Church ministry with Latino community ongoing success

In 1999, Dr. David Cook began seeing a few patients for free on Wednesday nights in the back of a grocery store in the Lake Norman area.

Nearby churches soon started sending volunteers, who would read to children waiting with their parents at the clinic.

Linda Steber, director of Christian education at Davidson College Presbyterian Church, said the reading developed into a tutoring program, and from that grew a summer vacation Bible school for Latino children and their families.

"We just went down as volunteers and read books to the children," Steber said. "Then we realized the children needed homework help."

The free clinic has moved on, but a group of Lake Norman churches still runs Amigos de Cristo, an ecumenical ministry to Latino people.

"We knew there were new folks in our community with the growing population of the Latino community," Steber said. "We wanted to be welcoming and practice the biblical standard of hospitality."

This summer, some teenagers who participated in the tutoring program as children will be VBS leaders.

Steber said the teens are bilingual and living in two cultures.

"I think (being part of Amigos de Cristo) has broadened their perspective of education and community," Steber said. "This is a place they can be real leaders, as tutors or running the crafts or recreation or Bible school."

The teenagers also will help with the preschool VBS, which is conducted in Spanish. VBS for school-age children is taught in English, which Steber said enhances their English language skills.

Some of the children, Steber said, also attend preschools at Davidson College Presbyterian or Mount Zion United Methodist in Cornelius, getting an early start on learning English.

About 50 people usually attend the VBS at the Huntersville farmers market.

Each night begins with a meal provided by a participating church. Children learn Bible stories, do crafts and recreation and sing songs. On the last night, St. Mark Catholic Church provides a piñata for the final celebration.

This year's VBS will be June 28-30. Registration is suggested but not required.

Amigos de Cristo continues to grow. This year, volunteers began taking students in the tutoring program on field trips, including to a play at ImaginOn in Charlotte.

The trips, Steber said, expose children to various cultural events.

Six churches are involved in the ministry: Huntersville Presbyterian, St. Mark Catholic Church, DCPC, Community in Christ Lutheran and Mount Zion United Methodist. The YMCA of Lake Norman and the Presbytery of Charlotte's Hispanic ministries group also help.

Steber said the Latino community is a partner in the ministry. Latino teenagers volunteer with children's events. Latino parents bring food to events and chaperone trips.

"It's not like we're doing this for the Hispanic community," Steber said. "We're all doing it together."

Details: English speakers contact Steber at 704-892-5641 or Spanish speakers contact Daysi Cox at 704-716-4406.