Church of the New Covenant creates endowment with ABHMS to support Latino/a ministries

VALLEY FORGE, PA (04/25/2024)—American Baptist Home Mission Societies (ABHMS) extends its deep gratitude to the Church of the New Covenant (CNC), Phoenix, Ariz., for its generous $100,000 donation to create The Joel H. Ayala Endowed Latino/a Ministries Fund. This endowment will advance work in three areas critical to the CNC’s historical mission: immigration of Latinos, including undocumented persons; Latino/a education, scholarships and stipends; and addressing the needs of Latinos/as with disabilities.

Rev. Joel H. Ayala graphic

Rev. Joel H. Ayala

The CNC was founded in 1983 by 12 laypeople and American Baptist pastor the Rev. Joel H. Ayala as a response to the deaths of 12 people from El Salvador who were fleeing the violence in their country. They had succumbed to thirst and exposure while attempting to cross the Arizona desert.

Although this tragedy generated headlines, Phoenix-area churches, including the American Baptist Latino Church, the wellspring of the CNC, were not spurred to action. They remained largely apathetic to the plight of immigrants or fearful of the repercussions of any illegality associated with aiding undocumented persons.

Yet, these deaths did alarm Ayala and other individuals, including a Roman Catholic nun named Sister Margaret, a Lutheran pastor, and a United Church of Christ administrator. They shared concerns and eventually formed an ecumenical Central America Task Force. The work of this task force led to the Sanctuary Movement of the 1980s.

Tensions arising from the deaths of the Salvadoran asylum-seekers created a rift in the American Baptist Latino Church, which led to the departure of Ayala and 12 church members. They founded the Church of The New Covenant in the spirit of Matthew 25,  a new ”ministry of the laity, ecumenical, multiracial, and multicultural focused on serving immigrants,” according to an ABC National Ministries winter newsletter published in 1985.

The members of the new church committed to challenging all forms of injustice and oppression. In practical terms, they helped immigrants file requests for political asylum, taught them  English, supported families with immediate needs, found school placement for children, and sought out employment opportunities. “Each of us has discovered an individual responsibility to offer community to those without community,” stated a CNC newsletter.

The CNC remained highly active throughout the years. Ayala and two congregants served on the ABC General Board, and in 1985 Ayala received the ABC Luke Mowbrey award for his ecumenical involvement. He served with the Arizona Ecumenical Council and was chaplain for the Maricopa County Jail and the Maricopa County Hospital. His associate and one of the original church founders, Josefina E. Durán, served on the boards of ABC National Ministries and Church Women United. She represented American Baptist Women at the United Nations International Women’s Decade in Kenya in 1986, and she also received The Meeker Award from Ottawa University.

After Ayala transitioned from the CNC in 2000, Duran was licensed by American Baptist Churches USA and served as pastor to the CNC’s aging congregation.

Confronted by changing times, the congregation recently decided to close the church while concurrently establishing an effective way to continue its ministry with its tithing fruits of 40 years. After much research, it chose to partner with ABHMS in that effort by creating a $100,000 endowed fund.

Dr. Jeffrey Haggray, ABHMS’ executive director, said: “ABHMS thanks the Church of the New Covenant for this very generous gift. We are honored it has entrusted us with the means to facilitate its support of Latino/a communities. As committed stewards and God’s faithful  servants, we look forward to using the funds to advance the goals of Latino/a ministries at ABHMS.”

The Rev. Abner Cotto-Bonilla, ABHMS’ national coordinator for Latino Ministries, describes The Joel H. Ayala Endowed Fund as a blessing for many Latino families, not only as a financial resource but also as an enduring legacy of the CNC, which arose from the tragedy that befell Salvadoran immigrants in the Arizona desert in September 1983.

“I admire what Pastor Joel H. Ayala did, when he, and other members, assisted people who were seeking asylum after a difficult time El Salvador was getting through,” said Cotto-Bonilla. “His  passion and courage set an example and reflect the purpose of this fund.”

To further advance the work of The Joel H. Ayala Endowed Latino/a Ministries Fund with your contribution, visit The Ayala Endowment.

For more information about ABHMS and its missiological priorities, visit