By John W. Coleman
Casa del Pueblo, the Latino Ministry of Lehman UMC in Hatboro, served more than 140 people, including dine-in and take-out orders, at its International Dinner on Friday, Sept. 16. A banquet of savory dishes from more than a half-dozen countries—Guatemala, El Salvador, Dominican Republic, the U.S., Puerto Rico, Spain, Mexico, Nicaragua—filled plates and stomachs, while talented musicians filled the air with the sounds of music.
Those sounds came courtesy of Anawim, Casa del Pueblo’s new music school, which begins its second semester this Friday, Sept. 23.
“We had a great time with live music from some of the teachers, one of the piano students and the organist from Lehman (Doug Tester), who also played two Spanish pieces,” recalled Casa del Pueblo’s pastor, the Rev. Lilian “Luky” Cotto. Two of the teachers who performed were her husband, the Rev. Irving Cotto, and her son Andres Cotto, who played songs together on the guitar and the Cajon, a Peruvian percussion instrument.
Luky Cotto is a missionary with the Global Ministries National Plan for Hispanic/Latino Ministry assigned to the Eastern PA Conference and appointed to Lehman UMC/Casa del Pueblo. She started planting Casa del Pueblo at Lehman eight years ago from a collection of Latino house churches meeting in the nearby homes of Hatboro, Warrington and Warminster residents.
Most of the International Dinner’s food was donated by parents of students, businesses and members of Anawim’s board of directors, Cotto reported, so that the ministry could reach its fundraising goal. Even Lehman members, during church services the following Sunday, voiced their enjoyment and their desire to host another event where the community, church members and students could again share their talents.
Cotto leads Casa del Pueblo’s praise and worship services in Spanish at Lehman every Sunday at 9:30 AM. During the week, she and members continue to gather in their homes, communities and at the church for prayer, fellowship and Bible study. ESL (English as a Second Language), Spanish and tutoring classes meet at the church three days a week.
But on Fridays, from 5 to 8 PM, La Escuelita de Musica (The Music School) fills Lehman’s sprawling church building with the sound of music coming from eager young students, each a work in progress. The school’s Hebrew biblical name, Anawim, (pronounced ah-nah-weem), is used frequently in the Psalms and in Jesus’ Beatitudes statement, “Blessed are the poor,” to describe “the poor who depend on the Lord for deliverance.”
It also describes many of the Latino families here whose children lack music instruction so important to them in their local schools. A nearby Catholic school planned to stop teaching music this fall, which Cotto expects will grow her program’s enrollment from the 20 students she had in June.
Anawim, which offered 17 weeks of classes in the spring, will return with an encore of classes in guitar, piano, drums, violin and percussion instruments. A new class in liturgical dance may also meet on Tuesday evenings. Eight girls have signed up so far, but others are sure to join them as more parents learn about it.
Cotto said she got the idea for Anawim from a similar, successful ministry started by the Rev. Owen Ross at Christ’s Foundry (La Fundición de Cristo) UM Mission in Dallas, Texas. Ross shared his innovative, well-funded program’s model when he spoke at the Eastern PA Conference Latino Convocation in May 2015. (See the article Dallas pastor shares ministry insights with Latino Commission.)
But Anawim is actually a dream Cotto has had for a long time. Her father directed a music conservancy in her hometown in Guatemala. “He always wanted me to be a music teacher,” she said quietly. “I’m the only one of his four children who doesn’t sing or play an instrument. But like him, I now run a music school.”
Cotto sees results when her young students play for recitals and worship services, and when their parents come to Casa del Pueblo to celebrate and support them. About 40 visibly proud family members and Lehman members attended the school’s year-end recital and reception on Friday, June 24. Many of them want to help make the school a success.
The school is seeking more support to pay for instruments and music teachers, while trying to keep fees low for each student. Efrain Cotto Jr., Luki Cotto’s brother-in-law, who helps direct Anwim, recruited instructors from Artístas y Músicos Latino Americanos (AMLA), a 10-year-old non-profit artists’ organization started by Esperanza, Inc., in North Philadelphia to “promote the development, dissemination and understanding of Latin American music and culture in the Philadelphia/Delaware Valley Region with a strong emphasis on youth.”
Otherwise, Anawim depends on volunteer instructors and modest support from church members and other local sources. But one new national source of funding and strategic development support is the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries’ Office of Community Developers.
Casa del Pueblo was accepted this year as a new project in the Community Developers Program, which is funded by the church wide Human Relations Day offering and additionally, by gifts through the Advance. The program supports racial-ethnic congregations and communities that engage jointly in efforts to promote social justice and community development, leading to the fulfillment of human potential.
John Coleman photos.