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Retratos || “Paletero” Shepherding //Pastoreando como Paletero

Anyone who has spent much time in Latin America, or in a community with a large Hispanic immigrant presence, knows los paleteros. Los paleteros are the individuals out especially on hot days, pushing their carts down the streets and through the neighborhoods, campanitas (bells) tinkling, as they offer their refreshing paletas (Latin popsicles) to passersby.  To be successful, los paleteros work hard, they are persistent, and they know and are known by their community, who are waiting for the afternoon campanitas in order to enjoy a small, sweet break in the sweat of daily labor.

In many senses, the work of ministry within the immigrant and Hispanic immigrant community needs to be much like the work of a paletero.  While many majority-culture churches and ministries are designed and flourish through offering activities and services to draw people in, los pastores within the Hispanic community often have the greatest impact through a willingness to go out, to be present, to be known, to serve those who are in desperate need of Gospel refreshment, even if it is only for the afternoon. 

From an outside perspective, paletero ministry can be hard to understand: Sunday worship may not see much impact; numbers may remain small.  Certainly, some recipients will come back for more, while others will enjoy even one interaction with the pastoral paletero before moving on.  In ministry, going out as a peddler may feel like an interruption to the pastoral call; but for the pastor of a community in flux (like the immigrant community), a heart and calling for ministry “on-the-go” is essential.


While not necessarily the ministry structure of the mainline church, it simply takes glancing at examples from Jesus’ ministry to understand that the paletero shepherding model is both biblical, and needed, particularly in an unreached, hurting, diverse, and transient context. El Buen Pastor certainly was a man who knew and was known by His community; He went walking through the towns and villages, and people of all classes gathered to see Him, to hear Him, to know Him.  Though Jesus’ three years of public ministry seem incredibly short by most of our standards, His approach to people was unhurried and compassionate.  He had time for interacting with children, for listening to widows, for healing lepers, for welcoming the outcasts, and engaging in ongoing conversations with Pharisees and other skeptics.  

When it comes to engaging the Hispanic community in the United States, it is particularly essential to pay close attention to how Jesus modeled ministry.  Like those Jesus attracted, Hispanic-Americans (particularly immigrants, but even second- and third- generation Hispanics) are often found on the outskirts of majority culture society. They are working hard to make ends meet; they are hurting through innumerable stories of leaving behind their homes, and attempting to be accepted by a new culture; often, their lives (whether internally, in actuality, or both) are in places of instability, and even chaos.  Burdened by the challenges of just getting by, it is difficult to find time or focus on going to do one more thing; when crisis arises, they will seek the person who has been the most stable, reliable, trustworthy source for help


Yet the reality is, stopping to help the person who calls or shows up on your doorstep in crisis can feel like an interruption to ministry.  It may feel like an interruption to take the jobless, Muslim immigrant who knocks at the doors of the church building to find food and clothing; perhaps it feels like an interruption to sit down yet again with the family seeking housing and help them figure out their options when they are not dedicated to the church; it can feel like an interruption to invite the awkward, hungry young man to sit down and share his story over café y pan while in the midst of discipling a growing member.  

Still, a paletero knows these are the interrupciones that he needs to have a successful business.  After all the route planning, the most lucrative part of the paletero’s day may come through the young boy that comes running to find him, and invites him down the street (and off his beaten path) to serve his friends. More importantly, Jesus welcomed all sorts of interrupciones as part of the beauty of His plan in bringing the gospel to all kinds of people. The story of healing Jairus’ daughter offers a powerful example (cf. Mark 5:21ff).  Certainly, it must have seemed like an enormous interruption (besides waste of time and social degradation) to Jairus and the watching rulers and crowds, when Jesus stopped on the way to Jairus’ house to interact with and heal the unclean woman who had been bleeding for twelve years.  To Jairus’ friends, it appeared that Jesus’ taking time for this interruption meant He was disregarding Jairus’ daughter, and leaving her to die.  But in reality, Jesus valued the life of this lowly woman just as much as that of the ruler’s daughter; her coming to Him was far from an interruption to ministry; it was an opportunity to display the power of Gospel healing many times over.  

Yet the impact of this interrupción was far greater: Jairus was able to see Jesus not simply heal his daughter, but resurrect her: through the “interruption” of ministry, Jairus knew Jesus as even more powerful.  For the watching crowds, this “interruption” of ministry was a demonstration of Jesus’ compassionate care for all classes of people; it ought to have challenged His followers to do the same. Sometimes, like biting into a cold paleta on a hot day, inviting Gospel interruptions can come with a painful initial shock: sharing Jesus with the community requires giving even time, expectations, and hope for success (by worldly standards) to the Lord. Yet the payoff is seeing the Lord working through all the interrupciones to do a greater work for His Kingdom.


Still, a successful paletero not only welcomes interruptions; he welcomes any and all who will enjoy his paletas. While some may have a more inherent awareness of what the paletero offers, he welcomes all to enjoy his goods.  As they learn the value of a refreshing paleta, children and adults alike, regardless of nationality, language, or social status are excited to hear the paletero’s approaching campanitas.  He will drive none away, but is happy to serve an ever growing segment of the population, with a pleasant spirit, and an eagerness to earn their business, and potentially that of their friends later.

The transformative truth of the Gospel is for people from every nation, tribe, people, and language (cf. Rev 7:9). And while understanding this is necessary for any kind of ministry, it is perhaps particularly essential when it comes to loving and serving the Hispanic and Hispanic-immigrant community. The reality of the Hispanic community in the United States is that the term encompasses peoples coming from twenty-one different nations (and even more cultures), living at various stages and generations of life in a new (or not-so-new) country, with different language skills, with an entire range of socioeconomic and educational backgrounds, not to mention variety of religious backgrounds and levels of Gospel-exposure. 

Therefore, to set out to plant or care for a “Hispanic church” (be it English-speaking, Spanish-speaking, or bilingual) is far more complex than the name might suggest.  And it requires an incredible willingness to not just welcome, but to serve any and all who may want to “taste and see” the sweetness of the Gospel (cf. Psalm 34:8). It requires a willingness to invest in people and stories that may be exceedingly different from one’s own.  As a paletero shepherd becomes known in his community, perhaps counterintuitively, it may well look like engaging also peoples and races outside the Hispanic community, as immigrants and neighbors of all backgrounds are drawn to the caring, peaceful presence of a shepherd in their midst.

Again, one need only have a small purview of the Gospels to see that this welcoming of any and all was what Jesus came to do.  When the disciples were ready to push the little children away from Him, deeming them to be a waste of their Lord’s time, Jesus welcomed the children with open arms (Matt 19:13-15). When dining with Pharisees, Jesus engaged with the woman of ill-repute who washed His feet (Luke 7:36ff).  He engaged with the religious leaders and rulers, yet He also went out of His way to welcome tax collectors, hated Samaritans, and lepers into His presence.  While it may feel easy to dismiss the needs of individuals that may not meet a particular ideal for the church, Jesus’ own example in a diverse community demonstrates the need to be willing to serve all whom He will draw.


Welcoming the “interruptions” to ministry, and being willing and available to care for and serve any who are drawn is undoubtedly not easy, in and of itself, and does not always yield the most visible or immediate results.  Caring for a community in flux without burning out means the paletero shepherd must not have the end-focus as building his own ministry or church; the focus must be in working for and building the Kingdom of God.  Without such a focus, the conversation with migrant workers passing through for the season, the day spent throwing a birthday party for a child whose father was deported, the energy consumed in trying to communicate with an immigrant who does not even speak Spanish or English and is not a part of the church’s target demographic - all these interrupciones can feel frustrating, burdensome, and a waste of time.

Yet a successful paletero knows that, in spite of all his planning and strategizing, at the end of the day (or the week), his success is measured by what he is able to take home to his family, in order to provide and care for them.   That is, he will gladly welcome the interruptions and those not on his beaten path or in his planned radar because his focus is not on the difficulty of the work at hand, but on the end goal.

And on a much grander scale, such must be the mindset of gospel ministry, particularly within the Hispanic and immigrant context.  When seeking to reach a transient community, and a people in flux as their lives change within a new culture, language, job setting, and social context, having the same metrics for work and success as a majority-culture church might use is both detrimental to the cause, and unsustainable for the pastor.  Indeed, as Jesus served the diversity of His context, He called His followers to something greater: not to seek the growth of their individual ministries, but to seek the growth of the Kingdom of God.

In speaking to the Pharisees and other Jewish leaders (whom the Jews assumed were Jesus’ target context), Jesus assures them that, as el Buen Pastor, He also has sheep “who are not of this fold” whom He has come to serve as well (cf. John 10:16 & context).  As Jesus stops to heal the unclean bleeding woman, as He stoops to welcome the children into His arms, as He eats with tax collectors and “sinners,” and allows the woman of ill-repute to anoint His feet with perfume and her own tears, He powerfully demonstrates that His mission is not simply to the Jews, but to any who are sick and in need of cleansing.  His time, compassion, care, and healing is for anyone who will hear His voice and open to His knocking (cf. Rev 3:20), even though it necessitates His rejection by the rulers, His being mocked, misunderstood, and ultimately nailed to a cross for daring to welcome the interruptions.  All of this, Jesus welcomed in humility and with much prayer, because He knew and trusted the Father’s purposes for His Kingdom to come.

Keeping a Kingdom focus allows paletero shepherds to welcome whomever it is that the Lord draws into their path. It frees them to walk their communities, to know their communities, and to love their context, without fear and pressure of performing to any unrealistic standards.  It allows pastors within the Hispanic and immigrant context to pray and trust “se haga Su voluntad” (“let Thy will be done”) as they do ministry “on-the-go,” knowing that, as they are faithful to His calling, the Lord is accomplishing His greater purposes.

The result of paletero shepherding does not necessarily look like more occupants in the seats on a Sunday morning; it certainly does not guarantee a steady church salary; it does not mean outsiders will not look at metrics and ask for accounting of time and resources.  Yet paletero shepherding trusts God’s wisdom in going out into the community and caring for those whom God brings--for however long or short they may stay. Paletero shepherding looks like opening the doors for Christ to grow His Church, and to expand His Kingdom, "on earth as it is in Heaven." It happens through the paletero shepherd’s willingness to offer cool refreshment and Gospel truth to those in need.  The goal and reward comes not in personal goals and gain, but in keeping one’s eye fixed on the Kingdom.  “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’...  ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” (Matthew 25:35-36, 40).

May the Lord encourage the many who are faithfully serving the diversity of their communities, and may He continue to raise those willing to serve in unforeseen flux of the Hispanic context and beyond, for the growth of His Kingdom, and for la gloria de Dios.

¡A Dios sea la gloria!



  • Please pray for encouragement for leaders serving communities in flux to welcome the "interruptions" and the strangers.

  • Pray for understanding and patience for individuals and churches supporting and caring for pastors and leaders of Hispanic and immigrant communities, to help measure "success" by Kingdom-oriented metrics.

  • Pray for a growing heart for ministering to whomever the Lord would bring, even (and especially) when it feels uncomfortable or difficult.

  • Pray for the American church to grow in its vision for Kingdom-focused ministry, particularly when it comes to caring for the growing Hispanic and immigrant communities in the United States.


Please consider giving to HLI so that we can continue training, supporting, and encouraging pastors, leaders, and congregations who are caring for communities in flux, as they reach the Hispanic-American community for the Gospel.

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