What do you do when God calls you to something completely different than you are used to, perhaps to places that don’t look much like home? If you have a servant’s heart and are serving with faithful obedience, you go and know God will meet you there.
That is how Reverend Bob Ellis, senior pastor of Crossroads Church of South Texas, and his wife, Reverend Arlynn Ellis, executive pastor, ended up leading a multi-cultural church in San Antonio, Texas, for the past 21 years. As God put actions in motion, they followed. Now, the Ellises and Crossroads Church are serving the here, near, hard and far places in their unfolding Acts 1:8 journey.
As Pastor Bob explained to The Wesleyan Church Director of Multiplication Reverend Jesse Pratt in Episode 3 of the Acts 1:8 podcast series, “I’m a white guy from Virginia, grew up in a small Wesleyan church in a town called Galax, Virginia. I went to Southern Wesleyan University.”
For context, Galax, with a population of about 7,000, is nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains with few minority residents. It is a quaint town just down the road from Mount Airy, North Carolina, which fans of The Andy Griffith Show will recognize as Mayberry, complete with Floyd’s Barber Shop and Sheriff Taylor’s iconic squad cars. It was from here that God called Pastor Bob into a career of almost entirely Hispanic ministry. “We didn’t know how it was going to play out,” he said, but each time he would start a ministry, God would layer it with something else.
Meanwhile, Pastor Arlynn has had a different perspective on their ministries, having moved from Venezuela by herself when she was younger without speaking any English. She also grew up going to Catholic school. “I was not raised in a Christian home, yet I was invited by a friend to a Christian church when I was in 10th grade and it changed my life forever.” Having been raised in South America, the Texas Hispanic culture also was an adjustment. “The culture in Texas is more from Tex-Mex, but the Lord gave me a love for South Texas,” said Arlynn.
Pastors Bob and Arlynn first started Hispanic church planting in Alabama, which was quite different from the one they lead in Texas. “If you come from an Anglo background and you are not familiar with Hispanic ministries, you might tend to lump every culture in the same category. But what I primarily did in Alabama was an immigrant congregation mainly from Mexico, Honduras and some Guatemala.” However, in Texas, most of their congregation has lived their entire lives in Texas, and many come from several generations of Texans. As a multi-ethnic family now living in this Tex-Mex community, Pastor Bob said they immediately felt welcomed and at home.
The here, the near, the hard and the far
Crossroads’ here (Jerusalem) is their main church base in San Antonio started 21 years ago. “We jumped in, immersed ourselves in the culture, and bought a house in the neighborhood,” shared the Ellises. Their base is located in Central San Antonio near the airport with mixed-race couples, and mainly English-speaking San Antonians. “Jerusalem for us is San Antonio.” Crossroads will expand soon by bringing in another pastor on campus to launch a Spanish-only speaking service.
Their near (Judea) is a church restart they led about four years ago in a bedroom community between San Antonio and Austin that has become another campus of Crossroads Church in Spanish and English. Neither of the churches were huge, so it came down to the question of whether they were able to help a struggling church. “We said we were willing, so that became Judea, 35 minutes away,” he said. That campus last Easter saw 98 worshippers in Spanish and 25-30 in English, so they have high hopes for the congregation. Pastor Bob believes “smaller churches can plant churches.”
Also fitting into this vision of reaching the near is Pastor Arlynn’s non-profit organization (NPO), Acts of Hope. This NPO serves the local community by providing everything from help with citizenship and naturalization to family care and job training. This is another way the Ellises are acting on their vision of being the church to the community. “Often we get used to just inviting people to church,” said Pastor Arlynn. “The truth is that we also have the opportunity to serve and meet them where they are,” she said.
The hard is about perseverance, learning to “reinvent yourself” when needed and not giving up. Pastor Bob shared that at times they wondered if they were going to make it. There were moments he wrote a resignation letter in his mind on a Monday morning. “If we would have given up earlier, we wouldn’t have seen these things” come to pass. Pastor Bob adds, “There are so many ways God is asking us to color outside of the lines. More recently, coloring outside of the lines means looking for where God is at work and joining him in it.”
And finally, the far (ends of the earth) currently includes planting and supporting churches and pastors in Peru’s Amazon region — a ministry focus of the Mountain Plains District, of which Pastor Arlynn is the assistant district superintendent. “I have always felt called to Latin America, but for whatever reason, God said ‘no, you’re going to be in Texas,’” said Pastor Bob who has served as the missions’ director for the district and has been working in the Amazon region for 19 years. The district recently sent a team there to help with pastoral leadership training and to do some ordination classes.
For any church wanting to engage in an Acts 1:8 strategy but is unsure how to start, they may take heart in Pastor Bob’s comment that it isn’t like they sat down with a binder labeled “Our Acts 1:8 Strategy.” The main ingredient to successfully carrying out this strategy, according to Rev. Pratt, who has interviewed several pastors in the Acts 1:8 podcast series, is simply a willingness or a faithful obedience. “It’s the idea of ‘I don’t know what it is going to look like, but I’m going to go.’”
Jennifer Jones is a former journalist and pastor’s wife serving as the North Carolina East District administrator.