By some estimates, the Hispanic population of South Carolina could grow by 100,000 or more in the next decade. Greenville Baptist Association, which now has 10 Hispanic congregations scattered throughout the county, is among the associations across the state preparing for the rapid growth by starting more churches.
Erwin Soto, pastor of Monaghan en Español, which meets at Monaghan Baptist Church in Greenville, leads one of the association’s new Hispanic congregations. Soto, a native of Venezuela, and his wife, Jenny, have been living in the United States for 21 years.
“Right now, many people from different countries are coming to the United States, and I’m very excited about preaching the gospel to them,” said Soto, whose congregation is drawing people from Venezuela, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua.
“When I first came 16 years ago, Greenville Association only had one Hispanic congregation,” said Dan Messer, Hispanic ministries leader for Greenville Baptist Association. “Every time I heard about a new Hispanic work in the state, I would go visit it.”
‘Growing and growing’
At that time, Soto was serving a church in Spartanburg, Messer said. Soto later went to Ecuador for six years as a missionary but returned to South Carolina three years ago, when Messer connected with him again. They approached Ryan Holtzclaw, pastor of Monaghan Baptist Church, who was open to starting a Hispanic work there, and Soto became pastor of Monaghan en Español.
“We’re growing and growing!” Soto said. The fledgling congregation saw 60 people in a service in December, but on average, about 40 people attend, he said.
The Hispanic services begin at 5 p.m. and sometimes may go two or three hours. “They’re not in a hurry to finish,” Messer said. “They go till they get through” — often sticking around to 8 or 8:30 p.m.
“That’s very good. We’re very excited,” Soto added. “Hispanic people need the communication and fellowship with other Hispanics.”
Some of those coming from Venezuela are already Christian, Soto said. “They’re looking for a Hispanic church, and I’m the only Venezuelan pastor [in the Greenville area]. So, they look for me.”
With 250,000-plus Hispanics now living in South Carolina, Soto believes it’s important for South Carolina Baptist churches to find more ways to reach out to Hispanics, since they comprise the largest ethnic group. “The Hispanics who are coming here have a lot of needs — physical, emotional, spiritual,” he said. “So, there’s a tremendous opportunity for churches to minister to them.
“It’s an opportunity that God has given us to be missionaries here in our own country, our own state — to reach out to these people and share God’s love,” Soto said.
And more South Carolina Baptist churches are seeing the growing need to be involved.
“There are spiritual and pragmatic reasons for church planting in general — and all apply to the need for Southern Baptist churches to become more involved in planting churches among the Hispanic population,” noted Ramón Osorio, ethnic-linguistic church planting director for the North American Mission Board, citing the Great Commission and Acts 1:8. “We all know that God has brought the nations — specifically 60-plus million Hispanics — to our country so that we can share the gospel with them without even leaving our neighborhood.”
Osorio said the work among Spanish-speaking people is a top priority for NAMB.
“As someone who planted Spanish-speaking churches for 14 years, I can tell you that it is much better when established churches get involved to help — especially providing a place to meet, brotherhood and, if possible, financial help, either for the church, the planter or both,” he added.
“That’s where evangelistic churches, like Monaghan Baptist, are making a huge difference now for the Kingdom by demonstrating God’s love to other ethnicities and nationalities.”
“Monaghan en Español is an extension of Monaghan Baptist Church,” Pastor Ryan Holtzclaw said. “We recognize that we are surrounded by a large population of Hispanics, and without Monaghan en Español we will not reach them with the gospel. For that reason, Monaghan en Español is a large part of our vision.
“I cannot adequately state how much I value my relationship with Pastor Soto,” Holtzclaw said. “His constant joy and optimism is contagious.”