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Georgia county’s first Spanish-speaking church reflective of Hispanic growth

Samuel Ayala of the Georgia Baptist Mission Board speaks to Hispanic workers late last summer at an appreciation dinner hosted by Don Woods, a deacon at First Baptist Rochelle and farmer. The event sparked discussions that led to the county's first Spanish-speaking church this Sunday.

Editor’s note: Sunday, March 17, is Church Planting Emphasis Sunday in the Southern Baptist Convention.

ROCHELLE, Ga. (BP) — Victor Lyons’ work in collecting information for the 2020 Census made it clear to him that Wilcox County reflected the burgeoning Spanish-speaking population of South Georgia.

The pastor of First Avenue Baptist Church will officially add another title this Sunday as pastor of Iglesia Vida Abundantè (Abundant Life) Church, which will meet in First Avenue’s sanctuary.

“A few years ago, we only had about 100 Hispanics living in the county full-time,” he said. “Now it’s more like 500.”

Lyons and his wife, Lucinda, are fluent in Spanish, having served as missionaries to Chile in the 1980s through the Foreign Mission Board, predecessor to the International Mission Board. Even with that country under the rule of Pinochet, the couple started two churches and gave out some 50,000 Bibles, more than anyone in South America, Victor was told.

He taught as well, something he would continue to do later through an extension of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary while serving as an associational missionary in South Georgia. Over the last dozen years, he has focused on church revitalization.

The Christian Index first reported on the church’s launch and how the idea for it was brought to Michael Gibbs, director of missions for Little River Baptist Association.

Brent Peeples, a layman at First Baptist Rochelle, had talked to his pastor, Richard Compton, on the need for a Spanish-speaking church. It wouldn’t just be for those who lived in the county year-round. It would also be a spiritual home for those arriving seasonally to pick the watermelon, cucumber and squash fields, for the men scattering pine straw with the landscaping companies and women who cleaned the office buildings.

After speaking with Lyons about being the pastor, Gibbs took the idea to the association’s executive board in February regarding financial support.

“They were behind it unanimously,” he told BP.

“We’re excited. The Great Commission is for all of us and a unifying factor for all churches.”

First Avenue will continue with its regular worship times. Iglesia Vida Abudante’s Sunday services will take place at 4 p.m. The Good Friday service is scheduled for 6 p.m.

Lyons, whose wife teaches Spanish in the Wilcox County School District, has been blown away by the response.

“I’ve never seen the level of support for a church launch like this,” he said. “Churches are hungry to be involved in doing something. So many are chomping at the bit to do something for the Lord.

“I’m a Billy Graham Baptist. I just want them to know Jesus. I want them to love the Lord, love their Bible and attend church. We’re going to let the Holy Spirit work and see what happens.”