The planting of New City East Lake was always about people. What I mean is, the people God joined together to establish the church. When I started thinking about writing these articles about some of the early history of East Lake, I immediately started thinking about individual people and how much they played a part in the history and development of the church. So much of the story of New City East Lake is about the gifts God gave us through the people he brought us.
No one has influenced me or the ministry of East Lake more than Eunice Mendoza. Going back before we even began to talk about planning a church as a session at Glenwood, Eunice was reaching out to Latinos in East Lake and saw it as a strategic location for ministry. As soon as we did start the discussion of a church plant, I remember her coming to me and saying “we should plant a church in East Lake.” It was because of her words that I took this location to Randy Nabors and began to encourage him to consider it.
From the moment we decided to plant the church in East Lake and began to plan our strategy, Eunice was involved. If you knew her then (and often still), you would hear her say in one of our planning meetings, “and we could have a fiesta so that we could invite my Latinos!” She never stopped reminding us about her people. She never stopped thinking of ways to reach her people with the gospel. She never stopped pushing us deeper into the vision of our church to reach at least this one ethnicity in our community. Largely due to her leadership and energy, we have.
Eunice had help. One of her friends from Acapulco, Katy Garcia, came and joined her in ministry here. They became a dynamic duo of ministry to the Latino community and were both my partners and my inspiration in ministry. I often thought about them as if God had given them a kind of “Macedonian call” (Acts 16) to leave Mexico and come to the United States where he wanted them to preach the Gospel to their people here. They may not have known it but he was anointing them to be foreign missionaries. As we all know, their ministry as gone so far beyond just the lives of Latinos. They have ministered to the entire body of Christ in powerful ways.
But in our early days, Eunice and Katy Garcia were always educating me about the growing immigrant population coming into our area. They would take me to the latest restaurants opened by Latino’s to check out the food. We would visit families that they had met through ESL classes. I remember how often I would frighten the Latino’s when I would visit and they opened their front doors and would see a strange “gringo” standing there. I quickly realized how important my greeting of friendship was to them. They were afraid of me and I needed to let them know I was a friend. Through these early visits, I would see the neighborhoods where Latino’s were living, often in East Lake, because Eunice and Katy had already discovered their whereabouts. Eunice and Katy really were our outreach ministry at East Lake before we even began as a church!
We had a lot of fun together on many of our outings as you might imagine. On one of them, to Dalton, Georgia, Eunice and Katy had convinced me that I needed to see this huge Mexican grocery story, and they wanted to be the ones to take me to see it. So we went. As we were all riding in the car to Dalton talking, I said in Spanish, “so we are going to this store to buy our ‘grocerias’” (or groceries, I thought I was saying). Eunice and Katy started laughing out loud and saying, “no, pastor, no!” I had no idea what was wrong but knew I had said something wrong. Eunice explained. I had just said that we were going to the store to buy “our dirty acts.” Of course, I said, “oops, sorry! Then I added, that I didn’t need to buy any of those--I give them away free.” They pulled the car over and, as it was still rolling, opened my car door and pushed me out.
P. S. The correct word for groceries is “comestibles.” And, the last sentence is not true.