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Retratos || Marcos Zapata


Marcos Zapata (left), and his late father, Aarón (right)


"Él que no sirve…no sirve…” is a motto that Marcos Zapata has adopted from his father and ministry predecessor, Aarón Zapata (“The one who doesn’t serve is useless”).  Far from being useless, with humility and a willing spirit, the Lord has used generations of the Zapata family as a catalyst for Gospel growth first in Southern Mexico, then for ministry en la frontera (border), and now into the United States as well. 


On paper, Marcos Zapata is the Director of Worship and Spanish ministries at Christ the King PCA in El Paso, Texas, as he finishes his final semester of seminary at el Seminario Teológico Presbiteriano San Pablo Ciudad Juárez, where he also serves on the board of directors.  While these responsibilities – on top of caring for his wife, Erika, and their daughter Ariana – sound busy enough for most, Pastor Marcos’ reach and heart for ministry is far more extensive than his titles suggest.  Still, Marcos found himself where he is now not through an initial calling to ministry, but simply a willingness to serve the Lord in the places where he saw need. However, it seems a pastoral calling and large vision for serving are innate to the Zapata family.



A RICH MINISTRY HERITAGE


Even prior to his father’s ministry, the Lord was using Marcos Zapata’s grandfather to grow the gospel in the Yucatán region of Mexico.  A Presbyterian pastor, Sr. Zapata not only served to bolster the church in Yucatán, but helped to translate the Bible into the Mayan dialect.  His son, Aarón, followed in his father’s footsteps, attending el Seminario San Pablo in Mérida, and becoming a Presbyterian pastor there.  Incredibly, the growth and multiplication of the reformed church sparked through these men was so explosive, that Zapata has become a familiar name in Southern Mexican churches.   


Yet a desire for further training brought Aarón and his family (including a 2-year-old Marcos) to Jackson, Mississippi, where Pastor Aarón pursued a Master’s of Divinity and Master’s of Christian Education at Reformed Theological Seminary (RTS).   While initially the family returned to Mérida to pursue church multiplication there, during Marcos’ highschool years, Pastor Aarón felt a call to join his brother, who was working in El Paso, TX/Ciudad Juárez, Mexico pursuing border ministry.  The move required an incredible step of faith, and involved relocating first to Georgia (where Marcos completed high school) in order to raise funds through the Mission to North America, before making the move to El Paso.


En la frontera, the Zapata family were not only involved in planting a church in El Paso, but Pastor Aarón also worked hard to raise funds and establish a branch of Mérida’s San Pablo seminary in Ciudad Juárez.  For decades, on top of pastoring the church plant, Pastor Aarón not only worked as the director to grow San Pablo, but took the risk and time to cross the border into Ciudad Juárez multiple times per week. There, he would teach evening classes to eager students at the seminary, returning back to his family in El Paso in the wee hours of the morning.  In God’s timing, one year ago, the Lord called this faithful servant home after a third struggle with cancer, leaving both an incredible legacy, and a gaping hole in the border ministry and at San Pablo.



EQUIPPING FOR MINISTRY


Watching the generations of his family give their lives to ministry was impactful for Marcos.  While he did not feel an initial vocational call to ministry, caring for others, using his gifts, and serving the church was a given for Marcos and his siblings.  Even from the young age of 11, when his father had given him a guitar, Marcos began leading Sunday worship, and it quickly became a passion.  In college at the University of Texas-El Paso, Marcos studied communications, while continuing to serve his father’s church plant.  After college, as a dual-language teacher in the public school system (first in Dallas, and then back in El Paso), Marcos decided to pursue a degree at his father’s seminary, San Pablo in Ciudad Juárez, with the simple intention of becoming a better church lay-leader.


Yet as He so often does, the Lord was raising up a humble, faithful, uniquely-gifted, and willing servant to fill the shoes that few others could.  As he watched his father become increasingly sick, Marcos began to wonder about who would take over the many roles in which Pastor Aarón was serving, and help to carry his vision forward.  “Él que no sirve…no sirve…”…Marcos was willing; and in humility, he began to recognize that the Lord was already providing him with what he needed to serve in a new role.


Already, Marcos understood himself to have the unique experience of not only being bilingual, but also bicultural. Sometimes there is a misguided assumption (that can present real challenges in bilingual ministry) that to speak two languages means an ability to relate to two people groups; but typically, this is not the case.  Border ministry involves working not just with two languages, but also two different and converging cultures. Due to his upbringing in both Mérida and the United States, Marcos has an innate bicultural awareness that many do not. Thus, as Pastor Aarón’s church plant, Cristo Rey (“Christ the King”), came alongside the ministry of the English-speaking Christ the King PCA in El Paso, Marcos became a natural bridge between the Spanish and English ministries. 


Moreover, as a student at San Pablo, and intimately acquainted with his father’s ministry and vision in Ciudad Juárez (and beyond), Marcos has developed the same heart and vision to see soundly-trained Spanish-speaking leaders emerge to care for and shepherd the Hispanic community in both Mexico and the United States. In his experience as a pastor’s son in both of these contexts, and serving alongside his father in border ministry, Marcos recognizes the incredible need for Spanish-speaking leaders to have the opportunity to receive solid, Reformed training in their own language.


Finally, Marcos has an incredible gifting (which seems to be a Zapata family trait) to be resourceful, and to think outside the box. Such a gift is necessary to confront the many obstacles facing bilingual, bicultural ministry, and training of leaders. This gift is particularly powerful when coupled with Marcos’ willingness to serve wholeheartedly, wherever there is need, rather than be found que no sirve (“useless”). Marcos knows God has created humanity to serve Him and to work for His desire.  Like his father, uncles, and grandfather before him, Marcos has given himself to the Lord’s service, however He would call.



FAITH TO PURSUE THE MINISTRY


With such willingness, competence, heart for ministry – and certainly the Lord’s perfect orchestration – Marcos has found himself increasingly growing into his father’s footsteps, and carrying forward Pastor Aarón’s ministry. This looks like pastoral ministry in and outside of the church, helping grow and propel the vision for San Pablo seminary, and far more.

In church, Marcos became a Ruling Elder at Christ the King, while serving in music ministry (and caring for congregants) of the Spanish service.  Yet, as the Spanish service has grown, and Marcos has had the opportunity to serve as a bridge between two congregations, the Lord has worked something greater.  Only recently, Christ the King and Cristo Rey officially merged to no longer be two churches sharing a building, but one church coming together to care for all its members, both Spanish- and English-speaking.  Perhaps the names of Christ the King and Cristo Rey, while seeming ironic by human standards, serve as a tangible witness to the Lord’s foreknowledge and plan in caring for this diverse community!


By God’s grace, Pastor Aarón was able to witness some of the convergence of these churches; when Pastor Aarón died, Marcos (already a student in seminary) began taking over more of the preaching.  Throughout this period, conversations between Marcos and the Senior Pastor of Christ the King confirmed in Marcos that not only was he called to pastoral ministry, but he was already doing it!  Currently, Marcos is on track to become an ordained minister in the PCA after graduation, and to become the official pastor of the Spanish congregation at Christ the King, while helping maintain the bridge and fluidity between members of both languages.


At San Pablo seminary, Pastor Aarón’s death not only left a huge hole in teaching and pastoral care for students, but also in the leadership and direction for the seminary.  Though he himself was still a student there, it quickly became evident to the Board of Directors that Marcos had the heart and vision they needed to help move the seminary forward.  Besides helping to care for the spiritual, emotional, and physical needs of the faculty, Marcos is also working to increase funding and awareness for San Pablo.  During COVID, the seminary actually expanded its reach by going virtual; currently, students from not just la frontera, but all over Mexico, are receiving Biblical training through San Pablo.  Marcos is working with the board to create hybrid programs in different hubs for students. He is also in contact with multiple Presbyteries throughout Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and Mexico, to help give the students the personalized, one-on-one pastoral care they need for ministry training. 



GREAT CHALLENGES, GREATER GOD


Doing life and ministry en la frontera, yet also personally impacted by the church in Mexico and the United States, the importance of the work Pastor Aarón began is clear to Marcos.  Marcos knows that the fellowship and growth Christ the King has as a bicultural, bilingual church is something needed in many Hispanic communities in the United States.  Solid, Reformed training in Spanish is also necessary to help make this vision a reality, and to continue bringing Gospel truth to Mexico and to the Spanish-speaking community in the United States. Ironically, Marcos has noted the challenges to this on either side of the border are reverse: in Mexico, there is a willingness to be trained, and a desire to plant healthy churches, but a lack of resources. In the United States, while the resources are there, there is an unfortunate lack of leadership, or even awareness of need.  Even as he serves at Christ the King and at San Pablo, Marcos hopes to use his roles to bridge this divide and further the reach of the Gospel for the Mexican and United States churches.


With so many demands on his heart, soul, and time – daily and moving forward – one must wonder how Marcos is able to keep going.  In this, Marcos reminds himself often of the words of Job 33:4, “the Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life.”  It is a constant reminder that, no matter what, the Lord who granted him his very existence, will continue to sustain him through whatever task to which He calls him.  If the Lord has allowed his father – and now Marcos – to see such a huge need for creating a training ground for Spanish-speaking Gospel leaders, and for caring for the future generations of Hispanics within and outside of the United States, then surely the Lord will sustain him to do the work to which he is dedicating he and his family are dedicating their hearts and lives. 


Certainly, Marcos also recognizes the incredible blessing of having the support of family – not only those who have preceded him in ministry, but also the many serving alongside of him and encouraging him. Though studying and classes on top of everything else demand much time currently, Marcos is thankful for his wife and daughter supporting him through every step.  Moreover, he is constantly amazed also by the ministry and involvement of all of his family – mother, brother, sister, and their families – in the ministry of Christ the King, in El Paso, and on the border.  The need for continued growth is vast; yet Marcos and his family know that the Lord is greater.  Están sirviendo (they are serving), and Lord is using them for His purposes.


From an outside perspective, it is clear that the Lord has blessed and is using the Zapata family though the generations for the incredible work of spreading His Kingdom among the Hispanic community and beyond. May the Lord continue to work through Marcos, the Zapata family and San Pablo seminary to raise and care for new leaders in their languages and cultures, to bring the Gospel to Mexico, la frontera, the United States, and the world.  



¡A Dios sea la gloria!



 

WAYS TO PRAY FOR MARCOS, THE ZAPATA FAMILY, AND SAN PABLO SEMINARY


  • Pray for stamina for Marcos and his family, as he finishes his MDiv at San Pablo (May ’24), and pursues his preaching license and then ordination.

  • Pray that the Lord would provide in all aspects for San Pablo as an institution, that it might continue to grow and encourage new leaders, and multiply its reach

  • Pray for Marcos and Erika, as they are constantly seeking wisdom in caring for their daughter, Ariana with her autism and ADHD; pray that the Lord will give them peace that He cares for Ariana as the perfect Father.


 

Please consider giving to HLI so that we can continue supporting people like Marcos, and San Pablo seminary, as they are caring for and raising up Hispanic gospel leaders.

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