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Newspaper ad results in 6 acres donated to new Hispanic church

DILLON, S.C. (BP)–“My wife thought I was crazy,” as did others, said Ali Velasquez, who put an ad in the local newspaper asking for low-price or donated land to accommodate the fast-growing Hispanic church he’s starting in Dillon, S.C.

But the advertisement struck local landowner and developer Ricky Taylor, a member of First Baptist Church, Latta. Taylor had shown Velasquez a tract of land and had asked $65,000 for it. Now here was this ad.

“Mr. Taylor called me up and asked me why was I putting this ad in the paper, why hadn’t I called him back about the land he showed me,” Velasquez recounted. “I said to him, ‘I do not have the money yet, so I did not call you.’ He said to me, ‘Come to a meeting with me. I have something to tell you.'”

At the meeting earlier this year, Velasquez, Pee Dee Baptist Association director of missions Robert Lee and area church leaders sat in stunned amazement as Ricky Taylor told how God had worked in his heart since he’d seen the advertisement. Now he wanted to donate the land to the new Hispanic church.

Tabernacle Evangelical, begun by Velasquez last summer and now running about 85 in worship, plans to use the land first for a tent revival, then as a site to build upon.

“Now people are calling Ali, or calling me, and saying they want to give the windows, the doors, the furniture, wanting to donate all those things,” said Lee, still sounding a bit amazed himself. “It’s just been the neatest thing to see.”

“Do you see how God uses his people?” Velasquez asked after relaying his story. “When he first showed me the land, Taylor said, ‘You sure do want the most expensive property.’ I said, ‘Yes, I want to have the best for the Lord.’ When you put faith in God and pray, it doesn’t matter if someone says you are crazy or not. If the Lord says it’s OK, go. Just go.”

Those statements are characteristic of Velasquez. A native of Nicaragua and son of a pastor, he owned three restaurants with 52 employees. Successful, active in his church, married with two children, his life turned upside down 11 years ago when his wife died in a plane accident in Honduras.

“At that time, the Lord touched my heart in a hard way, and I ask him what he wanted from me,” said Velasquez, who still exudes the confidence of a successful businessman. “I told him I will give my time, my money, everything, if he will just bring change in my life, bring me complete peace.”

Velasquez sold his property and business, devoting himself to being a missionary and pastor and working with Baptist Medical and Dental Mission International, a missionary organization that now operates out of Mississippi. It was through this organization that he met his second wife, Dana, and the couple soon moved to San Antonio, Texas, where Velasquez studied at a Hispanic Baptist seminary.

Post-graduation plans were to move to Raleigh, N.C., and do Hispanic ministry there. But after a phone call from the Eastern Carolina Hispanic Organization, a visit to Dillon and the excitement of a challenge, Velasquez changed plans.

“I was supposed to be here just for three months, last summer, but we started to see that many of the Hispanics in the area live here year-round, and they needed their own church,” he said.

So much so that now the church, meeting, ironically enough, at a former Jewish synagogue, needs its own space — particularly in the summer when migrant workers arrive.

Most of the estimated 3,000 Hispanics in the Dillon area are from Mexico and have a Catholic background. The church also includes some members from the Dominican Republic and Haiti — “We need French translators, not just Spanish,” said the pastor.

There’s another wrinkle to this Nicaraguan who loves a ministry challenge. At a January meeting, Lee and church planting strategist Wayne Terry shared the need for a new Anglo church in the area. Were any of the churches represented interested in sponsoring this new work? Velasquez raised his hand, indicating yes. This marks the first time in South Carolina that a Hispanic church has sponsored an Anglo church.

“My feeling is we need to help get other churches planted whenever we have the opportunity,” Velasquez said.

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  • Amanda Phifer