The rapid growth of the Hispanic population in Jefferson County has birthed several ministries north of Birmingham, including a church plant slated for later this year by a Hispanic Baptist congregation.
The Central Alabama Baptist Hispanic Ministry Coalition, led by Cary Hanks, former missionary to Ecuador who now works as a catalytic missionary to help churches reach the Hispanic community, guides much of the ministry effort in north Jefferson County.
The Coalition is a partnership between the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions (SBOM) and North Jefferson, Birmingham, Bessemer, Shelby, Mud Creek, Pleasant Grove and Bibb Baptist associations.
According to Hanks, the center of activity is in Fultondale, where ministry has been focused in the 100 Oaks community for several years. A mobile unit provided by SBOM serves as a ministry center and North Jefferson Association operates and maintains the facility.
What originally began as a tutoring ministry organized by a small group of ladies from First Baptist Church, Mount Olive, led to Bible studies and additional programs. Hanks and other leaders say a church is the next step.
Church planting effort
“To our knowledge there is not a Hispanic evangelistic church in that area and we feel like one is needed,” Hanks said of the church planting effort, which is led by the Hispanic congregation of Dawson Memorial Baptist Church, Birmingham. Many from the Hispanic community in north Jefferson County make the trip to Dawson each Sunday for worship, and Hispanic Pastor Bayron Mosquera said his church has been praying for an opportunity to start a new missions work in the Birmingham metro area.
“It was through different people and circumstances that God showed us that north Jefferson County is the place where this mission is needed,” Mosquera said.
The planting of a Hispanic congregation by an existing Hispanic church is thought to be the first effort of its kind in Alabama, according to Ben Hale, evangelism and missions pastor at Dawson.
The church planting effort will focus its outreach within a triangular corridor going north from Dawson into north Jefferson County, including the cities of Tarrant, Forestdale, Gardendale, Adamsville and Fultondale. A site has yet to be selected, and Hanks said it is possible the Hispanic church will be a congregation within another church in the area.
Regardless of location, the church plant will seek to reach children and their families, which is a challenging task because of language and cultural barriers.
“The language barrier is the main thing,” Hanks said. “The children speak English well because they are in school. But for the adults their first language, their heart language, is Spanish. So when the service is just in English, that’s a barrier to the gospel for many of the parents.”
First Baptist Church, Fultondale, has experienced this barrier first hand. The church has 25–35 Hispanic students who come on Wednesday nights. The children speak English, but many of their parents do not. In an effort to reach out to the parents, First, Fultondale, recently hired a Spanish language translator. Beginning March 12, Spanish speakers can hear the worship service in their heart language using a headset. Pastor Mika Marcum said his church has already seen new people coming to church and church members are excited about the outreach opportunity the translated service offers.
Though the Hispanic population in Jefferson County remains small — 4 percent of the total population in 2014, according to U.S. Census Bureau data — between 1990 and 2014 the population grew from 2,745 to 24,828. Statewide data suggests that more than half of those residents are U.S. born, and their average age is 14.
A particular challenge of ministry in the Hispanic community is the generational differences in the community, Hanks said. In just four generations, an immigrant family experiences a dramatic change, he said. The second generation is caught between two worlds, but by the third and fourth generation, the children have assimilated culturally and may not understand much Spanish. In Alabama, few first generations are coming into the state, but the population is growing through birth rate.
“Churches need to focus beyond the first generation,” Hanks said. “Hispanic congregations will eventually have to be bilingual to find a way to bridge the generations.”