Baptists have opened new Immigrant Hospitality Center in Lincolnton that will provide legal counsel and other help to immigrants.
The center is not just a building, but rather is “a community effort to show love to our neighbors,” said center director Bobby Farmer.
The Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSCNC) is a major supporter of the new ministry, but has partnered with a long list of other organizations, churches and individuals to get the new center set up and staffed. Convention leaders plan to gradually open similar centers across the state.
A dedication service and reception were held the afternoon of Sunday, Jan. 27, in the new center at 415 East Main Street in downtown Lincolnton. Center director Bobby Farmer is ministry consultant for Hull’s Grove Baptist Church in Vale, where he has served 12 years. The church is allowing him to commit two days a week to the center as part of his staff work.
Workers being trained
Hull’s Grove is supporting Farmer in taking Department of Justice training that will enable him to become an accredited representative on immigration issues. He also spent time in an immigration center in Atlanta to see first-hand how an immigrant hospitality center functions.
Miriam Acevedo is also completing the 40 hours of training required for accreditation by the Department of Justice and will become a volunteer in the center’s ministries. She is wife of Ponciano Acevedo, pastor of Calvary Hispanic Church in Lincolnton.
While Lincolnton is not a large city, the Immigrant Hospitality Center is strategically placed. Farmer said about 10,000 immigrants live within 10 miles of the Lincoln County Courthouse, according to census reports.
While Hispanics are by far the largest segment of immigrants, Farmer said he has met people from countries in Europe, Africa and other regions now living in the area. “We are beginning to see Hispanics in the area from nations other than Mexico — from the Dominican Republic, El Salvador and Honduras,” said Miriam Acevedo.
The Acevedos joined with two other Hispanic churches last fall to provide English lessons to Hispanic immigrants: They registered 86 adults. While parents learned English, their children were given help with their homework. English classes will again be offered starting in March at both the Immigrant Hospitality Center and at Punto Victoria Church in town. The English classes are coordinated by Janice Hager, a member of Mount Zion Baptist Church in Alexis.
A place of welcome
Farmer said the new center will be a place where people will be welcome and made to feel at home, a place to trust, a place for people to talk about things important to them, a place to maintain their status in the country and maintain their employment. It will help churches to know their neighbors and provide services needed, he said.
Baptist state convention workers Larry Phillips and Amaury Santos, who lead the convention’s ministry to immigrants, have completed Department of Justice training. An important partner in the immigrant ministry is the Raleigh-based Council on Immigrant Relations. John Faison, the council’s executive director, has worked closely with the convention workers in establishing the new ministry. He will help provide help through the center until more local workers are trained.
Santos told those present that the Baptist state convention passed a resolution in 2015 calling for Baptists to deal more effectively with the immigration issue. The resolution affirmed the dignity of every human being.
Christians called to help all neighbors
“It was a call to action, how to share the gospel and serve the community. We celebrate today the accomplishment of that vision … a first step in the vision of God for the community,” Santos said during the dedication service.
“I’m humbled by the opportunity to be with you. This will go down as one of the best days of my life!” said Phillips as he blinked back tears.
Phillips told how he has had a long career as a Southern Baptist missionary to Peru, a pastor and several ministry assignments as state convention staffer. “This is one of the best moments. This is a special day,” he declared.
Lincolnton is an important town in North Carolina, Phillips said, “but it’s just a small black dot on the world map.” God is going to use this small community called Lincolnton in North Carolina to change the way the world views immigrants, he said.
Phillips said he prays the center will be “a safe place, a transformational place and a launching place, a birthing center for transformation in the lives of local Christians and transformation in the lives of those God will bring to walk among you.”
He urged those present to follow Paul’s instructions in Romans 15:7, “welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.”
Ponciano Acevedo, a native of Mexico, spoke in Spanish during the dedication while his wife, Miriam, translated into English. He said America is the promised land for most Hispanics who come, hoping to become rich. But some, like him, find the gospel as he did. Calvary, the Hispanic church Acevedo leads, is an active partner with the Baptist state convention. The congregation is renovating a building in Cherryville.
The center is not just a building, but rather is “a community effort to show love to our neighbors.”
Baptist state convention helping
Keith Hollar presented Farmer with a check for $8,000, representing the funds from the Baptist state convention for the center. Hollar is the associational mission strategist for the South Fork Baptist Association, whose 70 local churches are spread in and around the Lincolnton area. South Fork is an active partner in the center ministry. Hollar recalled how locals in Mexico and Costa Rica welcomed him when he visited on missions trips and how that made him feel.
“We are concerned not just about American citizenship but heavenly citizenship,” Hollar said.
The Immigrant Hospitality Center has been needed for years, said Anita McCall, one of five Lincoln County commissioners and a Baptist. She told how her neighbors near her home in Lincolnton are from Costa Rica — the husband is a U.S. citizen but his wife is not and must complete paperwork periodically to remain legally in the country. When they sought help with completing the forms from one local agency, the cost was going to be $500.
“It takes only five or seven minutes to complete that form. People need to be able to go someplace that is safe and they won’t be taken advantage of,” she said.
Local churches, individuals give support
John O. Gilleland Jr. is a local real estate agent and member of nearby Freedom Church, started several years ago with support from the Baptist state convention’s Church Planting Team. Gilleland and his business partner own the building being used as the center.
Gilleland told how he showed a number of buildings to Bobby Farmer and tried not to show him the one finally selected — the building was in bad shape and needed a roof, new floors and much other work. But Farmer’s prayer team had been all over town praying about a building, and they heard God telling them this was the one.
Upon hearing that, Gilleland said, “I’ll write the contract up.” He and his business partner paid to have the building completely renovated, heating and air conditioning installed, new floors added and other improvements.
“I just can’t wait to see what God is going to do in this ministry,” Gilleland said during the dedication. Gilleland agreed with other speakers that the ministry is greatly needed and will help immigrants as well as local businesses looking to hire them.
Pastor rallies local business support
Another strategic partner in the center opening is Marcus Redding, pastor of Salem Baptist Church in Lincolnton who also serves with the North American Mission Board and works with the Baptist state convention.
Through LifeSong, a non-profit organization he established, local businessmen have contributed more than $20,000 for the center, including six months of rent in 2018, all the rent for 2019 and furnishings for the building. Redding established LifeSong in honor of his daughter, who died in a car crash 12 years ago.
Redding led in prayer opening the dedication, asking that the Lord would show His love through the center’s ministry.
The Immigrant Hospitality Center is open by appointment only for now until trained volunteers are available. For more information, visit the center’s Facebook page at facebook.com/ihclincolnton or call (980) 284-2011.
Get the latest news and event information by signing up for the N.C. Baptist newsletter.