MIAMI (BP) -- At 6 feet, 6 inches and 255 pounds, 36-year-old Danny Egipciaco looks more like a linebacker for the Miami Dolphins than a North American Mission Board national missionary and church planter in South Florida.
Playing football, however, would not be nearly as important as what God has called Egipciaco to do -- to use his considerable passion and stamina in working long hours to plant new churches and bring fellow South Floridians to Christ.
The challenge of spreading the Gospel in the Miami metro area is immense because, by all accounts, local lostness is vast. With about 95 percent of metro Miami's 8 million people unchurched, it is one of the most unchurched populaces in the United States, Egipciaco says.
Egipciaco lives in nearby Hialeah with his wife Karina and their three children, Daniel Jr., Elyse and Brianna. A fourth child is on the way. Karina holds a master's degree in marriage and family counseling.
The Egipciacos are among five NAMB missionary couples featured as part of the annual Week of Prayer for North American Missions, March 4-11, and Annie Armstrong Easter Offering. The offering provides support for missionaries who serve on behalf of Southern Baptists in North America. With a goal of $70 million, this year's offering theme is "Whatever It Takes."
Egipciaco, who moved to Miami at age 4, grew up in a Christian home, attending a Spanish-speaking Hispanic Southern Baptist church. He accepted Christ as a teenager under the influence of his mom, a native Cuban who was led to Christ as a girl by a Home Mission Board (now North American Mission Board) missionary. His parents still live in Hialeah.
Egipciaco was serving as a 28-year-old youth pastor in a "legacy" first-generation Spanish-speaking Southern Baptist church when he realized it just wasn't working. Ministering in Spanish was not the most effective way to reach Miami youth.
"I had to change everything," Egipciaco recalls. "We were doing church in Spanish but, instead, we needed to connect with the growing second-generation Hispanics in South Florida who spoke English. Second-gen Hispanics is one of the fastest-growing people groups in South Florida and the U.S."
Longtime church planting missionary Al Fernandez, now director of the Florida Baptist Convention's Urban Impact Ministries and a 2009 Week of Prayer missionary himself, offered advice and counsel to Egipciaco, eventually becoming his mentor and supervisor.
"Al had already planted a second-generation English-speaking Hispanic church, and he shared his wisdom, ideas and experience with me," Egipciaco recounts. "Thirty days later, I left the youth ministry, started preaching in a local hotel and became a church planter." That was 2005.
Today, Egipciaco and Fernandez mentor 30-plus church planters in the Miami area, many of whom are bivocational pastors or even laymen.
Egipciaco and Fernandez face many challenges as they attempt to plant a yearly average of about 34 new churches in South Florida. Miamians who use Spanish as their first language make up 67 percent of the population. But a total of some 180 languages are spoken in South Florida public schools.
"Many people in Miami -- especially the second-generation Hispanics -- just don't think about religion, including Christianity," Fernandez says. "It's not on their radar screens. Miami is a very materialistic place -- a bling-bling kind of place. People are always chasing the almighty dollar. It's also a fast-paced, time-consuming environment. Sunday is for everything else but church -- the beach, boating, the parks, the Dolphins, the Heat and the Marlins.
"Conversely, some of the first-generation Hispanics who come here exist in survival mode, working two or three jobs just to survive," Fernandez points out, referring to the fact that they don't have time to attend church.
Fernandez and Egipciaco also confront spiritual warfare, with Fernandez noting, "Miami has a lot of Cuban-based 'Santeria' or voodoo."
Fernandez is jointly funded by NAMB and the Florida Baptist Convention, while Egipciaco is funded 100 percent by NAMB. Until his appointment by the North American Mission Board as a national missionary in 2009, Egipciaco was the first and only pastor of Relevant Church, which he helped plant in 2006 and was running 120 weekly attendees when he left several months ago.
At Relevant Church, he never took a salary. He was not merely a bivocational pastor, but a "tri-vocational" pastor, holding down as many as three jobs at a time to support his family -- working on the side in real estate, substitute teaching and selling computers and copiers.
"What unites church planting in South Florida is the English-speaking people," Egipciaco notes. "When we plant an English-speaking church, it draws many Hispanic people groups to join -- Cubans, Venezuelans, Nicaraguans, Uruguayans, Columbians, Spaniards, Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, Guatemalans and so on. But the English-speaking churches also draw Haitians who speak Creole French, African Americans, Anglos and even Russians. So our church plants tend to become very multicultural and diverse."
Egipciaco knows that Florida now has nearly 3,000 Southern Baptist congregations. But its population has grown to more than 18.5 million people, the second-largest state in NAMB's South Region. It needs many more churches.
"Within a one-mile radius of my church, there are 30,000 people," Egipciaco says. "Within a three-mile radius, there are 80,000 people. Within five miles, 240,000 people. We have only three Southern Baptist churches in a three-mile area.
"In West Palm Beach, there are 1 million lost people," Egipciaco continues. "We'd need 100 churches that would each hold 10,000 to reach them. Miami is two to three times bigger than West Palm. There are 600 Southern Baptist churches in all of South Florida, but when you think there's 8 million people in the Miami area, do the math. That's one church for every 13,000 people. We need to penetrate the culture through church planting. We need more churches, not less."
Help is on the way. Miami is one of 29 major North American cities included in NAMB's Send North America evangelistic church planting strategy. Send North America: Miami is scheduled to come online in April. Under Send North America: Miami, Egipciaco and his fellow SBC church planters in Miami will get assistance from "supporting" churches and state conventions from around the continent.
Egipciaco, who is funded 100 percent by NAMB, and Fernandez, who is jointly funded by NAMB and the Florida Baptist Convention, are excited about the Send North America strategy.
"Danny and I are excited about partnering with other churches from other parts of the country to plant new churches in the Miami area," Fernandez says. "We need their resources and their mission teams.
"We understand our environment here," he notes. "We have five years of church planting already under our belts. So it's great timing for Send North America: Miami -- God's timing. We've learned some lessons in the past. Ramping up with Send North America now will allow us to put the throttle down on church planting in South Florida."
Mickey Noah writes for the North American Mission Board. To view a video about Danny Egipciaco and learn more about the Week of Prayer for North American missions, visit www.anniearmstrong.com
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