Twenty years ago, Carlos Lemus got an email that made him ask this question: “Where in the world is Alabama?”
At the time, he was serving in ministry in Guatemala, and he wasn’t sure it was in God’s plan for him to move to the United States. Another opportunity a couple of years before had looked fairly certain, but in the wake of 9/11, it had dissolved — and then another opportunity came and went — and then another.
“At least five times in five situations … I thought, ‘This is God’s will for my ministry,’” Lemus said. “The door opened, but a few days later just closed. I said, ‘OK, let’s just wait for God’s will.’”
And then he got an email from someone in Autauga County, Alabama. He had never heard of it, but the person who wrote the email told him that he was just the person they needed — someone who could speak Spanish and English and help them build up Hispanic ministry in their area.
Lemus was also a graduate of Guatemala Baptist Theological Seminary and could bring a robust doctrinal undergirding to that church planting effort.
On both sides, everyone knew it was a good fit.
“I knew we were starting a new adventure in our lives,” Lemus said. “It was pretty hard to leave family and friends behind and all the experiences that you had in your home country, but we were trying to focus on the reality that this was God’s calling.”
And now, after two decades of serving the Hispanic population of central Alabama, he still feels just as certain that this is what God had for him, his wife, Zuly, and their two children.
“Every day God confirms His calling to this country as I see the fruits of the ministry,” said Lemus, who currently serves as Hispanic mission strategist for Autauga Baptist Association and director of Hispanic ministries for Elmore Baptist Association.
From the moment he arrived in Alabama, the fruit has been there, brought by the Holy Spirit, he said. He was able to help build up some mission points that already existed, and in Prattville he set out to get a work started where there was none.
“I began to pray every night, ‘God, glorify Your name in Prattville,’” Lemus said.
God brought one family across his path, which led to several more families — six in total. He decided to have a Vacation Bible School for their children, and on the first night, he realized the mothers were also going to stay every night until it was time to take their kids home.
“I said to the pastor, ‘I think tomorrow we will have a Bible study for the ladies,’” he said. “At the end I gave an invitation, and the six ladies received Christ as their personal Savior.”
That was the start of Pueblo de Dios (People of God), a church that has been “thriving there for all these years,” Lemus said.
Over the years, the work across the area has expanded. In Elmore County, three Hispanic missions are growing, two of which Lemus planted, and in Autauga Baptist Association, two more missions are also thriving.
He has also “had the privilege” of ordaining three pastors for ministry, as well as ordaining a number of deacons and licensing several men to preach. He’s passionate about training them too — he recently graduated with a master’s degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and has been passing along what he’s learned through a training course he teaches.
Lemus said what he’s envisioning in the future is for his role to be less direct church planting and more involved in directing ministries for all the Hispanic missions in the area.
“I’m preparing and training for that,” he said.
He also keeps strong ties with Guatemala, leading an ongoing partnership between the Baptists in his area of Alabama and ministries back in his home country — in 20 years, he’s made more than 70 trips.
And in 2003, he and six other pastors founded the Alabama Baptist Hispanic Fellowship, a network of Hispanic Baptist pastors, lay leaders and missionaries in the state.
Mel Johnson, associational mission strategist for Autauga Association, said working with Lemus has been a blessing and an asset in ministry.
“The language and cultural differences were a difficulty for us in doing effective ministry,” Johnson said. “Twenty years ago, the decision was made to actively pursue a Hispanic leader who could serve as a Hispanic strategist in this association, and we were able to connect with Carlos. He has played an active role in terms of outreach, and we’ve been able to do a number of things in the community because of his leadership.”
Ray McKenzie, director of missions for Elmore Association, said Lemus has “been such a blessing” to the association in a variety of ways. For one, he teaches a large class of pastors and church leaders on Monday nights at the associational office.
“This has served to deepen the biblical understanding of these leaders and create stability in the missions of our association,” McKenzie said.
Between that and the Hispanic missions Lemus has started, “I credit Carlos with raising up several men in our area who are now capable of pastoring congregations,” McKenzie said.