Oscar Romo, Golden Gate Seminary’s CLD Founder, Dies

Oscar I. Romo, a pioneer in ethnic evangelism and church planting, died Friday, January 16, of pneumonia related to Parkinson’s disease. 

“Romo had a vision to train ethnics to start churches, to develop into pastors, to become missionaries,” recalled Don Beall, Golden Gate Seminary’s CLD Director. “He was the person who negotiated with Dr. Bill Pinson, who was the Seminary’s president in 1979, to partner together to establish the ELD, which is now known as CLD, Contextualized Leadership Development."

Romo was the Southern Baptists’ first ethnic elected to a national leadership position. For 25 years Romo lead efforts in evangelism and church planting among the nation’s growing ethnic groups. 

Two years ago, during the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in San Antonio, Romo was honored by Hispanic Southern Baptists for his nearly 50 years of strategy development and work with ethnic groups, dating back to his first pastorate in 1948 until his retirement from the mission board in 1995. 

During that era Southern Baptist ethnic congregations grew from less than a thousand to 9,000. His groundbreaking work helped establish the denomination as the nation's most ethnically diverse faith group, a position it maintains today. 

Romo was a friend to diplomats in Washington and the United Nations and was a familiar figure in 40 seaports, government agencies, and the White House. He provided leadership to Baptists in Panama, Cuba, and American Samoa and influenced ministry in Latin America, Europe, the Pacific Rim and Asia. 

Bob Sena, a church planting coordinator for North American Mission Board, knew Romo for nearly 40 years. Sena said while Romo was proud to be Hispanic, he was committed to the Great Commission of reaching all people groups, not only Hispanics, and thus had a global impact. 

"Oscar would say to me, 'Bob, don't forget ... while you are Hispanic, think beyond yourself. We must reach all people because they all need the Gospel,'" Sena recounted. 

"He was a pioneer for sure," Sena said. "But unlike some pie-in-the-sky guys, he was also practical and focused on finding, training and encouraging ethnic leaders to serve in key positions in Southern Baptist life." 

Beall, Golden Gate’s CLD Director, describes Romo’s influence by recounting an example, “One Hispanic pastor in the Riverside, California area graduated from CLD and began a Spanish Southern Baptist Church that now runs 2,300 on Sunday, and is sending out other church planters. All because God gave Oscar Romo a vision to train men and women in their language, where they lived, starting where they were. What a vision!”