By BEATRIZ GUERRERO, The Gaston Gazette
GASTONIA, North Carolina (AP) — The Spanish ministry at Flint Groves Baptist Church involves more than just a preacher delivering a message to several dozen people in their native language each Sunday.
Senior Pastor Ronnie Bowers and Gastonia Church Spanish-speaking minister Jose Hernandez have partnered to help the church reach one of the fastest growing communities in Gaston County.
These efforts not only support spiritual growth, but also physical ones by providing a food bank with help from Spanish-speaking members as well as other services, the two said.
“It was an amazing experience, and it was fun to see different cultures on campus interact and come together,” Bowers said.
Gaston County’s Hispanic population has grown more than 64% in the past 10 years, from just under 8,000 to over 20,000, according to the 2020 census.
Flint Groves Baptist Church began its Spanish ministry seven years ago to reach this growing group of residents who were literally in their own backyard.
“I noticed that East Gastonia has the highest number of Hispanic residents. I really wanted to spread the word of the Lord everywhere and that meant bringing in underrepresented communities,” Bowers said.
The congregation’s Spanish-speaking members started with about 15 members and now number about 60, said Hernandez, who came to the United States 27 years ago from San Miguel, El Salvador, in search of work. The church as a whole has over 300 people as members.
“I feel really blessed that the church cares about minorities. It was a great experience,” Hernandez said.
Hernandez delivers a sermon in Spanish each Sunday during a morning service that begins at 11 a.m. The Spanish-speaking group meets in a different area than the main sanctuary. The midweek Bible study in Spanish takes place at 7 p.m. on Wednesdays on the church campus.
But preaching about Jesus is only part of the church’s evangelistic efforts. The church also aims to reach people by demonstrating care to the community.
Those who live in the church’s 28054 zip code can receive free groceries, clothing, and other household items at various times of the year. Those outside this immediate area can still receive help, but less frequently.
“We have leaflets in Spanish and a translator who works every Tuesday in our pantry. We’re even working to get someone bilingual who can come more regularly,” Bowers said.
While providing these services, the two pastors said they had a mission, to spread the word to all communities.
“We want to make sure people who don’t speak English always get what they need,” Bowers said.
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