Florida Hispanic churches suffer deaths, illness in local COVID-19 surge

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Pictured Above: Punto de Cambio (Turning Point) Baptist Church had been meeting in the largest high school in Miami before the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, a small group meets each week at a community center to live stream the church’s worship service. Submitted photo

MIAMI (BP) — In the middle of one of the highest COVID-19 surges worldwide, pastors serving Florida’s hard-hit Hispanic community are suffering illnesses among their own family members and their congregations while continuing their ministry.

Emanuel Roque, Florida Baptist Convention’s Hispanic church catalyst, said he knows of 13 pastors who have either tested positive or have had a family member test positive for the coronavirus. Others have church members who are recovering.

Calling the pastors “frontline spiritual workers,” who are fully engaged despite the dangers of the disease,  Roque said, “All pastors that I know have been very careful with their churches to follow protocol for reopening and ministering.”

“But because they are frontline spiritual workers and ministers relating to many people, some have been somehow infected in contact with others who may have been asymptomatic.

“Their pastoral calling to serve and help those in need in Jesus’ name has been shown as they have been among COVID-19 with care and concern, but with the real world dangers just like Jesus did when He came to a pain-filled and hurting planet. Yet love prevailed and still does.”

Among the congregations coping with the illness is El-Faro Baptist Church in Marathon, where many members were among a group of more than 20 who contracted the illness while attending a non-church related camp in Tennessee in June. Pastor Adrian Ramos told Roque he plans to hold worship in an online-only format for the next two weeks. All families who had COVID-19 have fully recovered.

On July 2 Tony Salmeron, who serves Iglesia Bautista Central in Ocala, died of complications from the coronavirus. He was 60. In April, Pastor Moises Abella Diaz of Iglesia Bautista Rescate in the Miami suburb of Hialeah also died of the virus.

The New York Times on July 8 ranked Florida second to only Arizona in new cases worldwide in the past week, with nearly 3,000 new infections per million residents.

In its July 9 COVID-19 update, the Florida Department of Health reported that Hispanics account for 22,881 of the current 55,352 cases of the virus in Miami-Dade County. Statewide, Hispanics account for 62,159 cases of COVID-19 among 229,367 cases.

In Hialeah, Iglesia Bautista Northside has four positive cases, including an associate pastor, his wife, their daughter, and another member. Senior pastor Alberto Ocana and his wife were awaiting test results according to Carlos Finale, Northside’s English pastor.

“The last week, it’s started to hit home a little bit closer,” Finale said. “So we’re a little worried. We’re obviously abiding by CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) guidelines. … Our main message so far to the church has been, ‘We’re still doing everything to protect ourselves and the community, and we’re hoping that it doesn’t spread even further in our church.’”

The church moved to online worship early in the pandemic, but followed governmental timelines in resuming onsite worship, Finale said. It’s been difficult for Northside, which averaged about 550 worshipers in three Sunday services before the pandemic, to decide the best way to continue meeting the congregation’s needs.

Julio Arriola said churches will persevere in ministry during the pandemic.

“Our churches may or may not go back to online services, but we will not retreat,” he said. “The church has always thrived in the middle of trials and tribulations.

Hispanics comprise 26.4 percent of Florida’s population of 21.48 million people, and 69.4 percent of the 2.7 million people in Miami-Dade County, according to U.S. Census 2019 statistics.

by Diana Chandler, BP News, July 14, 2020

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