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Church provides home whether you praise God or Dios

Christian Malaga, left, translates to English passages in Spanish given by the Rev. Gerado Lopez Jr. during a recent service at the Good Servant of God Church in Lutz.
Christian Malaga, left, translates to English passages in Spanish given by the Rev. Gerado Lopez Jr. during a recent service at the Good Servant of God Church in Lutz.
Published May 10, 2016

The mission statement of Good Servant of God Church in Lutz is "Where Spirituality and Community Meet." In practice, it is where communities who speak different languages meet.

Good Servant of God Church, also known as Buen Siervo de la Iglesia de Dios, is a nondenominational church serving Christians who live their lives between Spanish and English.

It's a group of worshippers who the Rev. Gerardo Lopez Jr. wants to reach by overcoming linguistic barriers to his church's liturgy and the Gospel he preaches.

It's a home for Christians whether they praise God or Dios.

"We want to bring English- and Spanish-speaking people together," Lopez said. "When we're connecting with people, understanding others and not judging them, we're doing what Jesus wants us to do."

Lopez, who came to the United States from Cuba with his family as a teenager in 1971 and served in the U.S. Air Force, usually preaches in Spanish. Though his demeanor is energetic, he pauses periodically so Christian Malaga can translate his sermon into English.

Malaga, who also serves as the church's audiovisual director, says keeping up with Lopez's enthusiastic delivery can be challenging, but going with the spirit of the moment usually works.

"I'm very fluent in both languages, but sometimes it's a little difficult," he said. "God guides me to do what I have to do."

Messages and announcements are translated and worship songs are divided between English and Spanish selections.

"We sing three songs in English and four songs in Spanish," Lopez said.

Singing in Spanish and English as a member of the church's choir gives Lisandra Perez a strong sense of purpose.

"I've always had an inspiration to sing for God and God gave me the opportunity I wanted," she said.

Besides the opportunity to vocalize her faith, Perez says she has found a spiritual home at Good Servant of God.

"It's a good place to be, a place where you feel the Holy Spirit. We treat each other with love and compassion."

The choir is directed by Lopez's wife, Joan Lopez, who assists with other duties such as children's religious studies.

"Some of the younger ones don't speak English at all, so I give activities to them and teach them English words to Spanish songs to help them along," she said.

Some of Good Servant of God's families include members whose first languages are Spanish and English, and don't want to attend separate churches. That's one of the reasons why John and Elizabeth Laine travel from their home in Riverview to northern Hillsborough County to attend services.

John grew up in California and Elizabeth is from Peru. They exemplify how the bilingual approach of Buen Siervo de la Iglesia de Dios serves people like them.

"If my wife wanted to attend a Spanish church and I didn't speak Spanish I wouldn't want to come," he said. "A church like this allows families who speak different languages to worship together and become as one."

The Laines also take a bilingual approach to their own personal ministry, Warriors in Christ/Guerreros en Cristo, by distributing English and Spanish versions of the Bible and conducting study groups.

"God speaks many languages because he loves all people," John Laine said.

There are about 70 members of Good Servant of God Church. They meet in the student building on the grounds of First Baptist Church of Lutz. Associate Pastor Paul Vahue of First Baptist works with Good Servant of God's leadership to achieve common spiritual goals.

"Their church is separate from ours," Vahue said. "Our mission statement here at the church is 'Connecting People to God' and one of the ways that Pastor Lopez's ministry fits into that is that Pastor Lopez is reaching a portion of the community that we struggle to reach and that's people who are bilingual or whose primary language is Spanish."

Contact Brad Stager at hillsnews@tampabay.com.

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