Salvadorans may soon replace Cubans as the third largest U.S. Hispanic group, behind Mexicans and Puerto Ricans, according to a Pew Research Hispanic Center study.
According to Pew, based on the 2011 American Community Survey, there were 1.95 million Salvadorans living in the U.S. in 2011 compared to 1.89 million Cubans – statistically speaking, these estimates are indistinguishable. But since 2007, the Salvadoran population's growth rate has been about double that of the Cuban population (33 percent versus 17 percent). Pew predicts that Salvadorans are thus expected to overtake the Cubans in number in a matter of years.
Over 240,000 Salvadorans reside in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area alone, according to Pew, with many Hispanic congregations in the suburbs of D.C. having seen a rapid surge of Salvadoran members over the past decade.
"I remember when I first began my pastoral ministry, it was just my wife and I and a few Honduran members. Now, 11 years later, our church has grown exponentially and the majority of the flock is from El Salvador," said Nelson Juarez, a pastor in Alexandria, Va.
Juarez, who leads Centro Adonai, told The Christian Post it does not surprise him that the majority of his members hail from the "tiniest" place in Central America, considering "they are all over, from Long Beach out in California to D.C., Maryland and Virginia."
"I'm from Honduras myself, but I would say that in the 30 years that I have lived here and in the past decade that I have been a pastor, I have seen how their population has multiplied. I've seen it at my previous jobs, in my neighborhood and in our church."
Calvary Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., has also witnessed the growth of the Salvadoran community.
"Due to the high number of families from El Salvador in the Washington metro region, many families in the Latino fellowship are Salvadoran and came to the United States in the years after the civil war in El Salvador," said Jason Smith, ministry assistant at Calvary Baptist.
Each year, a group from the church sets on a mission trip to El Salvador under the direction of the Rev. Edgar Palacios, in an effort to help those in need of educational assistance while sharing the Gospel.
"Calvary Baptist Church continues to have a close relationship with Shalom Baptist Church of San Salvador and partners with this community of faith to provide university scholarships for students in El Salvador. Many recent Shalom Scholarship recipients have received degrees from various fields of study including architecture, environmental engineering, and psychology," said Smith.
Additionally, Smith says his church also supports the Latino community in the D.C. area by supporting driver's license initiatives as well as the DREAM Act both on the national level and through individual campaigning in Maryland. Calvary also tries to inform the local community about immigration reform through educational forums.
Esteban Rivera, a Cuban native and former missionary, believes the need to take the Gospel to Salvadorans both in their native country and in the U.S. is great.
"Up until I relocated to Miami two years ago, I lived in DMV (D.C., Maryland, Virginia) area all my life and I worked alongside ministers and mission groups that focused on reaching out to Salvadorans," said Rivera, who grew up in a Pentecostal church in Washington, D.C. "I traveled to El Salvador more times than I can count because the need to bring the word to Salvadorans is greater than people imagine and the need is great among those Salvadorans that live in the D.C. area too."
He remembered taking the Gospel to communities in the D.C. area "where almost every single person was from El Salvador."
The predominance of Salvadorans was also apparent at his own church in D.C. as Rivera recounted a time when a guest evangelist from Colombia visited and asked the congregation to raise their hands according to their nationality.
"When he asked how many were from El Salvador, I didn't see one hand down except for about 10 people," said Rivera.
"Back in the day, parts of Arlington were known to be predominately Salvadoran … My church did their part in conquering a lot of those souls for Christ through outreach events and I literally witnessed the conversion of many of them who now continue to serve Christ," he explained, referring to neighborhoods in south Arlington, Va., during the late 1990s.
Pastor Juarez of Alexandria echoed the sentiment, testifying to the dedication of Salvadorans.
"They're simply dedicated and they feel most comfortable being with their own," said Juarez. "So although they have the opportunity to worship closer to their homes, I thank God He has placed those Salvadoran members at my church; it would not be the same without them."