Eddy Alemán is a pastor, a church planter, and a nurturer of leaders. He’s also the RCA’s general secretary candidate.
Eddy Alemán leads a workshop on leadership at General Synod 2017.
When Eddy Alemán was five months shy of 17, he left his home country of Nicaragua as a refugee. Nicaragua was in the midst of civil war in the 1980s, and Eddy moved to Canada before he could be drafted into military service. His older brother already lived in Toronto, and Eddy moved in with him. There, he went to school and worked as a tailor, which was his family’s business in Nicaragua. He also started attending church with his brother and soon became a Christian.
“I don’t have a Christian background; my background was outside the church,” he says. That forever impressed on him the importance of evangelism, a value that has shaped much of his life and ministry.
Two years later, Eddy married Daysi Morales, a fellow Nicaraguan refugee. The Alemáns had left their church, where “everything was sin, like women wearing pants or earrings … I began asking questions,” he says. “Why is that sin?”
After the birth of their second child, David, Eddy and Daysi decided to find another church. “I didn’t want my kids to have my same experience not growing up in the church,” he says. “We wanted a different church that would allow us to worship God in a different way, where we’re going to focus more on mission and ministry rather than how people are dressed.”
They found a church plant in Toronto called Iglesia Reformada La Senda (RCA). Eddy was 21, but he knew he’d found home. It was Easter Sunday, 1992. The sermons, he recalls, were focused on following Jesus. And at La Senda, he says, “I started learning about the confessions. They used to teach in Sunday school the Heidelberg Catechism. Learning the questions and answers, and the articles of the Belgic Confession—that was good for me!”
Getting involved in everything, ever
Over the next five years, Eddy served as an elder and a deacon and as treasurer. He drove the church van, made the bulletins, and organized volunteers. “The only thing I did not do was become the leader of the women’s ministry,” he smiles. As he saw it, all that volunteering gave his pastor more opportunity to prepare for teaching. When the pastor, Andres Serrano, took a new call in 1997, Eddy was vice president of consistory. Both Serrano and the consistory urged him to become their new pastor. He told them he wasn’t a pastor, had no theological training—he just liked to serve. For a few months in the interim, he was the “unofficial pastor,” taking on some preaching responsibilities and taking off one day a week from his job as a tailor so he had time to prepare sermons. Eventually, La Senda merged with another Hispanic church plant of the Classis of Ontario. The joint congregation, called La Senda Del Amor, called a pastor. Eddy breathed a sigh of relief. “That was my church and I loved those people,” he says. “But I was not a pastor.”
Coming to terms with his calling
By then, Eddy was getting involved with the denomination that La Senda belongs to, the Reformed Church in America. In the Classis of Ontario (a classis is a group of churches, usually located near each other), he was on the discipleship committee, helping with annual training for Sunday school teachers. He began serving with the Regional Synod of Canada in urban ministries. And he joined the RCA’s Commission on Christian Action.
Relationships within the classis led to another door opening in 1998. The Classis of Ontario was looking to launch a church for Latinos in Mississauga, a suburb of Toronto. “They said, ‘Eddy, you helped us lead the transition with Andres leaving, and you led the merger of both congregations.’” He told them again that he was not a pastor, but he did offer to lead a Bible study.
The Bible study grew into Iglesia Reformada Casa de Oración. “That was my first church plant. Five people became ten, ten became twenty, twenty became sixty, sixty became 100 people. The classis was saying, ‘I think you are a pastor!’ They said, ‘You have to go to seminary.’”
The next year, they brought in a new pastor for the church plant and Eddy became the Spanish-language church planter for a new church in downtown Toronto—Iglesia Reformada Vida Nueva—that was multilingual in Portuguese, Spanish, and English. He was still protesting his qualifications and his calling. The other church planter had an M.Div. and a Ph.D. in intercultural ministry. “Me, I was barely done with a bachelor’s,” Eddy says. But when that congregation grew to more than 100 people within a year, Eddy finally reconciled himself to his calling as a pastor.
In 2001, he registered at Western Theological Seminary, moving to the United States two weeks before the September 11 attacks.
Finally a pastor, officially
Eddy graduated from Western in 2004 with a Master of Divinity degree. He expected to return home to Canada but was instead called by Tulare Community Church (RCA) in California to join their church planting efforts. “I ended up in Chowchilla, California, a really small town,” Eddy recalls. To someone who had lived in Managua, Nicaragua, and Toronto, Ontario, Chowchilla was tiny. He didn’t like it at first. But over his five years there, he and his family put down deep roots.
“God really blessed us. We planted seven churches.” Those churches were the first Hispanic churches in the 70-year history of Central California Classis. “Part of the history of the RCA is we follow where people move,” Eddy says. He asked questions: Why was the RCA just doing ministry with the farmers, and not with all the people who lived in the area? The classis took that seriously and got behind Eddy as he started a training center for Hispanic leaders. The commissioned pastor designation, which had been approved in 2002, allowed for elders to be trained and commissioned for ministry without attending seminary. Eddy began training the first Hispanic commissioned pastors, and they planted churches in Chowchilla, Fresno, Manteca, Merced, Modesto, Riverbank, and Sacramento. A local dairy farmer shared Eddy’s vision and supported the training center and the church planting efforts. When Eddy was approached by the Christian Reformed Church in North America about planting a church for them in the Central Valley, he told them he didn’t need a job, but he liked their vision. They started working together.
“I baptized a lot of people there,” he says. “I was so extremely happy doing that.”
While he was teaching commissioned pastors, he also continued his own learning with a Master of Arts degree in New Testament from Fresno Pacific University Biblical Seminary.
In five years, Eddy had come to love the area. He told Daysi, “I’m going to stay here. I’m going to die here. I’m going to buy my grave site in the cemetery,” he says. But again, God had other plans.
Back to the city
It took more than a year of invitation, plus two months of prayer and discernment, before Eddy and Daysi moved to Paramount, California. At Emmanuel Reformed Church, Eddy became pastor of church planting and Hispanic ministries. “I believe that more than a pastor, God has called me to be an equipper of the saints,” he says. “At Emmanuel, I began doing some things different. I didn’t do what a normal pastor would do, like visitation, like leading Bible studies. I trained an army of people to do a lot of pastoral calling rather than doing myself the pastoral calling. I had 45 people doing that. We grew fast—multiplication is better than addition.”
Over five years, the Hispanic congregation grew from 80 people to more than 900 Hispanic people connected with the church. They planted 11 churches in Los Angeles and Orange County. In fact, many of the original 80 people became the launch team for the first church plant, and Emmanuel’s Spanish-language congregation started again with just 20 people. Of the 11 new churches, three were Spanish-speaking, one Nepalese, and seven were English-speaking multiethnic churches.
The denomination comes calling
In 2014, then–general secretary Tom De Vries flew to Los Angeles to recruit Eddy. “He talked to me about Transformed & Transforming [the RCA’s 15-year goal] and Hispanic ministries. We had a really interesting conversation,” Eddy recalls. The conversation led the Alemáns to move again, this time to Grand Rapids, Michigan, where Eddy became the RCA’s director of strategic leadership development and coordinator of Hispanic ministries.
For the last four years, Eddy has overseen one of the three strategic priorities of Transformed & Transforming: leadership. He’s worked with pastors and churches to identify leaders, help those leaders grow, and develop systems that make leadership development a regular part of ministry. He’s also led an initiative of Transformed & Transforming (Emerging Leaders) and supervised other staff and initiatives. As coordinator of Hispanic ministries, he has worked closely with the RCA’s 65 Hispanic churches and with the Council for Hispanic Ministries, of which he was vice president from 2006-2008. Under his leadership, the council set a goal to plant 50 new churches in five years. Within the first year, 20 churches were underway.
- Read about one of those churches, Iglesia Vida/Life Church, in Yakima, Washington, and how a conversation with Eddy got the whole thing started.
Another reluctant call
Today, Eddy will tell you he believes serving as general secretary is a calling from God. A few months ago, though, he didn’t see it that way.
He’s Latino, and he didn’t think the RCA was ready for somebody like him. And he’s quiet. He doesn’t light up the room (his words), and he doesn’t like being the center of attention. “I’m not a politician. I don’t please people. And this position, you have to do a lot of that,” he says. But five things happened that changed his mind.
First, he got emails from friends who thought he should apply. Not just one or two, but a lot, and not just Latino leaders, but leaders from across the denomination. He politely thanked them.
Second, he got phone calls from other people. He told them (slightly less politely) that he wasn’t white, nor was he Dutch, nor was he applying.
Third, Michelle Chahine from the search team contacted Eddy. People had recommended candidates to the search team, and Eddy’s name was on the list. He started to think about it.
Fourth, he heard from God on the road to Damascus. (Actually, it was Detroit.) “I was driving to one of our learning communities in Detroit in August,” he recalls. “It was on a Saturday morning. I was praying for the RCA, praying for the search team, in my car. When I pray, I like to speak aloud. I talk to God aloud. I said, ‘God, we need you here. Tom is gone. Tony died. Two of our key leaders for the RCA are gone now. One went to be with you, and the other went to lead a really important ministry for world leadership. But now I’m praying for the RCA, for the search team—give them wisdom.’ And then I said, ‘Bring the right person that can lead us into the next phase of ministry in the RCA. And I want to work well with that person.’ And then the Holy Spirit told me, ‘You are that person.’ It was like crazy! I’m Reformed—I’m not supposed to be hearing things!”
He stopped the car and got out. Like Moses, he brought up all the things that disqualified him for the role. Then, after the meeting, he went home and told Daysi. He asked her: Should I do that?
Her response was the fifth thing. “Daysi said, ‘Go for it!’ I said, ‘Aren’t you going to pray?’ She said, ‘No! He said your name!’”
So Eddy submitted his application materials just before the deadline. “When I see those guys like [general secretaries emeritus] Ed Mulder, Wes Granberg-Michaelson, Tom De Vries, those shoes are too big for me. I’m just a regular guy who loves Jesus.” If God wanted to do something, he figured, God would do something.
The search team interviewed six of its 19 candidates, and after one round of interviews they voted unanimously for Eddy Alemán.
General Synod Council, the governing board of the denomination, approved Eddy as the general secretary candidate at its March meeting. They will present him for approval to General Synod 2018 in June.
“My prayer for the denomination is the same prayer of Jesus, John 17—to listen more carefully to the teachings of Jesus and engage in the work that we have been called to, to expand the kingdom of God in the world. My prayer is that we will again take the mission of Jesus seriously.”
Eddy and Daysi Alemán will return to Nicaragua this fall to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary. They have three grown children, Eddy, David, and Rebecca, and three grandchildren, Matthew, Aiden, and Camila.