Missionary to America Miguel Sanabria, Jr.
Last Spring I asked the President of the Florida/Georgia District Greg Walton to suggest a missionary I could interview for the Mission Nation website. He did better than that – he suggested the Sanabria-Cobos family in Tampa, Florida. Mark Adrian, the Pastor of Messiah, Tampa, works with this missionary family. As of today they have begun four new Spanish speaking missions in Tampa.
Decades ago when I was the mission executive for the English District I worked with faith-filled congregations that asked if they could begin a new mission. Back then just asking the question was a bold move. The assumption was that districts began new churches. I had to remind pastors and church leaders that wasn’t always the case.
A young pastor reminded me of that – he had recently become the pastor of a church where his grandfather had been pastor. He showed me a church bulletin from his grandfather’s time in the 1920s; along with the morning service there was a scheduled “Mission Service.” I asked him what that was. He told me that most churches in those days held worship in the morning for their existing church and another in the afternoon for the new church they were starting. It was assumed that every pastor would lead their church to start a new mission and lead an afternoon “mission service.” How times changed.
By the 1980s churches did not know they could start a new church. That was “district’s” responsibility. I made it part of my ministry to try and change that and encourage congregations to start a new church. When an existing church was ready to begin a new mission one of the questions I would invariably, and rightly, be asked was “What does it cost to start a new mission?” So it is interesting that a modest church in an urban area like Tampa could begin three new churches. I was curious to know how the missionaries had done that.
So, what does it take to start a new mission? At Messiah Tampa it boils down to passionate sacrificial mission leadership by a team. I’ll try to explain. in 2007 Miguel Sanabria, Sr. led his family from Colombia, South
America to Tampa. In Colombia the senior Miguel had decided to leave the Roman Catholic priesthood after a distinguished ministry as an educator. After he left, the Roman Catholic church selected him to lead ministries in higher education in Columbia. He married and raised his children with a desire to make Christ’s love real to all – a challenge in a country being torn apart by crime and poverty.
In America Miguel Sr. was given an opportunity to use his education background. A Spanish speaking friend invited him to a meeting where theology was discussed. It turned out to be a meeting of students in a seminary extension program. Run by the Concordia Seminary Hispanic Institute the seminars prepared students for ordination. Miguel did something significant – he invited his son, Miguel, his daughter, his son in law and his wife to attend the meetings.
Miguel Jr. joined his father in Tampa to study for ordination in the Lutheran Church. Eventually Miguel Jr, Miguel Sr, his son in law John Cobos would be ordained as missionaries to America. His daughter Yolima and wife Flor became deaconesses in that same effort. As a family they entered theological training.
The family has given itself to bringing Jesus to a weakened American church. By God’s grace their passion to serve Jesus has overcome the obstacles of leaving their home and coming as missionaries to a foreign land.
What does it take to start a new mission? Not money, not luck, not an easy life – but passion, primarily the passion of Jesus, whose passion won freedom from death for humanity, whose Spirit moves us out of lives of comfort to step out onto a platform constructed of the love of Christ for all people. His passion is what creates new missions.
“Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships, and calamities; in beatings, imprisonments, and riots; in labor, sleepless nights, and hunger; in purity, knowledge, patience, and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonor, slander and praise; viewed as impostors, yet genuine; as unknown, yet well-known; dying, and yet we live on; punished, yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.” (2 Corinthians 6:4-10)