Made to serve in
By Mickey Noah
Miami is often portrayed as a playground for the rich and famous, but there’s
an unglitzy side to Miami you’ll never see depicted on “CSI Miami.”
Miami is a city of ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots.’ Ranked the third richest in the
United States, the city also has more citizens—about a third of the
population—below the federal poverty line than any other U.S. city except
Detroit and El Paso, Texas.
The son of Cuban immigrants, Southern Baptist missionary Al Fernandez, 50,
loves and understands Miami like only a man born and raised there could. As a
native, he witnessed the influx of Cubans, Latinos and other Hispanics into
Miami in the early 1960s.
Al’s parents were already planting churches in the Miami area when Cubans began
flooding into the city to escape the Marxist dictatorship of Fidel Castro. Al
accepted Christ when he was only six, and felt called to the ministry at 15. He
married Noemi, also of Cuban birth, and they settled in Miami.
“I’ve been here all my life, grew up Southern Baptist and feel this is the
place God has called me and uniquely gifted me to work.
“I grew up in Spanish-speaking churches so I understand the context. I’ve also
pastored in English-speaking churches. It’s like God has allowed me to be a
bridge to the different cultures and nationalities in Miami.”
Miami has the largest Spanish-speaking population in the Western Hemisphere
other than Latin America. Miamians who use Spanish as their first language make
up 67 percent of the population. One might think that would make Al’s job
easier. But language doesn’t tell the whole story.
“One of the greatest challenges is Miami’s diversity and multi-culturalism,” he
says, stressing that not all Hispanics are alike because they come to Miami
from different nations—Cuba, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, etc. “They may all
speak Spanish but they still have different customs, traditions and cultures.
We have to adapt to that and try different approaches to reaching them.
“But no one church can reach all the people in this environment. We have to
That’s one of the main reasons Al helped start Urban Impact Ministries three
years ago. “We knew there was a need to establish a stronger Southern Baptist
presence in South Florida,” says Al. “We felt we needed to have an impact on
our churches, pastors and associations in a complex urban setting like Miami.
We want to impact the community with the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Another reason for Miami-area churches to come together—especially in today’s
gloomy economic recession—is money and resources, according to Al.
“South Florida is a very expensive place to live and minister, and many of our
pastors and churches are struggling. The economic dynamics make it hard to
minister here,” Al says. “But it’s also a place that is open to the
Al believes that Miami’s continued growth in Hispanic population and culture
foreshadows the way the United States will look in the future.
“What you see in Miami today is what you’re going to see in the rest of this
nation in the next 20 years. No matter where you live, it’s coming. Whatever we
learn here as Southern Baptists, will be beneficial to our work elsewhere in
“The Apostle Paul used a strategy calling for him to stop in big cities because
that’s where the most bang for the buck is, where you get the best results,” Al
says. “We need to know how to minister and be effective in these large urban
When asked how valuable the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering is to his work, Al
said he couldn’t even describe how valuable it is.
“The reality of these ministries is that they cost money. And one size ministry
does not fit all. We need a lot of resources to do the work of the Lord. The
Annie Armstrong offering plays a crucial role in delivering the gospel of
Christ here in South Florida.” OM
Mickey Noah is NAMB’s news consultant.
Al Fernandez – North American Missions Emphasis Worship
A Southern Baptist Convention entity supported by the Cooperative Program and theAnnie Armstrong Easter Offering® ©Copyright 2013 North American Mission Board, SBC