After grasping the life-changing message of the Bible, a man originally from Colombia studies to be a pastor and shares the gospel with Latinos in the United States.
What’s it like growing up in Latin America as a Catholic?
“I was baptized when I was about one year old,” explains Luis Acosta, a WELS pastor currently serving in Milwaukee.
Acosta was raised in what he refers to as a traditional family. Born in Colombia and raised Catholic, he says that the church did not play a big role in his early years. He recalls a little preparation for first communion.
Overall, however, he says his memories of religion are “kind of vague.”
His situation is pretty typical in areas south of the U.S. border. In Latin America, 84 percent of adults report they were raised Catholic, according to a 2014 Pew Research Center survey. It’s important to understand the Catholic church in this region takes on a different form than in other places, such as the United States, explains Acosta. “What we have in Latin America is very shallow.”
For instance, growing up, Acosta remembers having a strong interest in knowing God. At the same time, he always felt God was a distant figure.
As a child, Acosta moved with this family to Venezuela. There he continued his education, eventually finishing high school and then studying engineering at a university.
While in Venezuela, he got in touch with a group of Presbyterians, which renewed his desire to learn about God. He even enrolled in a setup similar to a long-distance seminary. “I took theology classes, and it was interesting. It was a very liberal theology,” he says.
He also started working in advertising at a liquor company and received ongoing promotions, eventually becoming a regional manager for one of the brands. “I was doing really well,” he says.
As the 1990s drew to a close, Acosta moved to Miami with his family. There he worked in advertising and traveled extensively. “I was in Miami about 50 percent of the time and in Latin America about 50 percent,” he explains.
While living in Miami, Carolina, Acosta’s wife, started looking for a church. She came across a WELS church in the area, and the two of them attended a service there. The focus on God’s Word really struck Carolina. “She was so satisfied and filled with the message,” Acosta recalls.
Acosta, however, wasn’t as sure and talked to the pastor about some theology concerns. Some of the teachings at the WELS church didn’t coincide with the messages that had been taught in the previous theology courses he had taken. “I found myself defending my position based on what I think and what I say,” he says.
These differences led Acosta to evaluate what he had learned in South America. He found himself looking into God’s Word on his own to justify what he had been taught. However, he often couldn’t find Bible passages to back up the beliefs that had been outlined in previous theology classes. “I realized I didn’t know my Bible as I should,” he says. Being in the Word, however, helped him grow.
In addition to studying the Bible, Acosta continued attending the WELS church. “The pastor was honest, and everything that he said he was able to defend with the Bible,” he recalls. “I couldn’t deny it.”
Over time, Acosta found himself deeply drawn to the Bible and its teachings. “It was just amazing,” he says. “The Holy Spirit was doing his job, making me come back and learn more and more.”
Acosta and Carolina, a mental health counselor, became members of the church. As they grew more involved in the congregation, Acosta found a new sense of stability. “The security and peace in your heart is awesome, and it’s a joy to live that way,” he says.
After being active in the church for some time, Acosta started studying at the Institute Cristo Palabra de Vida. He completed the congregational assistant program and became a staff minister at Divine Savior, Doral, Fla., in 2004. He also quit his other job. “From that point I was serving the Hispanic community in Miami,” he explains.
In order to continue his studies, Acosta faced a couple of options. One was to study through the Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI), which helps non-traditional students train to be WELS pastors. The other option was to move to Wisconsin and attend Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary.
Acosta decided to head to the seminary in Mequon, where he completed his studies and graduated in 2013. While at the seminary, he helped at a couple of area churches.
Looking back on this time of his life, Acosta notes that being in the ministry full time wasn’t a clear vision he had. “The idea of becoming a pastor wasn’t there,” he says. “I wanted to know God.”
Today, he serves at Risen Savior in Milwaukee. He appreciates and marvels at the journey God has led him on. “It is impossible to put the pieces together yourself.”
CHANGING THE FUTURE
Acosta and Carolina have been blessed with two children. Acosta is grateful for the chance his children have had to learn about God and his Word from early on. He especially loves hearing them learn their memory work. “What a blessing it is to be able to grow in faith from day one,” he says.
In addition, referring to his children, Acosta says, “They are an important part of the ministry. The Lord has blessed them with a very active faith.”
Carolina is involved too. She currently is a licensed professional counselor and is part of WLCFS-Christian Family Solutions. “Today we work together,” notes Acosta. “My wife is an extremely important part of my ministry.”
As a bilingual counselor working mostly with Hispanic children and families, Carolina counsels families who have undergone different types of trauma. “There are a lot of things that need professional care,” explains Acosta. But oftentimes when people seek counseling, they learn after looking at the situation that they need something more. “They realize the real problem is a spiritual one,” he says.
Looking back on his past, especially regarding some of the early theology classes he took while living in Venezuela, Acosta reflects, “God allowed that for the sake of the future. I now know where people come from and understand other people’s point of view.”
And he is eager to move forward. “One of the benefits not only for a pastor but anyone who takes on the Great Commission is to be able to see, firsthand, the spark of life that comes to people when they come to appreciate the gospel,” he says. “It’s my biggest reward.”
He is also committed to the church’s focus on Christ’s saving work. “It’s fine to see what others are doing with music and technology, but never ever rely too much on that. Those should come second place, and [we should] serve the only one thing that works: the gospel.”
He continues, “In our church the treasure is that the Word of God is the center of worship. That is amazing.”
Rachel Hartman and her husband, Missionary Michael Hartman, serve in León, Mexico.
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Author: Rachel Hartman
Volume 102, Number 08
Issue: August 2015
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