When Fermin Martinez came to America from Mexico, he did not imagine he would find work as a fisher of souls. Now, though, as the full-time pastor of the Spanish-speaking Tierra Prometida Church in Sauk Centre, he is happy to be bringing his congregation closer to God while keeping them connected to their heritage.

“My favorite thing about being a pastor is preaching and telling others about Jesus,” Martinez said through an interpreter. “I also really enjoy seeing the difference in people from when they first accepted God into their lives and seeing how God has clearly changed them. The process of change I see in people’s lives is rewarding to me.”

Martinez grew up and married in Mexico, eventually immigrating to the United States and settling in the state of Washington for about seven years.

“Just like every other Hispanic person who comes to the U.S., I came in search of work, a better life for my wife and kids and better opportunities for my family,” Martinez said.

In 2000, Martinez and his family moved to Minnesota to be in an area with better jobs, better pay and a better environment for raising children. Another thing Martinez brought with him to Minnesota was his faith; when he first arrived in the United States, someone started talking to him about Jesus and invited him to church. From there, Martinez began attending church and reading the Bible.

Martinez first moved to Melrose, eager to share what he had learned and experienced with his faith. He got together with a small Bible group, and as the group grew, they decided they should start a church, Tierra Prometida, organized under the Assemblies of God. Martinez got his education and credentials as a pastor, and while he was studying, the group brought in another pastor to minister to them.

Next, Tierra Prometida needed a building.

“We were looking for a place in Melrose to make the church,” Martinez said. “We didn’t find anything there, but we found it in Sauk Centre, and so we believe it was God’s plan for the church to be here in Sauk Centre.”

The building was the River of Life’s church on Second Street South. Martinez’ congregation began by renting the building from River of Life, and when the church got their current building on the south end of town, they sold their former building to Tierra Prometida.

Martinez used to work at Jennie O, but he has been working as a pastor full-time since 2014. The biggest change he has noticed over his years of pastoral work has been in his congregation.

“I feel as if a lot of Hispanic people who attend church sometimes come for a shorter amount of time because they’re trying to find the best place for them to stay and have better lives,” Martinez said. “They’re not always long-term people who stay in the area for very long. I’ve noticed people come and go, but what matters to me isn’t necessarily how long people stay but that they are learning about God and hearing the Gospel.”

Tierra Prometida sees congregation members who came to America from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and other countries. During fellowship, people bring a variety of their traditional foods to share.

Another way Martinez keeps his congregation grounded in their heritage is through connecting Bible stories and lessons to their culture.

“If we’re talking about Mexican Independence Day, we talk about the independence and freedom we have because of those who gave their lives for our countries,” Martinez said. “Then, we connect it to the Bible; in the same way, Jesus gave us freedom and died for our freedom.”

Living in Minnesota has been an adjustment for Martinez; the weather is cooler than Mexico, especially during the winter, and mosquito flare-ups can make it difficult to hold outdoor events. However, Martinez enjoys living in a small-town environment, especially among the friendly Minnesota population.

“I like the small town,” Martinez said. “I think it’s a lot safer. There’s not as much violence as other places; anything that has to do with gangs or things like that is not very common here. It’s very calm, and it’s a nice small town where you can raise a family without the issues of a bigger city or other places.”

Martinez sometimes feels like the broader community is not aware of Tierra Prometida, the small church tucked away in the middle of Sauk Centre. He welcomes anyone to visit the church – whether or not they are Hispanic or even speak Spanish – so they can meet the people and see how they worship.

“We have active members of our communities who are good people, who are maintaining the Minnesota nice reputation, who are continuing to be kind members of society,” Martinez said. “We want to make sure we are helping those who are in need. We believe God can change people so, as a church, we are happy to be here to serve and encourage the community to allow God to change them for the better.”