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Pentecostal pastor celebrates 30 years of bilingual pastoring

By Jennifer Lee Preyss
Oct. 18, 2013 at 5:18 a.m.

Brother Solomon Munoz, church attendees and family members gather together to bless Pastor John Carmona for his 30 years of ministry at the Jerusalem Family Praise Center.

He picked up a piece of fried chicken in one hand and wrapped his other hand around a glass of cold, Southern tea.

The hum of the banquet celebration surrounded the Rev. John Carmona, a seasoned pastor.

Each of the long, cloth-covered tables inside Carmona's Jerusalem Family Praise Center's new Agape Center are packed with members sitting shoulder-to-shoulder, each enjoying a similar fried-chicken lunch.

Many of the predominantly Hispanic members are second-, third- and fourth-generation. They've grown up with Carmona's teaching of the Bible and ministerial counsel during the week.

So they decided this year, during October's Clergy Appreciation month, to honor him with an elaborate celebration, both to thank him for being their Christian leader as well as honor his 30 years behind the lectern.

"The first thing that comes to mind when I look back 30 years is 'Did I reach the community? Did I reach out to our Spanish speaking community?'" said Carmona, 74. "I've been grateful to this church and this community for allowing me to accomplish that vision."

Carmona is one of Victoria's few bilingual ministers, and perhaps one of the only ministers in town who preaches and leads one worship service in English and Spanish.

There are few churches that offer Spanish-speaking services, but even fewer who attempt Spanish and English at the same time, like Carmona.

After preaching a few sentences in English, he'll transition to Spanish and repeat the same information for his Spanish-speaking audience.

"Our aim is to reach everyone. If we were still speaking in Spanish, we would lose our younger crowd to an English-speaking church," Carmona said.

More than three decades ago, the then Spanish-preaching minister was approached by a younger couple who requested he include an English translation during service because they were not fluent in Spanish.

Carmona grew up speaking both English and Spanish, and spent several years in Mexico learning the Bible and ministry techniques.

He never thought he'd preach in English, and planned to use his gifts at a church that allowed area Hispanics to feel at home.

"I thought about it and prayed about it. I had to prepare myself to speak in English and Spanish. But we started our bilingual ministry here at this church in 1983, and we've been doing it ever since," he said. "As the newer generations come up, they're not speaking Spanish like we did. Many of them can't speak it at all."

Carmona's grandson, the Rev. Jon Carmona, is one such example.

Following his grandfather's example, Jon Carmona attended seminary and became ordained in the Pentecostal tradition.

He teaches youth at the church, who like him, do not speak much Spanish.

"I can understand Spanish, so when I hear it in church service I can follow along," he said. "But the Spanish and English services serve two purposes: It's for the people who understand only English and the people who understand only Spanish. It's casting a wider net to the community."

Carmona said he hopes the church continues in its bilingual tradition, and he looks to the younger generations, including his grandson, to keep it going.

"From my perspective, it preserves the Hispanic culture and moves everyone forward. It also attracts people who are coming in from Mexico and South and Central America who want to learn English, but in the meantime, need a church to attend," he said.

Carmona said he's not certain he'll be preaching 30 years from now, so he's focused on another milestone - erecting the church's first community center, the Agape Center.

They're raising another $28,000 to build the parking lot, but the center itself is ready to go. It was also paid off piece-by-piece, so as not to accumulate debt.

"This is really my next plan. I want to give the community a place where they can come and be together, whether it's to hand out clothing and food to the poor or open it up for a family who needs a place to have funeral or benefit. I want this to be available for the people," he said.

He's also proud of what he's accomplished in his time at Jerusalem Family Praise Center. And at least for the time being, he's not going anywhere.

"This is what I love to do, to be a shepherd of a church of the Lord. It is very satisfying to me," he said.

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