Pastor Ivan Montenegro said he started his Christian journey in a unique way when a missionary came to his native El Salvador.
“The missionary didn’t speak our language, so he hired me as a translator,” Montenegro said.
“I was only seven years old, but I heard what he said and accepted Christ as my savior. I didn’t know at the time that my missionary friend was also training me to become a church planter.
Montenegro was the keynote speaker Nov. 13 at the Church Planters Network meeting at the Raleigh Avenue Baptist Church in Homewood, Alabama. The group has planned two afternoons of worship, fellowship and inspiration leading up to the Alabama Baptist Convention on November 15-16. Brian Harper, a missionary with the Alabama State Board of Missions and senior church planting strategist, served as host.
Montenegro shared her journey of faith with the participants.
“My family was poor; I had no shoes,” he said. “I had to go to work when I was 7. So I was excited when I was offered a job as a translator when I was 7.”
“After trusting in Christ, my grandmother became a Christian too, but my grandfather beat her and sent her away. Believers have encountered much opposition in my country, but God has remained faithful. He used my grandmother to encourage me. She constantly told me to preach and pray before she died a few months before her 100e birthday.”
As a young man, Montenegro went to Guatemala to start a church where there was none and no electricity.
“We baptized 25 new Christians in the six months I was there,” he noted, “and I started working in Honduras and Mexico as well.”
Montenegro came to America and graduated from the University of California. He said he visited a large church in Yorba Linda, California when he was a student, but returned 20 years later to find the building for sale. His heart was broken, but the predicament of the church inspired him to help with 15 church plants in the United States and Canada over the past five years.
Montenegro supported himself and his family for many years working for American Airlines and later as a government official. Now he is employed by the Northwest Baptist Convention which includes Washington and Oregon and parts of Idaho and California.
Montenegro spoke of a local estate agent’s offer of a property in the area that had been a funeral home.
“The headline in the local newspaper was: ‘From Death to Life: Funeral Home Turns into Church.’ ” he said. “God gave us good publicity that we didn’t have to pay for!”
He also shared photos of a baptism at a city pool after a former inmate came to Christ.
“He was a model prisoner because he wanted early release to kill someone,” Montenegro said. “But he asked for forgiveness and God called him to be a pastor,” he said.
“More than a building”
Montenegro preached in the common worship service from 1 Thessalonians 1.
“The church in Thessalonica was a planted church,” he explained. “It was probably three or four months ago when Paul wrote to them about the nature of the church and their growth in faith. The church is much more than a building or a sound system. Paul said it is a community of believers who share God’s grace and peace.
Montenegro noted that Paul explained that the gospel was not just words, but evidence of God’s power through the Holy Spirit.
“We are not working alone, but we have the promise of the power of God to change lives,” he said.
Montenegro said Paul also spent time in Ephesus, which is now in ruins.
“Cities are collapsing, but the faith has been passed on,” he said. “You have to keep the faith. Without faith, there is failure, Without faith, there is discouragement. Keep the faith!”
More information about church planting opportunities is available by calling Harper at 800-264-1225, ext. 332, or visit plantalabama.org.