Over nine years ago, Rev. Carlos Modesti and Yolanda Ortiz planted Iglesia Mishkan in Lebanon, Tennessee. Originally from Puerto Rico, Rev. Modesti and Yolanda moved to Florida for the Puerto Rican community. Shortly after arriving, they began pastoring in the community, working with Puerto Ricans and believers from other nationalities.
Amid that work in Florida, the two began to sense a stirring from God toward another community. In 2012, they answered that call — moving from a vibrant international community in Florida to Lebanon, Tennessee.
“It was a long process … we decided to take up the challenge and settle in Tennessee, not knowing what we would face,” reflected Rev. Modesti. “God told us: ‘Go, walk, be obedient and don’t worry about what might happen on the road because I will be with you. Start with the tools you have; I’ll provide the rest along the way,’ so we could only be obedient to God.”
After they arrived in Tennessee, Rev. Modesti and Yolanda worked together to serve and know their community, gradually assembling a group of 20 people to start the congregation that eventually became Iglesia Mishkan. Rev. Modesti, especially, focused on building those 20 members of their fledgling congregation into leaders who could carry the weight of the ministry of a growing church.
“My husband started recruiting by selecting people within our group of 20 people, not paying much attention to what they didn’t know but what they did know,” Yolanda recalled. “(Carlos) trained them and then promoted them to different positions. Later, he began to delegate responsibilities to them, allowing them to flow and lead various activities. Over time, God brought more prepared people without removing the people with whom we started.”
That leadership was difficult, however, partly because of the newness of the congregation, but partly because of the ethnic divisions within the early group of lay leaders. While all were of Hispanic origin and shared the same language, Rev. Modesti and Yolanda found themselves helping their congregation sift through differing values they inherited from their home countries.
“Helping people break with dogmas was a hard process,” reflected Rev. Modesti. But eventually, as they continued laboring alongside their diverse community, love helped pave a way for mutual understanding, and the church leadership became more stable as a result. The church began to band together in reaching ethnically diverse Hispanic populations nearby through shared interests.
“Our community likes sports such as soccer, so we have dedicated ourselves to holding annual tournaments for our congregation. We have a park with a field for soccer tournaments and a basketball court and beach volleyball. We have decided to make these investments to work with the community and spread the Word. Preaching the Word of God is the main thing, but we complement the message with sports to attract the community,” reflected Rev. Modesti. “There is a lot of suffering nowadays, not only spiritual but also personal and emotional. We desire to bring the message to our congregation to connect with them and become friends and family so we can get together in harmony and fullness.”
That way of adding value to the community helped Iglesia Mishkan take an active role in serving their community during the COVID-19 pandemic. Amid a community hard-hit by both COVID and the ensuing shutdowns, their congregation is learning (in 2023) how to come back together and fellowship again.
Their task now, Rev. Modesti and Yolanda reflect, is to help the congregation — especially those newer to the church — move forward in this post-COVID era with gratitude for gathering, and mindfulness that the church is not just for gathering to learn, but to be sent on a mission to practice discipleship in the day-to-day.
As they reflect on their own challenges and see their church rebuild after the pandemic, Yolanda wants to encourage other pastors who likely have been facing similar obstacles:
“Numbers do not make us victorious; working according to God’s will makes us victorious,” she asserts. “The passion for spreading the Word of God does not end because fewer people are listening. Jesus preached in different places and people eventually came closer to listen to his Word. Keep preaching, and whoever needs the Word of God will show up, and the Holy Spirit will take control.”
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Rev. Ethan Linder is the pastor of discipleship at College Wesleyan Church in Marion, Indiana, and contributing editor at The Wesleyan Church’s Education and Clergy Development Division.