The spirit of the service impressed him greatly along with seeing so many people being saved and baptized. Sometime later, he found out that the church had started a Baptist Bible college called Hyles-Anderson College. After seeing how God was using the ministry of the First Baptist Church of Hammond, he and his girlfriend (now his wife, Martha Fernandez) decided that after they were married, this was the place where they wanted to learn how to serve the Lord.
During his first years at the First Baptist Church of Hammond, Dr. Fernandez was greatly moved by the zeal and spirit of the many Christians that gathered yearly at the Pastors’ School Conferences, but none impacted him as greatly as the 1976 Pastors’ School. More than 5,000 Christians gathered at that year’s conference to learn and receive training in how to do the Lord’s work and reach the lost for Christ. He dreamed of the day when God would make such a meeting possible amongst the Spanish-speaking independent fundamental Baptists, for such a feat had never been accomplished.
Shortly before his graduation from Hyles-Anderson in 1977 and to Dr. Fernandez’s surprise, Dr. Jack Hyles asked him to be the first Spanish pastor at the First Baptist Church of Hammond. The small Spanish department had been around since 1966 under the direction of Mrs. Rose O’Brien. It consisted of two Sunday school classes (one for men and one for women) and a junior church in which he worked while attending college. After Sunday school, the members of the classes would go to the English service where special translating equipment was used. Rather than continue this way, Dr. Hyles saw the vision of expanding the small Sunday school into a full ministry with three services per week for the Spanish-speaking people in their own language. So, in March of 1977, the first services were held in Spanish.
Discouragement and opposition immediately followed, not by unbelievers, but by other Spanish pastors who claimed that what God was doing amongst English-speaking Christians would not be possible with the Spanish-speaking people due to their strong ties to Catholicism and tradition. During that time, an independent fundamental Baptist church consisting of at least 200 members was unheard of amongst the Spanish-speaking community. The comment made by those pastors nearly put out the fire that Dr. Fernandez had for reaching his people. He thought, “If other great men of God have not been successful, neither will I, for who am I to think that I can do great things for God in the Spanish-speaking world?” He went to be alone with the Lord and asked: “Lord, what do I do?” Suddenly, he felt the Lord speak to his heart saying that it was not about Elmer Fernandez, but about Him and His principles. He then realized that we all have the same Holy Spirit, all sinners are just as precious in the Lord’s sight and, without a doubt, we also have the powerful Word of God at our hands. Why wouldn’t it be possible for God to do something great? So, he began to put into practice all he had learned through his training; he started reaching souls, pointing them to Christ, and training others to do likewise.
By the grace of God, in March of 1987, on the day the Spanish ministry of First Baptist Church of Hammond celebrated their 10th anniversary as a church, God gave them a spectacular day with more than 3,029 Spanish-speaking people in attendance on that day alone! During those 10 years, the Lord allowed them to see more than 35,000 people walk down the aisle and make professions of faith and an average attendance of 1,400 every Sunday. God showed them that He could work in the Spanish-speaking world with anyone who simply depended on Him and allowed himself to be used by God
The vision from that Pastors’ School in 1976 together with what God was doing at the Spanish ministry of First Baptist Church of Hammond burdened Dr. Fernandez to pass on to other Spanish pastors the training and motivation he had received. This burden would become the fundamental motive behind the Fires of Evangelism Conferences.
Fires of Evangelism’s roots can be traced back to the Pastors’ School Conferences held at the First Baptist Church of Hammond, Indiana during the 1970s. In 1972, while still living in Joliet, IL, as a single man, Dr. Fernandez was invited by some men from his church to attend the First Baptist Church of Hammond, Indiana, for a special program they were having that Sunday which they called “Old-Fashioned Sunday.” He could not believe what he saw that day; there were so many people gathered at the church.