Crossing Cultures for Christ: How an Anglo-Latino partnership in Newnan, GA, proves we’re better when we’re together

By Jennifer Colosimo

In 1999, Ruth Cuellar received a call from Central Baptist Church in Newnan, Georgia, asking her to come to Newnan to start a Hispano-Latino ministry in the city. She was living in Gwinnett County at the time, about two hours away, so she committed to visiting on the weekends. With Rainbow of Love Ministries, she spent a year knocking on doors, introducing a familiar face to Latinos living there, inviting them to Sunday worship services and helping with immigration paperwork. Cuellar guided people in court interpretation, public school registration, counseling and hospital interpretation to steady Latinos in the area.

In September of 2020, the earliest members of Iglesia Bautista El Buen Pastor bought the building to begin the restoration process. It was previously a Methodist church and is in the final steps of renovation. 

As the first ministry for Latinos in the area, it grew rather quickly—in numbers, and in the number of hats she wore. After that first year, she knew it was time to make it a full-time gig. 

Once officially in Newnan, Cuellar turned things up a notch. Despite large numbers of Latinos in the area, she discovered that most weren’t there with plans to put down roots. They were there to work, with no plans to stay in the city or the U.S.That kept many from seeking out community, much less a church to visit regularly. She operated from what she calls “an accordion ministry,” offering as little or much as individuals wanted. Eventually that accordion ministry became a church. 

“By the grace of God, we are here,” Cuellar said. “Central Baptist Church Newnan, then led by former pastor Joel Richardson, is a community of faith comprised to be salt and light in the community. We received a lot of support from them as we started to grow. They allowed us to use their building for worship services, for Sunday school, and to host seminars for parents or immigration programs.”

That included a program called Welcome to the Community. It provided the platform for men and women to gather and understand information from the education system in Coweta County, ask questions and learn about issues with the health department, immigration and even an afterschool program for children that provided volunteers to help with homework while parents sat in on English classes. It helped them feel safe about putting down roots.

“Central Baptist allowed us to use their building, never charging any rent,” Cuellar said. “That was so important to us because it helped us to save money to accomplish our vision. We wanted to grow and be independent in our own house.”

The classroom in the basement filled with youth during Lent. “La tumba esta vacia Cristo ha Resucitado,” or “the tomb is empty, Christ is risen,” was the theme for the gathering.

When CBC needed to do renovations on their building, Cuellar’s congregation had to temporarily relocate and navigate online worship during the pandemic. But their faithful tithing helped them continue saving. Ray Dubois, a deacon at CBC and realtor, helped in the search for a property for the congregation.

“He told me he had a property that might be good for us, so we went to see it,” Cuellar recalled, choking up at the memory. “It used to be a Methodist church, and it was unbelievable because the cost of the property was exactly what we had in our savings to buy a new building.” 

Clay Hudson was the lawyer and chairperson of the Mission Committee at CBC and helped them complete the official paperwork. They went under contract on the property and bought it in September of 2020, and even had some money left. They rode out the pandemic online while they spruced up the building to suit their needs, thanks to a donation from CBC. The first service for Iglesia Bautista El Buen Pastor happened on Resurrection Sunday in April of the next year.

It took 20 years, but they did it. Cuellar is grateful to the faithful servants who helped them realize that vision. They’re still in the renovation process, but have completed the fellowship hall and the kitchen, arguably the two most important parts of a church. They’ve divided the basement into classrooms for children and youth. They welcome about 50 people each Sunday for worship, host a popular Latino soccer league and have plans to finish the sanctuary next. 

The Men’s Ministry soccer team, Hombres de Valor, or Men of Courage, celebrates a successful season.

“My biggest hope today is to have the building finished so that we can be working full time for our community,” Cuellar said. “We have to develop a counseling program for families in our church; our immigration services and the student’s ministry also need work. Our vision is to offer those kinds of programs to the community on a regular basis. When people come here, they always say that it feels like everyone has known them forever. That’s already part of our gift, and we’re just ready to do more.

“Central Baptist Church, now pastored by Rev. Matt Sapp, is one of the best examples of how to work together to reach other communities,” she added. “It’s a traditional church when it comes to music, so the fact that they invited us on Sunday morning to bring our accordions and our electric guitar meant a lot. They’re friendly, helpful and they try to understand even though it’s two totally different cultures. It’s the result of love and kindness and compromise and respect all meeting to have this kind of ministry together.

“It’s very important to understand that even when we speak a different language, use different music, have a different liturgy, we are still brothers and sisters in Christ. We are of many minds, but we are one people.”  

That’s a vision to inspire any culture.

2 thoughts on “Crossing Cultures for Christ: How an Anglo-Latino partnership in Newnan, GA, proves we’re better when we’re together

  1. Excelente artículo que muestra la esencia de lo que significa vivir en familia como CBF. Dios continúe bendiciendo a la pastora Ruth Cuéllar y a la Iglesia “El buen pastor”. Muchas gracias por recoger estos testimonios de vida. Dios continúe siendo con nuestras hermanas y hermanos. Paz de Cristo.

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