Georgia Baptist Mission Board staffer Ovidio Cabrera speaks during a Hispanic church strengthening conference in Savannah on Saturday.
By ROGER ALFORD
The Christian Index
VIENNA, Ga. – Large numbers of Hispanics arriving in the Bible Belt in search of jobs and better lives are embracing evangelical Christianity with a zeal that is sparking spiritual revival.
The result has been an infusion of excitement and an explosion of new Hispanic congregations with ties to the Southern Baptist Convention.
Julio Arriola, who leads Hispanic relations for the SBC, said shared values regarding family, hard work and an openness to discussing faith issues have made the growing immigrant population and the SBC perfect matches.
“America is blessed by the growth in the Latino population,” Arriola said. “We are more open to Gospel conversations than other groups and more prompt to respond positively to the call to become believers and disciples of Jesus.”
Southern Baptists have been reaching out to Hispanics and other ethnic groups through high-demand ministries, including language classes that help them master English as quickly as possible.
Donna Milner, who serves on the leadership team of Georgia Baptist Literacy Missions, sees God’s hand in the immigration patterns that are bringing people to states like hers where believers stand ready to help them get settled, to learn the customs, and to encounter the love of Jesus.
“It shows the great lengths that God will go to in order to give a person the opportunity to know Jesus, moving people from one country to another so they can hear the good news,” Milner said. “All of this is part of God’s big plan that gives every person the chance to believe in Jesus.”
Hispanics make up nearly 20 percent of the entire U.S. population and is by far the fastest growing ethnic group in the U.S. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that the Hispanic population will increase by 30 percent to 74 million by 2030.
To try to keep pace with the population growth, the Southern Baptist Convention, with some 3,500 Hispanic churches, is pushing hard to establish new congregations. Georgia, home to 1.1 million immigrants, has planted more than 150 new Hispanic churches affiliated with the SBC over the past decade.
Levi Skipper, who leads the Georgia Baptist Mission Board’s church strengthening ministry, said the oomph Hispanic church leaders bring to the state was on full display Saturday in Savannah at a regional church strengthening workshop.
“Their energy is off the charts,” he said of the 100 Hispanics who gathered at Primera Iglesia Bautista Hispana de Savannah for the workshop. “I was in a church filled with people with an absolute passion for reaching the world for Christ.”
Georgia Baptist Literacy Missions, which teaches English as a second language, has been key in the Southern Baptist Convention’s efforts to reach Hispanics with the gospel.
In that ministry, immigrants not only learn to speak, read and write English, but they also forge trusted relationships with enthusiastic believers, often from their homeland, who eagerly tell them about their faith in Christ.
Jhonny Rodriguez, pastor of a Vienna church plant, is using English classes as a means to reach the local immigrant population.
“You sent missionaries to our country so we would know Christ,” Rodriguez said. “Now, we come to your country as missionaries so others who come here from our countries also know Christ.”
Rodriguez, who grew up in the Dominican Republic, is teaching English as a second language to get immigrants to his Vienna church plant. He is seeing them come to faith in Christ and be blessed, as their language skills improve, with better jobs and higher standards of living. Milner said Christian leaders from Latin America are careful to teach others to share their faith.
“We need younger people who will come into our ministries and serve alongside of us learning the nuts and bolts of the ministry,” she said. “When these young people first come into the ministries, because of their age and inexperience in life, they may not be able to be effective teachers right away. But by helping a teacher, seeing the teacher model good teaching practices over and over, they learn and practice what it takes to be an effective teacher.”
Using that model, Georgia Baptist Literacy Missions Ministries group has been able to ensure they have enough teachers to replace those who cycle out.
“Nothing is more awesome or awe inspiring as to see a person accept the Lord,” she said. “And multiple people through the Literacy Missions Ministries have been introduced to Christ and come to know Him. There are different ones who after accepting Christ themselves have shared the Gospel with their families both here and in their native countries and countless numbers have come to Christ.
“Watching a young family realize as they study the Bible that they cannot do enough to earn God’s salvation but must accept His gift of love by faith trusting Him for their salvation is so rewarding. Then seeing them pass that teaching on to their children makes you sing for joy.”