MissionConnect: Update on Pueblo de Dios –Compton, California

Publicado: enero 21, 2014 en Iglesia, Luteranismo, LUTHERAN CORE, Misión Urbana

By Pastor Dennis Nelson

The Lutheran CORE Steering Committee seeks to remind congregations of the challenge that Lutheran CORE makes to member congregations to support one local and one international mission partner. This article continues the narrative of congregations that are making this kind of direct mission connection.


Alfredo Casillas (left) passes out vegetables at Pueblo de Dios’ weekly food  distribution for the community. All photos courtesy of Pastor Samuel Nieva.  


When Pastor Samuel Nieva came to Compton, California, in 2003, he faced a depressing situation. Before Pueblo de Dios was founded, the previous Lutheran Latino congregation at that location closed because of a bad reputation in the community. Then the Southwest California Synod slated the church building for demolition. All of this took place in one of the country’s poorest communities, with high unemployment as well as other severe social problems.


Praise team musicians Ana Nieva and Irving Beltran leading the music at  Pueblo de Dios worship.

An article in the April 2012 issue of CORE Connection told of the work that Pastor Nieva has done to build one of the most thriving and dynamic Lutheran Latino ministries in Los Angeles. About 150 people attend worship every Sunday, and Pastor Nieva combines strong Gospel preaching with compassionate social outreach. This article provides an update on this congregation and its ministries, which take seriously Jesus’ call to all of us to be and to make disciples.


Pueblo de Dios meets in a building that is owned by the Southwest California Synod of the ELCA. Because the majority of the people living around the church have a very low income or are without work altogether, much of Pastor Nieva’s salary is paid by the ELCA national office and the Southwest California Synod, with some of the funds also coming from Pueblo de Dios. So the church faced a real crisis last May when the synod elected an openly gay bishop.

When asked how the congregation responded, Pastor Nieva told me that many members were very confused, discouraged, and upset at first. They felt deserted. They now feel that Lutheran CORE came as God’s answer. Pastor Steve Shipman, director of Lutheran CORE, visited and told them, “You are not alone.” Pastor Nieva shared, “He extended his hand as a friend and brother in Christ.”

Pueblo de Dios is now asking God for wisdom as they seek to defend the Word of God while remaining within the ELCA. They believe that others will be watching them as they seek to be faithful in their situation. These others then will be encouraged to be faithful in their own situations.


I asked Pastor Nieva to describe the current relationship between Pueblo de Dios and the Southwest California Synod. He replied that there should be a relationship of mutual respect and that the synod should support ethnic ministries that are working hard and serving faithfully while maintaining a strong belief in the authority of the Bible. I remember the worship service in May of 2011 when Pueblo de Dios was officially organized as a congregation. Bishop Dean Nelson, who was then serving as synod bishop, commented that this was the first ethnic mission during his two terms as bishop that had grown to the point that it was able to organize as a congregation.

Pastor Nieva shared, “To be a biblical and conservative church is and should be a respectable option. We should not be ridiculed or misinterpreted as homophobic.” He then added, “Discrimination is not part of the kingdom of God. We invite everyone, while also calling on all people to repent. Overcoming sin by God’s saving grace is the only option that every human being has to live the abundant life that Jesus offers.”


Pastor Nieva described his work at Pueblo de Dios as experiencing “the life of the ‘Third World’ in the ‘First World.’” Some of his people are documented, while others are not. Many of them only stay in the community for a short time, until they are able to improve their situation, and then they move elsewhere. Pastor Nieva shared, “It is unethical for me to ask them to contribute 10% of their welfare check, if they cannot even afford to buy tortillas and milk every day for their families.” Many of these people live in garages. “What they give, they give with all their love and sacrifice. Some of them are like the widow who put in the basket all the money that she had – two coins.” He then added, “We live and work within the ‘Fourth World’ of the poor, but with the reality and economic demands of the ‘First World.’”

Combine this situation with the fact that Pueblo de Dios meets in a synod-owned building and is pastored by a Churchwide- and synod-funded pastor, and you can see why the congregation is very dependent upon the ELCA and the Southwest California Synod. Pastor Nieva was very happy to receive the good news that the synod will continue to support Pueblo de Dios for another year.


One of the most exciting new ministry developments at Pueblo de Dios concerns two women leaders of the congregation who enrolled at an interdenominational Hispanic Center for Theological Studies in preparation for pastoral ministry. One of them will be graduating very soon and will then begin a degree program at Fuller Seminary in Pasadena. The other one is finishing her pre-ministerial preparation. Pastor Nieva commented, “We do not have a local Lutheran seminary to help prepare new Latino pastors in their native language.” Pastor Nieva has had conversations with the synod about the need for solid Lutheran theological training, combined with strong Biblical education, all within the Spanish language. He feels that a good option is the Hispanic Center for Theological Studies administered by the Covenant Church, which has its roots in the Scandinavian Lutheran Church.


Seminarian Maria Montalvo, one of two Pueblo de Dios leaders attending the  interdenominational Hispanic Center for Theological Studies, prays with a  parishioners

When aked where these women will be serving, Pastor Nieva replied, “We have many Lutheran Latino churches without pastors. They will be qualified to serve there.” He would also like to raise up more trained, Spanish-speaking church leaders to serve as missionaries who will plant new, Spanish-speaking Lutheran churches. He said, “We are called to be disciples and to make disciples. Jesus did not train his disciples to be members of a community. He trained them to share the good news of salvation.” His vision is the raising up of a new generation of Spanish-speaking Lutheran pastors, “with deep biblical preparation in their native language, to renew the biblical identity of the Lutheran church.”


I am a part of a group of confessional, biblically-faithful, ELCA Lutheran pastors who are meeting with Pastor Nieva for fellowship and mutual support. Several of these pastors are members of Lutheran CORE. One is serving in a congregation that has a Spanish-speaking ministry and is hoping that Pueblo de Dios will be raising up leaders for his and other ministry situations. Pastor Nieva is looking for more congregations throughout the United States that share his passions, priorities, and concerns. He sees Lutheran CORE as playing a decisive role in creating these connections.

Pastor Nieva is also very grateful for the opportunity he had to speak at last summer’s Lutheran CORE Convocation during the Mission Connect presentation and workshop, as well as at the NALC Convocation. He said, “Steve Shipman was very clear when he said, ‘Not only send your help; go to Pueblo de Dios and experience their live testimony. Be recharged with the new blood that God wants for the Lutheran church when you visit Pueblo de Dios.’”

Pueblo de Dios Lutheran Church and Pastor Samuel Nieva are worthy of our prayers and financial support. They may be contacted at:

Pueblo de Dios Lutheran Church

804 East Rosecrans Avenue

Compton, CA 90221

(310) 608-2795



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