CityFest East Texas kicked off a weeklong series of events with a celebration for the Spanish-speaking community of Tyler at Fiesta Latina.

Approximately 2,500 people from 110 Spanish-speaking churches attended the Saturday event at Green Acres’ CrossWalk Conference Center. The gathering is just one of several events that are part of the initiative, which includes prison outreaches, men’s and women’s luncheons, a rodeo-style event and the two-day festival on the square in downtown Tyler. Organizers expect people from over 440 churches to attend the two-day event on Saturday and Sunday.

Fiesta Latina kicked off with high-energy music by “La Voz Kids” contestant Brianna Arteaga, an introduction of costume characters Bob the Tomato and Larry the Cucumber from the children’s show “VeggieTales,” and a short display of BMX bike tricks across the stage. These attractions offered a taste of what’s to come at CityFest East Texas this coming weekend.

After the appeal to the children, the event continued with a worship service led by Latina Christian artist Marisol Park.

Andrew Palau, son of worldwide evangelist Luis Palau, brought greetings from his father who held a Christian crusade in Tyler in the late 1990s. CityFest East Texas is hosted by the Palau Association. Luis Palau started the ministry many years back after having worked closely with the late evangelist Billy Graham.

“My dad’s from Argentina, I was born in Colombia, and my little brother in Mexico City,” said Palau, “so a lot of our work for many years has been in Latin America. These are a lot of old-time friends. We were here in Tyler, Texas, 20 years ago or more. We have friends here from around the world, and from activities over the years.”

CityFest Executive Committee member Edgar Galdámez is one of the overseers of CityFest Fiesta Latina.

“It’s important for us to recognize that the Hispanic population plays a very important role in the city,” said Galdámez, who is campus pastor for Grace Español in Tyler. “Just in Tyler alone, and Smith County, it’s a fast-growing population and we need to engage it with things that are meaningful, and this is one of (the) things we can do.”

Palau said the vision of CityFest is for all of these people from different backgrounds and different regions to encounter God through the message of the good news in the Bible.

For one pastor, Fiesta Latina is a call to unity. Dora Giménez took over pastoral duties of her congregation after the passing of her husband, pastor and famous former South American soccer star Fabio Giménez.

Fabio played for soccer teams in Bolivia, Colombia, Uruguay and the United States before retiring in 2007 to work in ministry. In 2014, he and his family started a Spanish church in conjunction with First Baptist Church of Longview called Puertas Abiertas, which means Open Doors. Fabio was one of the initial pastors to call the Palau Association and ask for CityFest East Texas. He died in a lawn mower accident in April 2019.

“It’s an event that people aren’t used to having in the Latino community,” Giménez said through an interpreter. “I want them to see what can happen with prayer, when everyone comes together in unity. CityFest reaches a lot of people, and it’s an excellent organization, and this event has been in the works for over a year. It’s going to move a lot of people, a lot of churches, and a lot of religions, uniting them.”

Palau said his hope is that the entire community will feel warmly welcomed.

“The 400 churches are throwing the party, but it’s not for them, it’s for the whole city,” he said.

Palau shared about his personal experience of growing up doing ministry work with his father. Although he speaks some Spanish, he primarily used an interpreter while speaking at the event.

“Estoy aprendiendo, pero tengo que practicar,” he joked from the stage, which means, “I’m learning, but I have to practice.”

“I grew up in a good home, but outside of the beauty of my home, I went downhill fast,” Palau said. “Drugs, alcohol, relationships. But I began to realize, everything that I thought I was doing for fun had enslaved me.”

The event focused on Palau’s presentation of the Christian gospel.

“God came through Jesus to save us,” he said. “His greatest interest is in you. We need hope. We need an escape. We need a new start.”

Palau then gave a call to action for those who would like to receive the call of the Christian gospel.

“Sometimes we think ‘I’m not strong enough. I’ll never get out of these patterns of bad behavior.’ But there’s hope!” Palau said.

He quoted a Scripture from the biblical book of John: “To those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”

“If you want to be transformed, and you want to be changed, now is your moment.”

“CityFest has several goals, one of the primary goals is to unite the community, especially the churchwide community here, whether it be Spanish-speaking or English-speaking,” Galdámez said. “We think this is a good opportunity to rally people and say ‘see you at CityFest on Oct. 5 and 6 at the square.’’’

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