The Cleveland newcomer said she wanted to widen out in her personal ministry to preach to more Hispanics in an area where the need was greater for bilingual speakers. After prayerful consideration, the intrepid teenager packed her bags and left the Big Apple for the congenial community of Bradley County.
“I ended up moving to Cleveland because my sister moved here originally for a while,” said Firpo. “She was telling me how she preaches to people — and there’s a lot of Hispanic people here — but they need even more people here to give them a witness. So I said, ‘O.k, I’ll come over!’ In New York it’s so many people. There’s not really a need for Spanish-speaking people.”
Although she’s only been in Cleveland for a year, Firpo says she loves the Southern hospitality and down-home atmosphere of the community, which is vastly different from some of the mean streets of New York. Explaining the differences, Firpo said, “There are less people, for sure. You have to get use to that. There is also a different culture. It’s more white Americans here.
“Where I lived there was only Spanish speakers and African-Americans. That’s it. Then getting used to how we preach. Up there you walk a lot and knock on doors. But not a lot of people opened their doors. If they did you could only talk for about three minutes. Down here, people actually listen and invite you in. Also, you drive a lot more from one door to the next down here.”
Firpo said she is enjoying the differences in her ministry after moving because it requires her to study more, since people will allow her to talk longer and even answer their Bible questions.
Moving to an area she had never been to reach out to people she has never known — without economic security — took a real leap of faith for a teenager. But Firpo, a regular pioneer in the local Spanish-Speaking congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, said she is confident in the words of Jesus who said, “‘Seek first the kingdom and His righteousness and all these other things will be added to you.’”
“Jesus also said, ‘I am with you all the days until the conclusion of the system of things,’” said Firpo, who works part-time at the CVS Pharmacy in Cleveland.
Because the growing Hispanic community in Cleveland is less preoccupied than that of New York, Firpo believes they have the opportunity to show more respect for the Bible and its message.
“Not that they don’t respect it in New York, but because it is such a rush place — they don’t give it as much importance as they do the people in Cleveland. I love it here,” she said. “I like how there are more trees, fields and horses — it’s not all buildings and clutter. And the people are nicer.”
Firpo said her ultimate goal is to serve where the need is greater, in Russia.
“I really like the language and I know they need a lot of help because of what is going on in Russia and their attack on freedom of religious speech.”
According to Firpo, learning other languages allows her to speak to a wider variety of people, something she values as a “people person” who is striving to reach all sorts of people with the good news.
“It broadens your horizons,” she said. “I can interpret for people who don’t speak Spanish. It also helps me as a Christian to reach out to people in English and in Spanish.”
Firpo said she encourages others to learn more than one language. Currently, she is learning Russian on her own in order to speak to even more people about Jesus Christ and God’s Kingdom.
According to the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, learning a second language at an early age has a positive effect on intellectual growth.
It enriches and enhances a child’s mental development, improves a child’s understanding of their native language, opens the door to other cultures and helps in understanding and appreciating people from other countries. It also increases job opportunities in many careers where knowing another language is an asset.
Research supports the idea that bilingual abilities can delay or even prevent dementia. According to experts, when you speak more than one language you need to have the ability to differentiate between two distinct sets of language rules and words. This engages a latent part of the brain not found in non-bilingual people.
Bilingualism is said to have a particularly positive effect on the frontal lobe, the area that is responsible for human intellect. According to the Associated Press, 66 percent of the children in the world are now being raised to speak two languages.