Faith Matters for Saturday, Aug. 25, 2012

By Terry Robinson

Juan Huertas
Juan Huertas

If not for the church during his teen years, the Rev. Juan Huertas may not be speaking to hundreds of congregants each week as senior pastor of St. John’s Methodist Church.

Huertas may not even be speaking much English if it hadn’t been for the church.

The church community helped Huertas’ spiritual and academic development when he came to Louisiana from his native Puerto Rico at age 13 about 20 years ago.

“I spoke very little English, and I really struggled to learn,” Huertas said. “The first year I was here, I really wanted my parents to take me back home.”

The Huertas family — Huertas, his sister and parents — found a home in Alexandria. And Huertas soon found security, mentors and teachers at churches there.

“I think in some ways the church provided a safe place for me to enter into this culture, to enter into the language and learn the culture and in a place that was safe and where people cared for me and loved me and helped me find my way through a difficult time in my life,” Huertas said.

“Even though I wasn’t familiar with the language, I was familiar with the rhythm of going to church and getting involved in the community of faith.”

His family was devout Protestants in a predominantly Roman Catholic Puerto Rico. His father came to Louisiana to be a chaplain at the federal prison in Oakdale.

Involvement in churches in Alexandria helped Huertas see the potential he had to succeed in his new life and new home. “That’s what the community of faith did for me. It reminded me of my own gifts.”

After graduating from high school, he attended Louisiana College in Pineville in 2000.

He then went to the Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta in 2005.

Huertas, 33, pastored Horseshoe Drive United Methodist Church in Alexandria and Squyres United Methodist Church in Ragley before coming to Baton Rouge last summer with his wife, Shannon, and three children.

Huertas sees wonderful opportunities at St. John’s, a diverse church of about 900 members at 9375 Highland Road, and the surrounding community of upper middle class and the Gardere area.

“Most churches are pretty segregated,” he said. “Mine looks pretty diverse compared to most churches in the city and probably across the state … We’re that kind of church that welcomes people and that’s kind of willing to struggle through the tension of what it feels like to be different. And I love that. I love that my kids are growing up in this church and in this community.”

Huertas was recently featured on “Day 1”, a national syndicated weekly ecumenical radio program produced by Atlanta-based Alliance for Christian Media.

The show highlighted a sermon for the 11th Sunday of Pentecost. The sermon titled “Sharing in the Life of Jesus” is based on John 6:35, 41-51.

“Those of us who claim Christ as our Lord find ourselves being fed by Christ’s own presence, and it is in that feeding that we are participants in the divine life,” he says in the message. “God reaching out to us, providing a way for grace, opening the doors for the holy to live among us, again and again and again. You can’t get much closer to something than when you eat of it.”

It was Huertas’ second time featured on the program. He preached on the show in 2004 while a student at Emory. He has also served as a blogger for the show’s website.

Huertas wants to help the church and community grow in faith.

“A lot of times in faith circles, we think of our faith as just a set of beliefs that we can kind of check off,” Huertas said, but he sees faith as something that helps believers act.

Faith “helps me interpret the world, and as a pastor it helps me guide the community into its calling — kind of who they say are as people of faith — and helps interpret the narratives of our faith in ways that help me make a difference in the world.”

On the road with Jesus

Author Dennis Coates takes readers on a walk with Jesus as Jesus does most of the talking in the new book “Walk With Me” (West Bow Press.).

Coates said Jesus wants to walk and talk with us just as he spoke with the two disciples on the Road to Emmaus as recorded in Luke 24. “Their hearts burned within them just because they paid attention to what I was telling them, and this at a time when they didn’t even recognize me.

“When you come to me each day, come with the expectancy of being with the greatest friend you have,” Coates writes. “And begin now to have that attitude, that point of view, that feeling of being in the best possible place on earth, that place where no enemy can assail you, no ignorance misdirect you, no confusion can lead you astray.”

Coates gives a hint of Catholic background and education in the chapter titled, “About My Mother,” dealing with Mary. “See this woman I loved so dearly on earth and love so completely in heaven as your spiritual mother ... Through the grace my Father has given her and through me, she will hear your prayers …”

Go to http://www.westbowpress.com.

Shoebox effort

Dave Tettleton, 79, plans for Christmas pretty much year round.

Tettleton is the Baton Rouge collection coordinator for Operation Christmas Child, a division of the Samaritan’s Purse, an international Christian relief and evangelism organization headed by Franklin Graham.

The community is invited to an Operation Christmas Child meeting Lousisiana/Texas regional organizers at 10 a.m. Sept. 8 at Florida Boulevard Baptist Church.

Operation Christmas Child project takes months of preparation to provide shoeboxes filled with school material, toys, and necessity hygiene and clothing items to more than 8 million underprivileged children in 116 countries.

“You’d be surprised at what you can fit in a shoebox,” said Tettleton, a member of Florida Boulevard Baptist who has worked with led the area nondenominational effort for about 10 years.

The shoeboxes often include letters of encouragement, organizers said.

“This may be the first glimpse of God’s love that they have ever had in their lives,” Tettleton said. “We leave material with them — booklets in their language — that tells the story of Jesus.”

The Baton Rouge area filled two 18-wheelers with about 14,000 shoeboxes last year, Tettleton said.

For more information, call Tettleton at (225) 921-1659. Also go to http://www.samaritanspurse.org/OCC.

Faith Matters runs every other Saturday in The Advocate. Terry Robinson can reached at (225) 388-0238 or email trobinson@theadvocate.com.