Miami pastor Augusto Valverde, a longtime leader in the National Hispanic Fellowship of Southern Baptist Churches (Confraternidad Hispana Bautista Nacional), died Wednesday, July 17. He was 71.
Valverde, the fellowship’s current president, had served in the post nine times since the early 2000s and also served several years as its executive director.
He was one of the founding members of the new Southern Baptist Hispanic Leaders Council, which held its first national gathering prior to June’s SBC annual meeting in Birmingham, Ala.
Recently celebrating his five decades as an ordained Baptist minister, he had health issues in recent months and died at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami.
Valverde was senior pastor of Iglesia Bautista Un Nuevo Amanecer, which he founded nine years ago in the Miami Baptist Association.
He previously was pastor of Iglesia Bautista Resurreccion in Miami for 24 years, leading the church in planting 15 churches in Florida, in his native country of Argentina and in Nicaragua and Honduras.
Valverde was active in all levels of Southern Baptist life, in the Miami Baptist Association, including serving as the moderator and numerous other positions, and in the Florida Baptist Convention’s ministries, serving on several convention committees.
In addition to the National Hispanic Fellowship, he also was active in local and state Hispanic fellowships.
Valverde seldom missed any of the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meetings and related well to SBC leaders and fellow pastors.
A native of San Juan, Argentina, whose parents and grandparents were committed Christians, he made a profession of faith and was baptized at Primera Iglesia Bautista de San Juan in September 1963. He and his wife Eunice were married in 1970, and soon thereafter he was ordained as a pastor. He served several churches in Argentina before coming to the United States to pastor in 1986.
In Argentina, Valverde served as part of the leadership team of the Luis Palau evangelistic organization for many years. In the U.S., he was involved in the Hay Vida en Jesus (“There Is Life in Jesus”) revival movement.
Bobby Sena, Hispanic relations consultant for the SBC Executive Committee, said Valverde was “an extraordinary minister – a brother and friend of each member of his congregation … whether they were older or younger.”
“His house was a refuge for many,” Sena said. “When he made friends, and he had many, he spared no effort to be helpful to them in an uncommonly empathetic and loving relationship. There was not the slightest bit of hypocrisy in him.
“He was an energetic man, but humble – with little use for positions and privileges,” Sena continued. “He was passionate about the work, always generating new projects. His vision was always that the center of Kingdom purpose is the church, not in structures. When he made a mistake, he was able to recognize it and ask for forgiveness…. Certainly, he said what he thought … because he did not believe much in cultural patterns, but in the freedom of expression of ideas and feelings.”
Julio Fuentes, pastor of Iglesia Bautista Nueva Vida in West Park, Fla., and a colleague with Valverde in the Hispanic fellowship, said one of Valverde’s church members once remarked, “When you meet Valverde, it is impossible not to believe in God.”
Valverde maintained a “solid spiritual life for all the years of his life. The reading of the Word and devout and fervent prayer to which he dedicated long periods of the day – those were his great passion. To his friends, when together, he would get us up at dawn to pray and read the Word.
“I do not remember meeting a congregation that loved its pastor more,” Fuentes said. “Like his Master, he was always willing to give his life for his sheep. Who was hurting that Pastor Valverde did not hurt with that person? Who was experiencing joy that Pastor Valverde did not join in celebration of that joy?”
Valverde brought his involvement in evangelistic crusades in Argentina to the U.S., Fuentes said, “and promoted them until the last days of his life. It began with its own church organizing crusades, the first had 1,500 professions of faith. He must have participated in recent years in more than 30 events of this type.”
Fuentes said the crusades “contained the elements that motivated him: prayer for the unconverted and relational evangelism long before the crusade, where volunteer missionaries came from other states and countries to bless the churches with their work. The effectiveness of the method has been proven. Thirty missionaries can reach 300-400 people for Christ in a week.” Valverde also helped organize Hispanic outreach for numerous Crossover evangelism efforts prior to each year’s SBC annual meeting.
Elias Bracamonte, also a former president of the National Hispanic Baptist Fellowship, said, “It was an honor to do God’s Kingdom work alongside Pastor Augusto Valverde. His kind words of encouragement were always uplifting. As a mentor, I recall that he would say, ‘May I please suggest the following….’ His passion for Hispanic people was twofold: his call for church unity to do God’s Kingdom work and reaching the present generation with the gospel.”
Valverde, in a 2018 Baptist Press story, described unity as “always important and vital to accomplish great things. I believe that we are stronger when we are united, that’s the heart of Jesus.”
Whenever criticism and division occur among Hispanic leaders, “we need to humble ourselves and ask forgiveness and learn to love and respect each other to reach this intrinsic unity that we need so much as the people of God,” Valverde said.
“We must not see the victories of our partners as rivalries. Let’s join in their joy. Their triumph should be my triumph and their defeat should be mine too.”
Tommy Green, executive director of the Florida Baptist Convention, said the state’s Baptists “have been richly blessed through the faithful and dynamic ministry of Pastor Augusto Valverde. His influence and impact is great in South Florida. We join together thanking God for this anointed servant and praying for peace and comfort for his family.”
Emanuel Roque, Valverde’s son-in-law and Hispanic church catalyst for the Florida convention, said the family is grateful “for the prayers, thoughts and support of so many brothers, friends and family who have prayed and blessed us in these days…. The hope of Christ for eternal life is made real for all who believe.”
In addition to his wife, Valverde is survived by his daughter Roxanna Roque; his son Esteban and daughter-in-law Mercy; and four grandchildren.
A celebration of life service will be at 8 p.m. today at the Florida Baptist Southeast Regional Center/First Baptist Church, Hialeah, with visitation at 7 p.m. A funeral service will be at noon Saturday, July 20, at Caballero Rivero Woodlawn Park South in Miami.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Raúl Lema Jr. is professor of missions and south regional coordinator for Florida for New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Art Toalston is senior editor of Baptist Press.)