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August 30, 2009

A Spanish-speaking ‘church within a church'

Christ the King wasn't founded 15 years ago with a vision to reach out to Spanish-speaking people.

Christ the King wasn't founded 15 years ago with a vision to reach out to Spanish-speaking people.

The church began with three people knocking on doors. As the congregation, which now numbers about 500 in Sunday worship, began to grow, members began to be aware of the needs of the people around them, said Christ the King vision pastor, the Rev. Craig Bollinger.

A church member who had just returned from serving in China as a missionary suggested they consider working with an orphanage in Guatemala.

“The church had matured enough to say, ‘We'd like to be involved in international missions,'” Bollinger said. “We took a team of seven to explore that ministry. That's how we got started really loving on Spanish-(speaking) people.”

The church, which is part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, continued to take trips to Guatemala. They raised $50,000 to help the orphanage build its food supply. And they met Damaris Chajon, a young Guatemalan woman who was ministering at the orphanage.

Their connection with Chajon grew, and now she is working as a missionary at Christ the King in Charlotte, leading a Spanish-speaking “church within a church” there. Today, Cristo El Rey, which means “Christ the King” in Spanish, will celebrate its third anniversary.

Bollinger said working in Guatemala “opened our eyes to people south of the border, and then it opened our eyes to the need around our church.”

Spanish-speaking people were moving into Charlotte, and some were attending Christ the King.

The church began singing some song verses in Spanish on Sunday mornings. Sometimes, Bible verses were read in English and Spanish.

That just wasn't enough, Bollinger said.

“It became evident we needed a service that was just in Spanish for the immigrant population,” Bollinger said. The church needed a pastor to head up that effort.

Church leaders were impressed with Chajon's heart for evangelism and the ministry work she was doing at the Guatemalan orphanage. After talking with Christ the King leaders, she agreed to come to the United States as a missionary.

The church has raised money and applied for grants to fund the ministry. Chajon has been joined in the United States by her father, Rodolfo Chajon, who is a pastor, and her mother, Maria. Rodolfo Chajon shares preaching duties with his daughter at Cristo El Rey.

Damaris and Rodolfo Chajon are now on the Christ the King staff and a primary connection between the church's Anglo and Latino congregations.

Damaris Chajon said her English has improved greatly since being in the United States, but she has realized that having a fully Spanish service can provide native Spanish speakers with a deeper worship experience.

“I think we feel more open to worship in Spanish,” she said.

About 70 people now meet every Sunday for Cristo El Rey's weekly service. The congregation also ministers to local communities with food, transportation and clothing and has held vacation Bible schools.

Bollinger said Cristo El Rey operates on its own – it has its own treasurer and accounts and organizes its own ministries.

“We've trained their group to be self-sufficient,” Bollinger said. “We just kind of walk beside them.”

Every year, the Anglo and Latino congregations get together to celebrate the anniversary of Cristo El Rey. Today, Chajon and Bollinger will preach, each with translation. Afterward, the congregations will enjoy games, fun and food from 11 Spanish-speaking countries.

Bollinger said Cristo El Rey has helped a “typical American church” to see the world in a different way.

“We're all one in Christ, and it doesn't really matter what culture or nationality you're from,” Bollinger said.

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