Pastor Ivan Montenegro said he began his Christian journey in a unique way when a missionary came to his homeland of El Salvador.
“The missionary didn’t speak our language, so he hired me as his translator,” Montenegro said.
“I was only seven, but I heard what he said and I accepted Christ as my savior. I didn’t know at the time that my missionary friend was also training me in how to be a church planter.”
Montenegro was main speaker on Nov. 13 at the Church Planter Network meeting at Raleigh Avenue Baptist Church in Homewood, Alabama. The group planned two afternoons of worship, fellowship and inspiration leading up to the Alabama Baptist Convention on Nov. 15–16. Alabama State Board of Missions missionary and lead church planting strategist Brian Harper served as host.
Montenegro shared his journey of faith with attendees.
“My family was poor; I owned no shoes,” he said. “I had to go to work at age 7. So I was excited when I was offered a translator job at age 7.”
“After I trusted Christ, my grandmother became a Christian, too, but my grandfather beat her and sent her away. Believers faced much opposition in my country, but God remained faithful. He used my grandmother to encourage me. She told me constantly to preach and pray before she died just a few months before her 100th birthday.”
As a young man Montenegro went to Guatemala to start a church where there was none, and where there was no electricity.
“We baptized 25 new Christians in the six months I was there,” he noted, “and I began to work also in Honduras and Mexico.”
Montenegro came to America and earned a degree at the University of California. He told of visiting a large church in Yorba Linda, California in his student days, but returned 20 years later to find the building for sale. His heart broke, but the church’s plight inspired him to help with 15 church plants in the U.S. and Canada in the last five years.
Montenegro supported himself and his family for many years working for American Airlines and later as a government official. Now he’s employed by the Northwest Baptist Convention that includes Washington and Oregon and parts of Idaho and California.
Montenegro told about a local realtor’s offer of a property in the area that had been a funeral home.
“The headline in the local paper read, ‘From Death to Life: Funeral Home Is Turning Into Church.’” he said. “God gave us good publicity that we didn’t have to pay for!”
He also shared photos of a baptism in a city swimming 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 sought forgiveness and God has called him to be a pastor,” he said.
‘More than a building’
Montenegro preached in the joint worship service from 1 Thessalonians 1.
“The church in Thessalonica was a church plant,” he explained. “It was probably three or four months old 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’s a community of believers who share God’s grace and peace.”
Montenegro noted Paul explained the gospel wasn’t just words, but evidence of God’s power through the Holy Spirit.
“We don’t work alone, but we have the promise of God’s power to change lives,” he said.
Montenegro said that Paul also spent time in Ephesus, which is in ruins today.
“Cities crumble, but the faith was passed along,” he said. “We must keep the faith. Without faith, there is failure, Without faith there is discouragement. Keep the faith!”
More information on church planting opportunities is available by calling Harper at 800-264-1225, ext. 332, or visiting plantalabama.org.
To view more photos from the Church Planters Network dinner, click here.