Church plants, ministries reaching out to Alabama’s Hispanic population

By Lanell Downs Smith
Correspondent, The Alabama Baptist

According to estimates, approximately 200,000 Hispanics live in Alabama. Only 22% of these residents are evangelical Protestants, served by approximately 40 Baptist churches throughout the state. 

More Hispanic churches are needed in Alabama, says Annel Robayna, an associate who focuses on Hispanic works and church planting in the office of associational missions and church planting at the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions (SBOM).

Robayna was called to missions and evangelism as the result of a SBOM missions trip to his home country, Venezuela. He was working as an interpreter for missions teams when he sensed God’s call.

“God opened the doors for me to share the gospel so many times that when I went back home I remember feeling like I was missing something,” Robayna said. “God used this missions event to change my life and show me that there’s nothing that compares with the power of the gospel.”

Through a SBOM church planting conference, God stirred his heart for church planting. Simultaneously God was moving to add a SBOM staff position to meet the growing need for ministry within the Hispanic community. Robayna filled that position in June.

New church plants

Now Robayna works with churches and associations across the state, encouraging them to assist in starting new Hispanic churches. Robayna’s role is to help with strategy for new church plants and to aid existing churches with resources. 

Partnerships are vital, he said. Hispanic churches face similar challenges, including finding a core group to support the work in prayer and finances, locating facilities in which to meet, and developing effective ministries to their communities, including utilizing missions teams from other churches to assist with outreach.

Iglesia Comunidad de Fe in Fultondale, for example, began with Bible studies and prayer groups hosted by the Hispanic ministry of Dawson Memorial Baptist Church, Birmingham. When it was time to locate a meeting place Fultondale First Baptist Church stepped up.

“We’ve been blessed that Fultondale First Baptist Church has provided us the facilities,” said Iglesia Comunidad de Fe pastor Joshua del Risco. “[And] we’ve been blessed in that we have a strong core group of believers from the Dawson Hispanic congregation who have come over to help us.”

Hispanic church plants also face unique challenges.

Dixon Klinger, pastor of Iglesia Bautista el Calvario in Dothan, said his ministry faces the challenge of ministering to those in the Hispanic community who may not have citizenship documentation, many of whom fear discovery.

“The way to minister to them is just to help them to trust the Lord,” Klinger said.

About half of the U.S. Hispanic population identifies as Roman Catholic, according to Pew Research, and sometimes that’s a barrier too, Klinger said. 

‘Keep praying’

“Keep praying for us,” he said. “Pray for the Lord to break those traditions because it’s very difficult. Pray also that we can keep working as a partner with the churches to keep reaching the Hispanic people.”

According to Robayna, churches can help to meet the needs of Hispanic communities by offering activities for Hispanic children and youth. He added that it’s not necessary for churchgoers to speak Spanish to work with young people.

Afterschool Bible studies, sports events and block parties help to build relationships, he said.

‘Build trust’

“They will not come to church if they don’t feel they can trust you,” Robayna said. “So any activity that can build trust would be a blessing.”

Churches and associations can partner to provide financial support or share building space with a Hispanic church and church members can pray for the Hispanics around them.

First Baptist Church, Center Point, supports a Hispanic ministry of around 115 members, according to the church’s senior pastor, David Haynes.

The Hispanic ministry partners with English-speaking members for Sunday School and fellowship and hosts Hispanic family nights once a month. A recent celebration saw more than 700 Hispanic people in attendance.

First, Center Point, members undergird the Hispanic ministry through financial support and the sharing of space.

“We have a super generous church,” Haynes said.

In addition to church planting efforts Robayna works to help existing Hispanic churches thrive.

For instance, in Coosa River Baptist Association, he’s helping guide the association through the process of welcoming Iglesia Biblica Berea into its fellowship.

Robayna said the church has had the opportunity to be supported by two associations — it started in Cleburne Baptist Association, and when the congregation bought a building in Coosa County they began to discuss becoming part of Coosa River Association. So Randy Hagan, director of missions for Coosa River Association, went and preached there one Sunday and Robayna translated.

“It was a good time for them to get to know each other and for him to express all the resources the association could offer,” Robayna said.

That’s just one area of support. The SBOM support strategy also offers training in different areas of ministry, including a statewide youth camp for Hispanics, a marriage retreat for pastors and their wives, a men’s retreat, a pastor’s conference, an evangelism conference and a worship conference. Regional prayer meetings, outreach events and specially focused trainings will be offered in 2020. 

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Hispanic calendar of events

Jan. 28 Day of Prayer

Feb. 24 Hispanic Evangelism Conference, Heritage Baptist Church, Montgomery: 4:30–6:30 p.m.

Feb. 25 Day of Prayer

March 20–21 Worship Team Training Conference, Shocco Springs: Fri., 6 p.m. to Sat., 12 p.m. 

March 31 Day of Prayer

April 16–18 Global Mission Conference, Shocco Springs: Fri. 6 p.m. to Sat. 12 p.m. 

April 28 Day of Prayer

May 26 Day of Prayer

June 29–July 2 Hispanic Youth Camp, Shocco Springs: Fri., 6 p.m. to Sat., 12 p.m. 

June 30 Day of Prayer

July 28 Day of Prayer

Aug. 20–22 Hispanic Marriage Retreat, Shocco Springs: Fri., 4 p.m. to Sat., 12 p.m. 

Sept. 18–19 Hispanic Men’s Retreat, Shocco Springs: Fri., 6 p.m. to Sat., 12 p.m.

Sept. 29 Day of Prayer

Oct. 27 Day of Prayer

Nov. 9 Hispanic Pastors Conference, Eastmont Baptist Church, Montgomery: 6–8 p.m.

Nov. 24 Day of Prayer

Dec. 29 Day of Prayer