Hispanic Education Initiative, WinShape partnering to build disciple-makers

by Teresa Young on September 28, 2023 in Stories of Impact

Nathan Escamilla did not study mathematics at Texas Tech University, but he’s become quite the expert in multiplication over the past few years. As manager of partner development for the southwest region of the WinShape College Program, Nathan has been a major player in a partnership with the Hispanic Education Initiative (HEI) of Texas Baptists en Español which is equipping college students to serve Hispanic churches across the state.

“Our focus is on Matthew 28:19 – go therefore and make disciples of all nations. That’s our focus at WinShape and it’s a big focus at HEI, investing in future generations,” noted Nathan, a native of Lubbock. “We touch on leadership development and also focus on discipleship with the idea that young people can be leaders in their church from their campus or in their vocation.”

WinShape accomplishes this through Discipleship Intensives, three- or five-day trainings aimed at preparing college students to learn how to lead small groups in their churches and on their campuses. Nathan’s role is to develop and recruit for these trainings across four states, with Texas trainings held in Dallas, San Antonio and El Paso. He believes heavily in the success of the program, noting several Texas Baptists university students have attended and returned to their campuses to begin making a real impact in discipling their peers as well as serving at their Texas Baptists churches.

Increasing access

But up until 2020, the WinShape College Program had seen no Hispanic participants, and that’s where Rolando Rodriguez, director of Texas Baptists en Español, entered the picture.

“WinShape reached out to Rolando, and he asked me to help find some students for the program, which I saw as a great opportunity for discipleship and leadership development for the HEI. I reached out to young adults I knew that were studying in college and serving in their church, and HEI helped compensate some of their cost for WinShape,” said Nathan.

At the time, Nathan was working in another field and serving as a volunteer student pastor at a Texas Baptists church plant in Grand Prairie. He saw the students from his own church attend WinShape and return with a new fire to serve in the student ministry. After helping recruit once more in 2021, WinShape approached Nathan to join their staff, and he took the opportunity to join the effort. He attended a training at the WinShape Foundation’s home in Georgia – where it was started in 1984 by Chick-fil-A founder and CEO Truett Cathy – and now offices in Dallas.

Though Nathan’s work involves working with churches of all denominations to recruit for the Discipleship Intensives, he loves the partnership with HEI as both a product of a Texas Baptists church and an active member now, serving as a lay student leader at El Buen Pastor Christian Church in Fort Worth with his wife, Sarah.

Bridging the gap

Nathan says the partnership is especially important because the vast majority of Texas Baptists Hispanic churches are led by bi-vocational pastors, meaning many of them do not have the financial resources to pay for students to receive special training. But the investment in students has paid dividends on several fronts.

“We’re able to work together so HEI is able to help support these churches that cannot afford to pay a pastor full-time, but they can send young adults to these trainings to learn how to be leaders in the church,” said Nathan, noting that since 2020, HEI has helped 81 students receive WinShape training. “Many of these students have gone back to their churches and campuses to disciple and start small groups. Maybe the church doesn’t have a college pastor, but (these students) have volunteered to start a small group and do a Bible study, and those have grown and grown.”

Rolando echoes his belief in the program’s value.

“By investing in these students, we are ministering, discipling, mentoring and developing leaders that will impact the generations that are coming behind them. Our churches do not need more members; our churches need more disciples of Jesus, and this is what this program is about: making disciples that make disciples,” said Rolando.

Preparing for impact

Nathan’s own desire to make disciples led him to earn a master’s degree in theological studies at Dallas Baptist University in 2020 and immediately begin a Ph.D. in higher education. He completed his coursework and is now preparing to write his dissertation.

“I always had a passion for higher education. I’m a first-generation college student myself, and working in student ministry has shown me the importance of church related to higher ed,” he said, noting that the lack of mentorship during his college years spurred him into ministry. “A lot of times the church can be a big factor (in retention) because it goes back to the community through small groups, which keeps them grounded and encourages them to stay in college. The role of the student pastor helps keep those students engaged.

“I just hope to help be a voice at the table and help other young people navigate and graduate college. I am a firm believer that if you educate a community, you elevate a community,” added Nathan.

With the WinShape training through HEI, Nathan said, another piece of the retention puzzle is laid down. In a time when 75-80 percent of young people quit attending church after high school, the investment in training helps Hispanic students not only stay in college but also stay engaged in their churches, build community and grow future leaders.

“It also helps them feel valued when they see their pastor sees something in them and wants to invest in them,” noted Nathan. “If you think about the disciples, they were teenagers to young adults. So we want to encourage them that you may be 19, 20 or 21, but you can make a difference in your church and college campus.”

Fulfilling the mission

Just this past summer, 16 students from six Texas Baptists Hispanic churches attended the WinShape training through HEI, and already three small groups have been started out of those efforts. Two of those students are attending the WinShape internships offered to graduates to help lead trainings in Orlando and learn even more leadership skills.

For Rolando, the reports of multiplication coming from across the state have proven the Hispanic Education Initiative to be successful in its effort to “fulfill the mission, vision, values and priorities affirmed by Texas Baptists” and apply an intentional, comprehensive strategy to ensure church growth continues into the next generations.

“The HEI goal is to encourage believers to ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ (Matthew 22:37) We hope to develop ‘Ambassadors for Christ.’ (2 Corinthians 5:20),” said Rolando. “Because of the significant growth of the Hispanic population in Texas, higher education for Hispanic youth is essential to the future wellbeing of the state and Baptist congregations.

“Texas Baptists, through their congregations, institutions, associations and Compañerismos have a unique opportunity and responsibility to help encourage and assist Hispanic students toward the pursuit of higher education.”

To learn more about the Hispanic Education Initiative and how you can get involved or support, click here.

Texas Baptists is a movement of God’s people to share Christ and show love by strengthening churches and ministers, engaging culture and connecting the nations to Jesus.

The ministry of the convention is made possible by giving through the Texas Baptists Cooperative Program, Mary Hill Davis Offering® for Texas Missions, Texas Baptists Worldwide and Texas Baptist Missions Foundation. Thank you for your faithful and generous support.

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Read more articles in: Stories of Impact, Texas Baptists en Español, Hispanic Education Initiative