MEXICO, Missouri (BP)–“Until recently, we felt like we were tolerated here. Now, we feel like we’re embraced by this church.” With those two sentences, Antonio Alfaro confirmed what Glenn Forman already suspected.
Forman is the bivocational pastor of Friendship Baptist Church in Mexico (Mexico, Mo., that is), which hosts the Northeast Missouri Hispanic Mission, or simply “Iglesia Bautista” for short. Alfaro pastors the Hispanic work, which meets in Friendship’s newly remodeled basement three times a week. Friendship runs about 100 on Sunday mornings, while Iglesia Bautista runs 40-60.
“It’s a very rewarding, very beneficial partnership for both of us,” Forman said. “We have a great fellowship together.”
The mission began along with three other Hispanic church plants and preaching points in 2003, but the works soon dried up, while the congregation Alfaro led in Mexico was facing crisis. His family was facing $15,000 in hospital bills, and though Friendship, Grand Crossings Baptist Association and the Missouri Baptist Convention all helped fund the church, Alfaro could not afford health insurance or have any hope of paying the bills.
Forman and Friendship Baptist made some calls and negotiated with the hospital, and within a few weeks the church had raised enough money to pay all but $2,500 of the bill. In addition, Friendship worked it out so Alfaro could live in the church parsonage.
Forman senses that act of love is what made the Hispanic congregation feel “embraced” and helped cement the relationship between the two small churches.
The two congregations come together once a month for a combined birthday/anniversary celebration. In meeting together for worship, for example, on Sept. 27 (with color-coded offering envelopes to help keep things straight between the two churches), the Hispanic youth joined in for the special music and Forman preached with the help of an interpreter.
Since most of the younger Hispanic members are bilingual, there is a lot of overlap from one church to the other. “At least half of our youth group — maybe even more than half — are out of the Hispanic church,” Forman said.
One of Alfaro’s strengths is his desire to meet the needs — spiritual, physical and otherwise — of his people, Forman said. An estimated 150 Hispanic families live in and around Mexico. Iglesia Bautista has families from the country of Mexico, El Salvador, Nicaragua and other Latin American countries. Like everyone else in the current economy, many of the people of the Hispanic church are unemployed or underemployed. Forman said Alfaro works tirelessly to get them to job interviews, doctor’s appointments, whatever they need.
“He is truly a great man of God and someone who loves the Lord,” Forman said.
As good as the partnership between the Hispanic and Anglo congregations is, it is not without difficulties.
One is language. Forman doesn’t speak Spanish and Alfaro speaks very little English. Unless a translator — typically a bilingual student — is present, the two pastors have to communicate using online translation tools.
Another delicate situation is the reality that some people attending the church are not in the United States legally. In fact, five people were taken into custody by immigration officials in the church parking lot in recent weeks.
“That was a real blow,” Forman said. “We’ve been very careful not to embrace the illegal aspect.
“We’re ministering to people who live here and we want to lead them to Christ here, so we don’t question their immigration status. Law enforcement is aware of us, and we’re very careful not to be seen as a ‘safe haven,'” Forman said.
Brian Koonce is a staff writer for The Pathway (www.mbcpathway.com), newsjournal of the Missouri Baptist Convention.