Remembering Jesse Miranda, a Bridge-Builder for Hispanic Evangelicals

Image: Courtesy of Vanguard University
Jesse Miranda is pictured with Itzel Calleja-Macias, assistant professor of biology and director of the Jesse Miranda Center for Hispanic Leadership, along with Vanguard students who receive educational support through the Center.

Jesse Miranda, a Pentecostal leader and the “granddaddy of US Latino Protestantism,” died last Friday at the age of 82.

Several weeks ago, Miranda learned that he had inoperable B-cell lymphoma and entered hospice care.

As founder of the National Alliance of Evangelical Ministries (AMEN, Alianza de Ministerios Evangélicos Nacionales) and then executive director of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference (NHCLC), Miranda was known for bringing together Latino leaders and elevating their voices within American evangelicalism.

2002 CT profile called him “the primary visionary uniting disparate US Hispanic evangelicals” and praised his “reputation as a sharp listener and bridge-builder who has put his vision, imagination, and wit to the service of the Latino church.”

“His commitment to Christ, real. His prophetic voice, renewing. His love for the marginalized, relentless,” wrote current NHCLC president Samuel Rodriguez in tribute this week. “I love and forever will honor you Bro. Jesse! You changed my life!”

Assemblies of God pastors and National Latino Evangelical Coalition (NaLEC) cofounders Gabriel and Jeannette Salguero considered him “a mentor to our generation of evangelicals.”

One of the most important lessons Miranda passed down was showing how to lead in both Hispanic and majority culture spaces, said Dennis J. Rivera, director of the Office of Hispanic Relations for the Assemblies of God.

“Jesse modeled and taught young leaders that Hispanics are not either/or, but are both/and, bilingual and bicultural, and therefore can navigate and serve in two worlds,” Rivera said.

Miranda’s organization, founded in 1994, brought together 27 denominations, 70 parachurch agencies, and 22 nationalities across the US, Puerto Rico, Mexico, and Canada. Miranda also built out institutional structures to support Hispanic leaders in his denomination and on Christian college campuses.

Yet, at times, the New Mexico native said he still felt like he was on the outside looking into the evangelical world.

“I was watching a cable television station that was carrying a meeting of evangelicals on racial reconciliation. I was excited to see this demonstration of Christian unity. But then my phone rang, and a Hispanic leader on the other end asked if I was watching this,” said Miranda in a 1998 CT interview. “When I told him I was, he asked, ‘Is your TV in black and white? Because mine is; it looks like a rerun from the 1960s. Why aren’t we part of this discussion?’”

Miranda was sensitive about the ways that Hispanics interacted with African Americans on issues of justice and reconciliation.

“Hispanics owe a lot to the black community for taking up the baton of human rights and of civil rights,” he told CT. “It isn’t the Christian way to take a free ride or to sit back and see how things do or don’t get worked out. Whatever the consequences, we need to get into the dialogue, and perhaps we can bring something to the table that would help us all work through the differences of skin pigmentation, culture, or history.”

Born in 1937, Miranda grew up in a poor neighborhood in Albuquerque. His father worked at a lumber mill; his mother did not finish third grade. He converted after his Pentecostal neighbors prayed for his ill mother, who was later healed.

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Source: Christianity Today