The Work Begins
In 1949, one of laymen in New Orleans, Terry Goesling, began work among the Spanish speaking people in that area. He had learned Spanish for the purpose of doing such missionary work. He soon had a large Spanish Sabbath school class, and held Bible studies in Spanish nearly every night. About a year later, five had been baptized and a number more were planning on that step in the near future (Lee, 1951).
The First Spanish Pastor
In March 1970, the Arkansas-Louisiana conference president, E. Frank Sherrill, reported that they were looking for a Spanish pastor-evangelist to lead out in the work among the Spanish-speaking people in the New Orleans area (Sherrill, 1970a). It was estimated that there were more than 80,000 Spanish-speaking people in the New Orleans area with approximately twenty-five Seventh-day Adventists. In August 1970, Pastor and Mrs. Sergio Ortiz were welcomed to our conference, with Pastor Ortiz serving as the associate pastor of the New Orleans St. Charles Avenue Church. Pastor Ortiz, who had been serving as a district pastor in Puerto Rico, had two brothers and some other relatives living in New Orleans for whom he had had a great burden for several years, so he took a leave of absence from the Puerto Rican Conference to move to New Orleans (Sherrill, 1970b). New Orleans became the first Seventh-day Adventist church in our conference to develop a Spanish program (Sharpe, 1971).
Establishing the Work
The first Sabbath Pastor Ortiz was in New Orleans there were twenty-two individuals who came to the church service. The following Sabbath there were thirty-six. The New Orleans St. Charles Avenue church made their youth chapel available for a meeting place for the Spanish believers (Sherrill, 1970b). Pastor Ortiz launched an evangelistic crusade in the auditorium of the New Orleans Parish School Board Office building, in which he gave lectures on temperance, health, and home. After creating an interest, the meetings transferred to a hall rented from a Latin American Club because the school board prohibited the use of public school facilities for disseminating religious doctrines. The hall was two miles from the school building where they had started and continued for a total of eight weeks. By the end of this crusade, the Sabbath attendance had increased to sixty-five (Sharpe, 1971). In December 1971, Dr. Braulio Perez Marcio, the director and founder of La Voz de la Esperanza (The Voice of Prophecy) for the Spanish-speaking people, was a guest speaker for the New Orleans Spanish group. It was a memorable occasion for the Spanish group to know personally this famous religious speaker and have him with them for two days. At one evening meeting more than fifty persons enrolled in the Bible course offered by La Voz de la Esperanza. A visit was made to the Spanish radio station and in February, the Spanish-speaking people in New Orleans were able to begin listening to La Voz de la Esperanza on the radio (Ortiz, 1971a and b).
New Orleans Spanish Church Organized in 1971
On Sabbath, January 9, 1971, forty-two individuals became charter members of the New Orleans Spanish church five months after the work began among the Spanish-speaking populace of the city. More than seventy people had begun worshiping together and the number continued to increase. This was the first Spanish Seventh-day Adventist in our conference. Members had come from Cuba, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Puerto Rico, and Venezuela. They continued to meet in the youth chapel of the English-speaking Adventist church but began making plans for a building that would more adequately serve their needs for Sabbath school and growth (Sharpe, 1971). Pastor Sergio Ortiz was ordained at camp meeting on June 17, 1972 (Minutes, 1971).
A New Church in 1976
Soon the church members began meeting on the top floor of the Ecuador Club building on Magazine Street, but this still did not meet their needs completely. They wanted and needed their own church so they could continue growing. In their search, the members heard about an abandoned church on Iroquois Street for sale. When they went to see it however, it had been destroyed by a group of hippies who had vandalized the building and were hanging out and smoking marijuana. The Spanish members began to look at the possibilities and made an offer of $30,000, which was accepted. They worked hard to restore it, and on October 30, 1976, they began worshiping in their new church (Toruno, 2017). This was the first Spanish church building in our conference.
In 1979, the Arkansas-Louisiana Conference Committee called the Juan Chavez family from New Jersey to pastor the New Orleans Spanish church and also to serve as an evangelist in the greater New Orleans area. Elder Chavez was a soul winner and evangelist as well as a strong pastor, and his wife, Magda was a trained Bible worker (Elder, 1979). On May 9, 1981, Elder Milton Peverini, the new Spanish Voice of Prophecy director-speaker, launched a short evangelistic campaign in the Quality Inn auditorium, near the French Quarter of New Orleans. The opening night attendance was 300 and 215 adults were non-Adventists. The second night 340 people attended, 240 of which were visitors. On the eighth meeting, ending the first week, the audience was reaching 430 people, with 300 non-Adventists. On Sunday, May 17, twelve people were baptized with 210 visitors in the audience who, for the first time were attending a Seventh-day Adventist church and witnessing a baptism (Record, 1981).
Church Dedicated in 1980
After seven long years the members and guests of the New Orleans Spanish church saw their church dedicated debt-free on August 30, 1980. After the last payment had been made to the conference, the members set about to beautify their church. The days were long and the tasks many, but soon the dream began to materialize as paneling went up, new carpeting went down, fresh paint went on, a new piano arrived for the sanctuary, and a new stove found its place in the kitchen (Hancock, 1981).
Hurricane Katrina Destroys Church
In 2005 Hurricane Katrina inundated the New Orleans Spanish church with over five feet of flood waters that literally destroyed the entire lower level of the building. Then while the members were waiting for the waters to recede, someone had gained entrance to the upper level of the church and left a flushed toilet unattended that ended up flooding the upper level of the church as well. In the warm, humid climate of New Orleans, it was a matter of days before mold was covering everything in the church. Everything had to be thrown away and the insides of the church totally gutted. After Katrina, the members of the New Orleans Spanish church met with the Metairie Spanish congregation for church services but they were eager to have their own facility again. Elder Robert Eubanks, church pastor, worked hard, along with members of his church, to coordinate the restoration efforts (Newsletter, 2007).
Adventist Community Services-NAD provided the major funding through the generous gifts of donors from across North America. The restoration was complete and a grand reopening was held on Sabbath, December 16, 2006. What a transformation greeted everyone! Everything was beautifully restored inside and out, and the church had a brand new appearance. Several members commented that it looked better than it had before (Newsletter, 2007).
(1971, Dec. 14). Executive Committee Minutes. Shreveport, LA: Arkansas-Louisiana Conference of SDA.
(1981, Jun. 25). Southwestern Union Record, p. 16E.
(2007, Feb. 1). Newsletter, Arkansas-Louisiana Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, p. 4.
Elder, W. H. (1979, Dec. 27). Southwestern Union Record, p. 6.
Hancock, J. Wayne. (1981, Jan. 22). Ibid., p. 12D.
Lee, L. C. (1951, Mar. 14). Ibid., p. 3.
Ortiz, Sergio E. (1971a, Jan. 23). Ibid., p. 9.
Ibid. (1971b, Jun. 26). p. 8.
Sharpe, S. G. (1971, Feb. 27). Ibid., p. 14.
Sherrill, E. Frank. (1970a, Mar. 28). Ibid., p. 2.
Ibid. (1970b, Sep. 12). pp. 9, 10.
Toruno, Greg. (2017, Dec. 18). Field Research Symposium and Demographic Profile of the Place Where I Will Carry Out the DMin Project. Harvey, LA: Andrews University Institute of Hispanic Ministry, Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary, pp. 17 – 23.
Trevino, Max. (2005, Dec. 1). Ibid., pp. 4-7.