“That’s not a corner — that’s our mission field.” —Orlando Crespo, Director of InterVarsity’s LaFe (Latino Fellowship)
As two young Latina staff ourselves, we had the opportunity to sit down with the Director of InterVarsity’s LaFe, Orlando Crespo, over a few video calls. In addition to encouraging us and affirming us in our leadership, he shared about how God is using LaFe in this generation of students on campus and what he’s most excited about.
The themes of inclusion and empowerment were ever-present throughout our conversations with him from the moment we started talking. And it is these values of Latino leadership that Orlando sees as great strengths in ministry and make him particularly excited about how God is raising up LaFe to be a critical part of InterVarsity’s movement.
In celebration of National Hispanic Heritage Month, read our conversation below.
Why is ministry to Latino students important right now?
With InterVarsity, we talk about reaching every corner of campus. About 20 percent of all college students are Latino. That’s not a corner — that’s our mission field. Before, we used to think of ethnic specific ministry as reaching corners of campus, but now we’re seeing that large pockets of the campus are Latino. If we ignore this population and don’t find ways to reach them, we’re missing the mark.
Additionally, so many Latinos have grown up in church. Many come from Catholic, Protestant, or Pentecostal backgrounds. They come to college with a sense of the Christian faith, and they might be deciding whether to continue practicing it. The Pew Research Center shows that only 2 percent of Latinos are atheists. If we reach them and disciple them well, they can become our future Christian leaders.
Why is Latino leadership essential in ministry?
There is a relational dynamic of loving, respecting, honoring, and committing to one another that's really wonderful in Latino culture that we can celebrate in InterVarsity. I think that’s why I’ve stayed on staff with InterVarsity for so long— because of the meaningful, relational connections I’ve made in LaFe. It's about being yoked together in love and in the cause of the gospel that's a strength we contribute. I think that’s something LaFe leaders and students will continue to bring to the rest of the organization.
Having Latinos in positions of leadership will also give us new eyes through which to see reality as we face greater cross-cultural complexity and challenges in the years to come.
You’ve mentioned various Latino/a Campus Staff Ministers moving into areas of leadership in our organization. Can you share a little more about this and how it affects our ministry on campus?
Latino staff have transitioned to roles such as Area Directors, Regional Directors, and Coaching Specialists. Several staff have also started or are leading new ministry initiatives, like the LaFe Multiplicative Small Groups eChamp project, national fundraising initiatives, and incubation projects that are aimed at planting new InterVarsity chapters at Hispanic Serving Institutions.
These changes show younger or newer Latino staff that there are places for them to advance in leadership within InterVarsity.
How will these transitions benefit InterVarsity's pursuit of the 2030 Calling (catalyzing gospel movements at every major U.S. campus)?
InterVarsity is serious about representation at every level of ministry. There are many studies that demonstrate that teams that are more diverse do better, particularly when it comes to innovation. And our whole 2030 Calling is based on accelerating ministry through innovation.
Our Latino leaders are innovators who have had to think outside the line to reach more Latino students on more campuses.
For example, we’re trying to find new ways to do effective ministry on Hispanic Serving Institutions. These campuses are often overlooked because campus ministries are rarely present there. But now, we’re able to reach more campuses and develop more Latino leaders to meet the rising Latino population on those campuses.
What are some things that have begun during the pandemic in LaFe? What can we look forward to?
During the pandemic, our ministry faced challenges similar to other organizations. We’ve lost some LaFe staff as they struggled with fundraising, found different opportunities, or simply made major life changes because of the pandemic.
We’re in a season of mixed blessings because there are some exciting things to look forward to as well. New projects, new prayer, and revival experiences. We’re also experimenting on underserved campuses to figure out how to more successfully plant ministries. So far, we’ve seen promising results in InterVarsity’s Atlantic Region on the East Coast.
From this experiment, we’ve launched an incubation project that explores how we can use the Vida Proxe as a follow-up to New Student Outreach on campus. The Vida Proxe addresses how we can grieve and mourn as a family and why Jesus is the answer through the resurrection. It sprung from thinking about how to create space for LaFe staff to be spiritually, mentally, and emotionally healthy and how can we use this to bless students.
How does LaFe build up leaders? What resources would you recommend for learning more about reaching young Latinos?
LaFe has Proxes that are helping Latino student leaders effectively reach others with the gospel on campus. The Bienvenida Proxe is a particularly powerful one. It can be used to help students think about what defines a welcoming space on campus as well as what it means to be undocumented in a hostile campus setting (this one can get deep quickly).
There are a lot of resources that are accessible to everyone too. The IVP book Brown Church. Latin American theology from leaders like Samuel Escobar or Rene Padilla. The idea of the “Mision Integral” is very relevant now.
LaFe also has a podcast called Con Confianza which deals with discipleship, leadership development, and even issues like anti-blackness in the Latino community.
Visit the LaFe homepage to learn more about how God is using this ministry to reach Latino/a students and faculty.
Ashlye works as the Managing Editor for InterVarsity's Communications and Marketing Team in Madison, Wisconsin. She enjoys deep conversations with friends and adventures with her husband (a Video Producer for InterVarsity) and their corgi, Penny. You can support her ministry here: donate.intervarsity.org/donate#21368.
Emily Baez is a writer on InterVarsity’s Editorial Team in Madison, Wisconsin. She enjoys long hikes, watching movies, and overly competitive game nights with friends. You can support her ministry at donate.intervarsity.org/donate#22836.
It’s impossible to celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month without honoring our elders by receiving their stories and stoking fires of hope and tenacity for our children to encourage them for a life worthy of this calling.