Christianity Today | Died: Jesse Miranda, Hispanic Evangelicals’ Bridge-Builder

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.

A 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 (and a CT board member) 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.

“My parents were my first mentors, even in reconciliation,” he told CT in 2002. “I remember I was 13 or 14, and I said, ‘Dad, Catholics never read the Bible,’ because I never saw him read it. ‘Mother, you read the Bible but never come to the Book of Acts.’

“And then they would turn around and say, ‘And you Pentecostals never leave the Book of Acts.’ So I saw my shortcomings and I saw differences. Yet we loved and respected one another so that we really enjoyed our fellowship. And we all affirmed one another.”

By age 20, Miranda had become a minister with the Assemblies of God (AG) and went on to earn degrees at a number of Southern California universities, including a bachelor’s at Vanguard University, a master’s at Biola and another at Cal State Fullerton, and a doctorate from Fuller Theological Seminary, a process that took 20 years of attending class on Tuesday and Thursday evenings.

Miranda served as an instructor at the Latin America Bible Institute from 1959 to 1978. Within his denomination, Miranda oversaw 400 Latino churches when he served as the AG’s Southern Pacific Latin American District superintendent from 1984 to 1992. In 1995, he began serving as an AG executive presbyter, a position that he held for 22 years.

Doug Clay, the general superintendent of the Assemblies of God described Miranda’s impact as “immeasurable.” “Beyond the enormity of his influence, he was equally known for his humility and eagerness to serve,” tweeted Clay. “Heaven is rejoicing to welcome him home.”

After a tenure at Azusa Pacific University, Miranda returned to his alma mater, Vanguard, where he supported the campus’s Latino students as the director of the Center for Urban Studies and Ethnic Leadership, later renamed in honor of him. (His son, Jack, later succeeded him as executive director of the Jesse Miranda Center for Hispanic Leadership.)

Miranda was also the author of The Christian Church in Ministry and Liderazgo y Amistad(Leadership and Friendship). But Miranda’s greatest gifts lay in his ability to bring diverse groups of people together and build institutions. He was passionate about creating unity within the Latino church—and outside of it.

“He will be remembered for his profound influence on racial reconciliation, theology, and leadership in the church,” tweeted Biola University president Barry Corey.

In 2013, Miranda partnered with Christianity Today to develop Christianismo Hoy, a digital publication for Hispanic Christians.

“The church must not see diversity as a problem to be solved but rather as the way to complete its prophetic identity,” wrote Miranda in the announcement. “To this end, racial and ethnic groups are the social and spiritual capital of the Body of Christ.”

Beyond his evangelical ties, Miranda was also politically connected. An advisor on immigration to the Clinton and both Bush presidential administrations, he encouraged Latino pastors to work with President George W. Bush’s faith-based initiatives.

Leith Anderson, the outgoing president of the National Association of Evangelicals, where Miranda had served on the board, described him as “a warm, humble and gracious Christian brother.”

“When I first met him … I didn’t realize what an amazing and influential leader Jesse Miranda was and became,” said Anderson in a statement. “He blessed so many, so significantly for so long.”

Miranda was married to his wife, Susan, for 62 years and was survived by three children and nine grandchildren.

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