A Conversation with Berto Murillo
Berto Murillo is an affable, gregarious, effective minister of the gospel. Born in Petoa, Santa Barbara, Honduras, the 53-year-old Murillo studied agricultural engineering at the University of Honduras, receiving a bachelor’s degree in 1977.
For the next eight years, he worked as an agricultural extension agent. Because of his outstanding work, the Honduran government gave him an award that entitled him to select any university in the world for further study. He chose Cameron University in Lawton, Okla., to pursue additional studies in agriculture.
Life changed drastically for Murillo when an insurance agent in nearby Chickasha invited him to church. There he met Jim Sheerer, minister for the Southern Oaks church. Sheerer taught and converted Murillo in 1988. Murillo’s wife, Carmen, was baptized a few months later.
With that conversion came a strong sense of calling to ministry. Murillo returned to Honduras to serve for four years as a missionary. After that, he served for two years as cross-cultural minister at Southern Oaks. Don Haslam and Jim Sheerer later encouraged Murillo to attend Oklahoma Christian University in Oklahoma City, where he majored in ministry and family studies.
Now, he is the cross-cultural minister for the South MacArthur church in Irving, Texas. He preaches in Spanish and ministers to Hispanics, Asians, African-Americans and Anglos. He is in the final stage of doctoral studies in marriage and family therapy. He also serves on the board of trustees for Baxter Institute of Biblical Studies in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.
The Murillos have been married 26 years and have four sons: Josh, David, Samuel and Salomon.
Tell us about your conversion.
Conversion is a process that began in the home where I grew up. My grandparents taught me how to live by Christian principles — as they knew them. They taught me the importance of reading the Bible even though I did not understand all of the meaning. Their reasoning was that, even though I might have more questions than answers, it was good for me.
So my quest for answers to those questions started when I was 15 years old. I asked priests, preachers, elders, missionaries, theologians and devout Christians. I think that all of them contributed significantly to my spiritual journey.
However, there was one person who influenced me the most — Jim Sheerer, a seasoned preacher and wonderful Bible teacher. He patiently answered all my questions in an intensive, six-month study. That is when I concluded that God had patiently waited for me to give myself to Christ through the waters of baptism. That happened in 1988 when I was 33.
What do you think are the biggest misconceptions Anglo church members have about Spanish speakers in their communities?
The biggest misconceptions are that every Latino is uneducated or undocumented, that they all are in the United States because there are fleeing poverty and that, once a Latino lives in the U.S., they don’t want to go back to their home country. That is not true.
You are careful to refer to your ministry as “cross-cultural,” not “Hispanic.” Why?
We Latinos are a diverse culture. As a minister who is immersed in diverse cultures and languages, I need to be able to relate to many other cultural backgrounds in the church and the community where I live.
I have been privileged to counsel, study with and baptize not only Spanish people, but also Japanese, Brazilian, Laotian, African-American and others. So cross-cultural ministry is more inclusive and reflective of our urban communities today.
Some have said that churches have little idea of how to evangelize the Hispanic population. Is this true?
Churches have good intentions to spread the gospel throughout the Hispanic world, and I think that many churches — not only in the U.S. but also in the rest of the world — are doing the best they can. I have seen brothers and sisters who have given their lives for the sake of others.
However, good intentions need to be matched with creativity and a little more allocation of resources.
What suggestions do you have to help churches address this growing need?
First, we have to understand that the Hispanic culture is not monolithic. We are a very diverse group with different ethic backgrounds, different socio-economics, different educational levels and languages.
For some Latinos, English is their first language not only because the live in the U.S., but also because they have been educated to master both Spanish and English. Brazilians speak Portuguese, but many of them also speak Spanish. So I suggest that we develop different approaches to reach a diverse Hispanic population.
In your opinion, what are the elements of an effective ministry to Hispanics in this country?
First, we must empower our Latino ministers to be leaders — leaders that will unify the Latino community as well as equip other members of the local church to minister to Latinos as well.
Second, we need to be able to prepare and equip the next generation of Latino leaders with the best education available. By this I mean our colleges, universities and local churches have to provide the financial resources and leadership necessary to overcome the general stereotype of Latinos.
Third, ministry to Latinos is a vast mission field both here and abroad. We need to reach out to our community with a vision of turning them into missionaries to their family and friends back in their countries of origin.
In your mission work in Honduras, you host marriage seminars and focus part of your ministry on the middle class. Few other churches do this. Why do you think it’s important to reach all levels of Latin American society with the gospel?
The gospel is for everyone. This is not just my philosophy — it is Jesus’ philosophy of evangelism and ministry as well. He reached out to fishermen, tax collectors and children in the neighborhood, those who were educated and uneducated, and prominent as well as common men, women and children. It’s important that we reach all of those social levels because those of us who are most blessed need to bless others who struggle.
We all like to see a church that will become self-sufficient financially, provide its own leadership and reach out to different people in their own context.
Do you see a day when Spanish-speaking missionaries will be sent to the U.S. to do mission work among Hispanics?
I think that day is here. I am one whom God made a missionary for the U.S.A. and for Central America.
Other examples are graduates of Baxter Institute in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, who are being invited to minister to Spanish-speaking churches in the U.S. Then, after a few years in the U.S., they return to Latin America to continue their ministry there. Perhaps second- and third-generation Latinos will also choose to be a part of this great open field for the gospel.