When: 7:15 p.m. Friday and 11:15 a.m. Sunday services
Where: 3651 Browns Bridge Road, Gainesville
More info: 470-892-6733
When Javier Chavez came to the United States to pursue a college education in 1995, the then-18-year-old never dreamed he’d become a pastor.
Born and raised in Peru, Chavez is now pastor at Amistad Cristiana, a new Hispanic church in Gainesville.
Amistad Cristiana became an autonomous church in July 2016. Previously, it was an Hispanic ministry at First Baptist Church of Gainesville, and Chavez was its leader.
“First Baptist was gracious to have us for some time,” the 39-year-old Gainesville man said. “But one of the things you’re going to find with the Latino communities is that we have this sense of community that is part of our culture.”
This sense of community drove church leaders to look for their own location. Now the church congregation consists of 80 adults plus children.
Chavez said the congregation focuses on two words: amigo, meaning friend, and familia, meaning family.
“One of the things that we have in mind with this church is to offer any person, could be Hispanic, could be Anglo ... a familia, a family environment and we want to become amigos,” Chavez said. “That’s why the church has named itself Amistad Cristiana. It means Christian friendship.”
People from several Latin American countries, including Guatemala, Mexico, El Salvador and Honduras, worship at the Browns Bridge Road church. Chazev explained Latino is any person who comes from Latin America such as Mexico, Central or South America, in search of the American dream. Hispanic usually refers to children of Latinos born and educated in this country, he said.
“The idea is really to offer, first of all, a place where the Hispanic community can feel like it is a family,” Chavez said. “Then the second thing is, we want to minister and serve the second generation.”
The second generation is the children of the Latinos. Initially, many Latinos came to the U.S. to work, make money and return to their home countries to live. Once they started having children, plans changed, Chavez said.
Children born in the U.S. don’t know much about their parents’ home countries.
“You have a second generation, which aren’t really Hispanics,” he said. “They are Gonzalez. They are Chavez. They are Sanchez. But they’d rather speak more English and they are educated through the American system.”
However, the second generation tends to be multicultural and bilingual, Chavez said.
Nancy Bautista is part of that second generation. She has been involved with the church for three years — since it was a ministry at First Baptist.
“I like that we are a dynamic church. Everybody’s different and yet we all come together,” she said. “Even though we’re all Hispanic, we all come together under God.”
Being second generation, she said sometimes she struggles with where she fits in.
“I could go to an (English-speaking) church, but then my parents wouldn’t be able to come with me,” she said. “While I am there (Amistad Cristiana), my parents understand and I understand and my children understand.”
During the service, Chavez will repeat himself in English and Spanish if he has an important point, Bautista said. That way the children don’t have an excuse not to understand.
Spanglish involves mixing Spanish and English words in conversation. It’s the way Chavez preaches at Amistad Cristiana. Chavez said he’ll use four or five words in English and another two or three words in Spanish during services. The church doesn’t want to be all English- or all Spanish-speaking.
“We want to be able to serve the second generation,” he said. “We want to empower them. We want to make them believe they are also leaders. They can have higher dreams than their parents.”
Bautista said the church welcomes everyone, whether they speak more English or Spanish.
The church’s music is also upbeat along with the combination of the languages.
“I hope ... people feel welcome and if they have never heard about Jesus, that they become part of our church and that they can feel his love through us,” Bautista said.
Chavez said through Amistad Cristiana, he hopes younger generations will see they can attend college, receive a degree and hopefully provide a better life for their future families. He wants them to understand and embrace America.
“America is not only the country you come to, to work. It is your country,” Chavez said. “You have to love it, you have to respect it, you have to work hard for it, and you have to help this country be a better country.”
Amistad Cristiana has two services each week. A 7:15 p.m. service on Fridays and an 11:15 a.m. service on Sundays. The church also offers children’s activities, prayer groups and counseling throughout the week.