The granddaddy of U.S. Latino Protestantism, Jesse Miranda, grew up in a poor barrio in Albuquerque, New Mexico, among junk cars and, when he was older, marijuana and gangs. Miranda stayed away from the pot and the street mischief, but those junk cars helped him learn his first lesson in leadership as a small child.

"We'd sit in the cars and say, 'Let's go to California'—wherever that was," Miranda says. "One would say, 'I see the mountains,' then 'I see the desert.' Finally somebody'd say, 'I see the ocean—I guess we got there.' It was imagination: the energy, the excitement as a child." Miranda always sat in the driver's seat.

Then government urban renewal programs cleaned out the scrap-metal hulks. Miranda and his five siblings—children of a sawmill worker from the Mexican state of Chihuahua and a Spanish-descent mother with a third-grade education—had a cleaner neighborhood. But there was nothing left to challenge their imagination.

"The lesson of leadership for me was that leadership starts from within [the community] and not from without," Miranda says. "They told us what we needed and what the solution was rather than working with the community to see how we could work it out. I think we would have had a playground, had they asked what we needed."

Miranda has not forgotten how acutely he felt the needs of his native barrio, even after a lifetime of building coalitions across religious, ideological, and cultural lines. Now seven times a grandfather and founding president of the National Alliance of Evangelical Ministries (AMEN, Alianza de Ministerios Evangélicos Nacionales), Miranda is regarded as the primary visionary uniting disparate U.S. Hispanic evangelicals. He has a reputation as a sharp listener and bridge-builder ...

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