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Custer Road UMC: Reclaiming the gospel of hope in times of exile

The story of Custer Road UMC is one where hope and connection create a new way of being. Through the leadership of Rev. Dr. Kory Knott, the Plano, Texas-based United Methodist Church had a vision for what God could do in and through the church and congregation. God began to bring people to Custer Road who defined that vision. October of 2019, Rev. Dr. David Rangel, a native of Mexico, was appointed to Custer Road UMC as the Associate Pastor of Community Engagement.

BedStart volunteers deliver furniture to a recipient. Image courtesy of Rev. Rangel.

As Rangel explained in an interview with United Methodist Communications (UMCom), “it was one of our busiest times. We were getting so many calls through a mission called Bed Start, one of our local faith community partners.” 

Bed Start is a world-wide community partner, created and supported by members of Custer Road UMC, that provides furnishings and other household items to those experiencing poverty, crisis or need. Through this church-sponsored mission, Rangel often stepped in to translate for non-Spanish-speaking volunteers. 

Rangel said, “I quickly realized that it was not just about giving furniture to people in need, it became an opportunity for me to listen to their struggles, get to know the human behind the tragedy, and offer spiritual support.” 

It was then, after long hours of going to different homes, meeting people, and providing spiritual care, that Rangel identified a commonality: many of the people who Custer Road UMC served through Bed Start were asylum seekers fleeing precarious situations in their home country, many who were Venezuelan.

Amid this phenomenon, God was developing a ministry greater than what the church had imagined through the support of Senior Pastor Knott and the leadership of Custer Road UMC. Knott said, “When David was appointed to Custer Road, we had no idea that we would launch a Spanish ministry. Through his efforts, we recognized the needs of this community and made the necessary changes to reach this mission field. Three years ago, there were no bilingual staff members. Today, we have six bilingual staff members, and our Spanish ministry is thriving!”

Rev. Rangel leads worship during the launch of Custer Road en español. Image courtesy of Custer Road UMC.

The struggle of the exile

Jorge and Tania Barros, members of Custer Road UMC, recall their struggle by stating, “We decided to leave our home country to provide a better future for our daughters. To arrive in a country without money, a family member to receive you, or a house where you can sleep peacefully is very hard and difficult.” Unfortunately, this story is not a unique one. 

Maria Argumedo was a single mom who came to the U.S. to prepare a place for her mother and four year old daughter. She was the first person Rangel met through Bed Start. It was this meeting that identified the need for Custer Road UMC to support the Spanish speaking immigrants arriving from Venezuela.

It’s estimated that 18,000 Venezuelans now call the Dallas-Fort Worth area home — the vast majority arriving in the last two years, according to the Dallas Morning News

The ramifications of this migration event have created a resilient community named “Villa Dallas.” According to different media resources, “The name comes from the Venezuelans who arrived in Dallas around 2019 from a village called Villa Del Rosario near the city of Maracaibo and settled in and around the Oaks of North Dallas apartment complex.”

Rangel found himself serving this same community who was seeking what many do: a home to live in and a spiritual family to belong to.

Redefining belonging through the launch of a new ministry

As this community was developing and with a new, Spanish-speaking ministry on the horizon, the leadership of Custer Road UMC was also experiencing transformation. For years, the church has been actively engaged with the community through Bed Start, and Custer Road UMC’s missions ministry. However, with the leadership of Rangel, Custer Road UMC created new positions to support the outreach efforts for this community. 

Rev. Dr. Rangel’s quick tips to develop Hispanic/Latino Ministries:

  1. know your demographics.

  2. Discuss this opportunity with your local congregation.

  3. Plant the seeds for bilingual ministry.

  4. Educate staff and church leadership.

  5. Hire/recruit someone that can do bridging work between the two cultures. 

  6. Cover the project in prayer. 

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“We have an anthropological approach when we minister to people,” said Rangel. “We get to know people, their condition, their needs, to be able to help them, give them food, shelter, or counseling … and see how the gospel meets people there.”

As Rangel developed relationships, he started making connections between people by leading weekly Bible Studies in Spanish. This third place of gathering allowed people to share their faith and their grievances. For some it became personal, for others it was an opportunity to unknowingly encounter friends they knew from back home. As foreigners in a new land, hugs, tears of joy, tears of sorrow and being able to reconnect with people from their roots created a sense of belonging at Custer Road UMC. 

Soon enough, Rev. Dr. Rangel became the executive pastor of Custer Road UMC, and the lead pastor of Spanish ministry. Custer Road en español was launched February 5 at 12:30 pm (CT) with an estimated attendance of 200+ congregants.

Although Custer Road en español has launched, Rev. Dr. Rangel continues to cultivate a community of belonging and growth. He has written “Ruta 180,” a book for discipleship formation to help this community with spiritual development. A future hope is to create “micro campuses,” where people can continue to grow their faith.

An example for The United Methodist Church

As Rev. Dr. Rangel reflects on his experience, he shares how crucial the support of the English-speaking congregation was for the people facing these harsh living conditions to experience belonging at Custer Road UMC. He said, “It was through true synergy and great communication that all of this could exist. More churches with healthy budgets should host and support the work of minority people… As a connectional church, we need to see an opportunity to seed and support the work that on their own, can’t exist.”

Custer Road UMC will continue to do the work that the Lord has bestowed upon them and is a model of hope for other churches interested in multicultural ministry, to #BEUMC

*This is part of the three-part series Our Gente: Stories of belonging, resilience, and liberation in the people of The UMC. 

Keren Rodriguez is the lead pastor at Aloha United Methodist Church in Aloha, OR of the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference. She has been a Methodist her whole life and believes the Wesleyan value of social holiness is essential to her life and ministry. She is currently pursuing a Master of Divinity at Claremont School of Theology. She enjoys spending time with her daughter and family.