thing in English and Spanish? Considered one of the few true cognates across the two languages, both the meaning and spelling are identical. “A place of worship” aptly describes the Church of God congregation in Tampa, Florida, which resulted from the merger of two congregations separated by language only a few years ago. Since then, God has showered blessings upon the multilingual, multicultural community of faith as they unabashedly proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Sometimes, English-speaking congregations have been drawn to the prospect of partnering with a Spanish-speaking church as a missional means to touch a demographic otherwise beyond their reach. In doing so, the Spanish-speaking church uses the building owned by the English-speaking church to conduct worship services. When the Spanish-speaking church gains traction and becomes self-sustaining, they may choose to purchase their own facility. At that point, the relationship between the two churches has the potential to weaken. Tampa, Florida’s English-speaking Oak Grove Church of God and the Spanish-speaking Arbol de Vida decided to do things differently. Reflecting their heart’s desire to be one church with two cultures (at minimum!), they united at (the) Altar.
In the spirit of unity, Altar (generally communicated in all caps) has opted not to include the word church in their name. Church is iglesia in Spanish, requiring translation in communication to persons inside and outside the fellowship. Nevertheless, Altar is absolutely a church in every sense, practically functioning and thriving perhaps more like the New Testament example than most organizations that bear the name. A major move of the Holy Spirit in their midst has affirmed their steps of faith and positioned them for even greater impact in the days to come.
What happened on Easter Sunday morning this year at Altar provided a public picture of the Holy Spirit’s activity. Seven people had expressed advance interest in getting baptized that day. Everyone had come together for a united service across lines of language and generation, the presence of God could be felt through the worship and preaching, and the stage was set for the unscripted and the unbelievable.
Tato Caballero, lead pastor, tells what happened next. “We realized something was stirring in our house when Kemuel, a close friend of mine, stood up and walked to the front,” he recalls. “Kemuel is so anointed and called. He has a ministry of spoken word and poetry, but just an impactful life story. Everyone in the congregation knows [and loves] Kemuel, and the joy in people’s faces was the thread of unity in that moment.”
Pastor Tato continues, “We knew we were living in the unexpected and the ‘suddenly’ of God when his fiancée Steph came to the front, moved to tears. She had not known Christ a year prior, but now was leading a community of middle-schoolers at Altar with Kemuel…. From there each person that came forward was so sure and confident in [the magnitude and meaning] of baptism. We could not hold back the emotion.”
Reflecting on the eight additional persons that stepped out in faith to be baptized on Easter in the midst of a wave of Holy Spirit conviction, Tato remarks, “People think I’m a sharp extrovert, but I really am not! But in that moment, God moved me [jump and shout], and this baptism service left me without a voice!”
Structure and schedule went out the window that morning. Those who’d gathered at Altar were caught up in moments of worship and wonder, unconcerned with plans for later in the day. Easter was also a culmination, even an overflow, of what had happened earlier in the weekend on Good Friday; on Good Friday, multiple ethnicities, women and men, and persons of all ages were represented in worship leadership which primed the pump for an Easter experience of eternal consequence. Pastor Tato remembers it vividly.
“It was multiple stories submitting to the authorship of God for our familia, and that carried into our Easter Sunday service,” he says. “It’s easy to get caught in the event and activity itself, but these services were the tip of the iceberg of what God has been doing in the daily life of our church. We just saw it manifest so beautifully that weekend. God is moving, and has been moving so powerfully, in our little corner of Tampa. Easter weekend was a confirmation and an embrace from God. I think from Good Friday into Easter Sunday, we saw God’s hands and feet shaping our family and leaving footprints for the future.”
Learn more about the Church of God movement at www.JesusIsTheSubject.org.