Wednesday, May 07, 2008

The Bahamas' Hispanic Community

The 2001 (and most recent) edition of Operation World reports that are approximately 2000 Hispanics in the Bahamas. Though, I suspect that's increased a bit in the past seven years or so. These figures, of course, are not in reference to the growing number of Spanish-speaking tourists that one increasingly hears in and around the Bahamas' large resort hotels but, rather, the numerous persons from various Latin American countries that come to the Bahamas to work for upper and upper-middle class Bahamians in a variety of domestic service jobs.

Given the Bahamas' overwhelming Haitian immigrant population, which numbers in the tens of thousands, it is really no surprise that scant attention is often paid to much smaller immigrant groups such as the Hispanics. And unlike the Haitians, the Bahamas' Hispanic community is much more heterogeneous, hailing principally from the Dominican Republic and Cuba but also including folks from as far afield as Mexico, Columbia, and Peru. Two weeks ago, my wife (pictured below) and I had the opportunity to celebrate this diversity by participating in the Annual Hispanic Fair, hosted at the Hotel Training College at C.O.B. While fairly small compared to similar ethnic and cultural festivals held in the Bahamas, this event was important not only in highlighting the diversity of the local Hispanic community (which included booths by the Dominicans (pictured above), Cubans, and Peruvians) but also in bringing public attention to the fact that a small but vibrant Hispanic community even exists at all.

As a missiologist, I have been particularly interested in the emergence and growth of Hispanic churches here in Nassau over the past few years. When my wife and I first arrived in the Bahamas in 2000, there were no Spanish-speaking churches nor ministries specifically serving the Hispanic community. As we became acquainted with a number of Hispanics--mostly Dominicans--during our first several years here, we learned that many of them were regularly attending English-speaking services at Evangelistic Temple on Collins Avenue (affiliated with the Assemblies of God). This was not so much due to an intentional outreach to Hispanics on the part of this congregation but due to (1) many of the Hispanics who were drawn there were members of Assemblies of God or similar Pentecostal churches in their home countries and (2) Evangelistic Temple itself is conveniently located on a major bus route making it readily accessible to live-in domestic servants residing in Nassau's eastern districts. It was during this time that we recognized that their was a clear need for some sort of Spanish-language ministry geared specifically towards Hispanics, though probably more along the lines of a weekly Bible study or prayer group rather than a full-fledged church. But at the time, our ministry responsibilities didn't allow us to pursue this opportunity and no one else seemed prepared to rise to the challenge either. Or so we thought.

While we were back in the States for our home assignment during 2005, things began to progress rapidly in terms of Hispanic ministry development back in Nassau. A small Hispanic congregation was formed and began meeting in a home off JFK Drive near Lake Cunningham. Within a year or so thereafter, two more Hispanic congregations emerged as well. One, which is affiliated with Bahamas Faith Ministries, is located downtown on Market Street and the second is a Spanish-speaking worship service offered by Evangelistic Temple, where a number of Hispanics were already attending English-speaking services anyway. So within the span of about a year--or maybe a year-and-a-half--three Hispanic congregations emerged in a city where there were previously none. But are the demographics of the local Hispanic community sufficient to support three separate churches? That remains to be seen. The last I heard, the congregation out on JFK was struggling and, in fact, may no longer exist. The other two congregations--being more centrally located--have greater potential for long term growth. The important thing is that God has raised these ministries up to meet a need that was not being met by churches or ministries already existing on the island. May he continue to raise up and work through those who would minister to the Bahamas' Hispanic community!

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