For Art Aviles, being religious doesn’t necessarily get you to heaven.
Instead, what’s important for the Wheaton resident is to follow the plain meaning of God’s word, which is never dull, and is accessible to everyone worldwide. Aviles, interim pastor for Sycamore Baptist Church, is familiar with helping people from other cultures understand God’s word just like the members of the church.
“We’re about a relationship with God through putting faith in Jesus Christ,” he said about the church.
Dan Stovall, the previous pastor, also worked with church members not only from Sycamore but from other countries such as China and India. Church member Susan Minas said the church receives all types of international students from Nigeria, Ukraine and Russia, as well.
“While the congregation is primarily white, we have always been multicultural,” she said.
She said Stovall retired in late October and a search committee, which she chairs, has brought on Aviles to lead the congregation for an estimated six months while they search for a permanent replacement.
“We trust in God we’ll find the right person, like we did with Art,” she said.
Stovall was grounded in the Bible and everyone in Sycamore knew him, she said. She remembers people saw him at Shawn’s Coffee Shop, 204 Somonauk St., so much that many people thought he worked there. He retired because he felt like it was his time, she said.
“It was scary at first, but now we see it as an opportunity to see where we can go,” she said.
Aviles officially began as interim pastor with Sunday’s service. He and his wife, Denice, grew up in Elgin and came from large families. They now have a large family themselves with six children. Before graduating from Chicago-based Moody Bible Institute in 1997, he went to California to work as a Bible translator with Wycliffe Bible Translators. He said he still works with them.
After studying linguistics in Texas, he studied at a university in Quebec, Canada, where he learned French. He went to Chad, Africa, to help translate the Bible for the Dadjo people. His background in linguistics equipped him with the skills he needed to work with people who speak an unwritten language.
“Statistically speaking, right now in the world there’s only 6,900 languages spoken in the world and out of those at least 2,000 of them do not have anything written in their own language yet,” he said.
With a team of language experts, including his wife, he analyzed the Dadjo language and determined its grammatical and sound structure before using it to translate Bible verses word for word. He said people in other cultures can be dumbfounded by Biblical scriptures because the meaning of them does not always translate well.
“It’s a lot easier to teach somebody to read in their own language rather than to teach them another language and teach them to read in that language,” he said.
Aviles worked translating the Bible for the Dadjo people more than 10 years and has been living in the United States for the past year and a half. While he doesn’t have experience working as a pastor for a church, he said he’s served in leadership roles with churches.
Aviles said he plans to get to know the people of Sycamore more. His goal with the church is making sure God’s word is relevant to everyone’s life.
“Part of that is really reaching to our community as well,” he said. “Reaching out to the neighborhoods, reaching out to the schools and the international students.”