ABC Regional Hispanic Ministries: See what God has done
The planning for what would become ABC Regional Hispanic Ministries began in the fall of 1992, when Hazel Smith, Missions Development Director for the Allendale-Hampton Association, spoke with Dan Paige and Jerry St. John of the New Work Department, South Carolina Baptist Convention. A meeting was arranged with Flor Morales and Jerry St. John, to which people from throughout the association who had a burden for Hispanic ministry were invited. Ted Robertson, then Director of Missions for the Barnwell-Bamberg Association, attended that meeting, and a partnership between Allendale-Hampton and Barnwell-Bamberg Associations was formed. A committee was assembled of representatives of the two associations, of which Walter Rogers, minister of music at Barnwell First, was chairman, and Hazel Smith was selected as secretary/treasurer, a position she has held ever since. Flor Morales served as consultant and liaison with the New Work Department.
The New Work Department cooperated with what was then the Home Mission Board to bring a PRAXIS team to survey the area. The team served during the summer of 1993. They identified several areas throughout the two associations in which they saw potential for Hispanic ministry. In November of 1993, Colleton Association expressed interest in joining the ministry and the idea of forming ABC Regional Hispanic Ministries surfaced. At that time, the intention of the committee was to call a couple to begin serving in the summer of 1994 for one year to perform a second survey of the area, in order to determine the viability of a year-round ministry to Hispanics. With support from the SCBC New Work Department, the Home Mission Board (now NAMB) and the associations, ABC was born. The name "ABC Regional Hispanic Ministries" was taken from the initials of the three associations.
At a meeting in May of 1994, Tony Hancock was presented to the committee by Flor Morales as a candidate for summer worker. The committee voted to call him for the summer. During that summer, meetings were begun in the fellowship hall of the Ashton Baptist Church, and Bible studies were held at three other locations. The focus of the ministry during this time was primarily on outreach to transient farm workers. At the end of the summer period, however, the committee governing the ministry realized the potential for full-time ministry to Hispanics in the area. It was decided to ask Tony Hancock to remain as long as funds were available to continue the ministry.
During this time, meetings continued to take place at Ashton. The first baptisms in what became Iglesia Bautista Nueva Esperanza took place Easter Sunday 1995. It was during this time, from the fall of 1994 to the summer of 1995, that the dual emphases of ABC came into focus - that is, outreach to transient workers, including spiritual and practical ministry, and the establishment of permanent ministry points to reach permanent residents.
Growth and Change
During the two years from August 1994 to August 1996, ministry to permanent residents was focused on the Nueva Esperanza mission meeting at Ashton, also including two home Bible studies around the area. Ministry to transient residents took place at six to seven points seasonally throughout the area. This ministry included the distribution of health kits and Spanish Bibles, translation during emergency situations, clothing and food for needy families and evangelistic services held in locations convenient to the workers. In August of 1996, the Nueva Esperanza mission had 7 baptized members. This mission has had very few transfer members; in 1996, all of its members had come to Christ through the church’s ministry. In recognition of Mr. Hancock’s call to ministry, the Ashton Baptist Church ordained him to the Gospel ministry in August of 1995. In August of 1996, Tony Hancock resigned to continue his studies.
Rev. Ernie Contreras, from Texas, was called to continue serving Hispanics in the ABC area. Rev. Contreras served from August of 1996 to July of 1999. Rev. Contreras was heavily involved in ministry to transient workers, at which he was particularly effective, and also continued the ministry at Nueva Esperanza. The membership of this mission stood at 10 in August of 1999. Unfortunately, Mrs. Ida Contreras’ poor health forced the couple to resign in July of 1999 and return to family in Texas.
At the same time, Tony Hancock was completing his studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and the committee invited him to return. As a result, in August of 1999 he began his second term of service with ABC. During the fall of 1999, a strategic plan for the future of ABC was drawn up which included the establishment of several new permanent ministry points, as well as the continued expansion of ministry to transient workers. Potential was seen for ministry points in Estill, Barnwell and Walterboro. In addition, plans were made for expanding the scope and frequency of ministry to transient workers. These plans included more frequent meetings, greater involvement of permanent residents in ministry to transients, and a synergy of evangelistic proclamation and holistic ministry.
Ministry to Farm Workers
ABC continues to reach out to transient farm workers. Each year, over a thousand (1000) workers receive ministry health kits, which include a towel, washcloth, soap, toothbrush, toothpaste and comb, as well as Christian literature. We have also offered English as a Second Language (ESL) classes to transient workers, focusing on a basic conversational approach to encourage linguistic functionality. As we are able, we provide translation help, primarily in crisis situtations. These include doctors' offices and hospitals, courts, jails, attorney's offices, social services settings and others. While helping people in practical ways, we also share the life-changing Gospel of Jesus Christ through evangelistic films shown as close as possible to where transients are.
Iglesia Nueva Esperanza
Iglesia Bautista Nueva Esperanza has grown and become more established. In 2005 the church moved into facilities in Ehrhardt which were not being used. Since then, the church has continued to refurbish the facilities, baptize new converts and develop leadership. In late 2006, services began in Brunson to reach out to new populations of Hispanics. Ministry points also exist seasonally in several other locations.
Into the future
ABC Regional Hispanic Ministries faces the future with confidence in God's provision, excitement about the opportunities for service and a firm commitment to reaching out to the Hispanics in its service area - and beyond. The thousands of transient workers who enter our area each year, as well as the burgeoning permanent population, present an ongoing challenge. Under the Lord's leadership, we plan to continue nurturing Nueva Esperanza in its growth, reaching out to transient workers with practical and spiritual assistance and developing new ministry points throughout our area.