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The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Knees Bow, Native Tongues Confess Ministries Are Aimed At Hispanics
By ANN DICKERSON
January 23, 2003
On a recent Wednesday morning, about a dozen women gathered in the fellowship hall at Central Baptist Church in Newnan.
Like many Baptist women's groups across the South, they were gathered for weekly Bible study and fellowship.
But the prayers were in Spanish, and the potluck lunch didn't have any potato salad or deviled eggs. Instead, the smells of chicken and chile tamales, black beans and rice, and spinach and cheese pastel, a dish from Argentina that is similar to quiche, filled the room.
It was a weekly meeting of the Rainbow of Love (Arcoiris de Amor) ministry run by Ruth Cuellar, a native of Cuba who moved to the United States in 1994.
For two years, Central Baptist has paid Cuellar a part-time salary and offered its facilities for free to the ministry, which usually attracts about 50 Hispanics to its Sunday afternoon services.
"Hispanics are certainly increasing in their presence in our county, and our community is trying to meet their needs," said the Rev. Joel Richardson, Central Baptist's pastor.
Cuellar, who came to the United States as a political refugee after teaching Cubans about human rights, serves as an interpreter for her ministry members, accompanying them to doctors' appointments, the county courthouse and even to jail. She looks forward to Wednesday mornings, when the women of the church gather.
"We talk about how we're grateful to God for what we have," Cuellar said. "We talk about women's issues and self-esteem. We visit the women who have had a baby or who can't get out much."
Cuellar said that most of the women --- who come from Mexico, Argentina, Honduras, Costa Rica and Nicaragua --- say they miss their native food and the sense of community the most.
The Rainbow of Love ministry helps fill that void.
"People came here to find a better situation for their families, and most of them have found it," Cuellar said. "It has always been my dream to work in the ministry. I love what I am doing."
Although some of the area's Hispanic immigrants are Protestants, most were born in majority-Catholic nations.
When Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Peachtree City began its Hispanic ministry five years ago, about 25 people attended the weekly Spanish Mass. Now an average of 400 people show up for the Spanish Mass every Sunday afternoon.
"I speak English pretty well, but of course you learn to pray in your native tongue," said Elsie Ramos, a Puerto Rican native who moved to Peachtree City more than 10 years ago. "And when I first heard that Spanish Mass five years ago here, everything came back."
"It means a lot to say the prayers in Spanish."
The church's current priest, the Rev. Fabio Sotelo, is transferring to a Doraville parish next month. The Rev. Joseph Shaute, an American-born priest who is fluent in Spanish, will take his place.
Ramos said Holy Trinity's Hispanic ministry holds religious education classes, devotion groups and Baptism classes. In March, the church will team with the American Cancer Society to hold a preventive health care fair.
"We try to reach out to all the Hispanics in the area," Ramos said.
"Our numbers are getting bigger every year, and we are trying to provide as much as we can."
Most of the Hispanic worshippers at Holy Trinity are from Mexico, Ramos said, with the others coming from El Salvador, Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica and Puerto Rico.
The Spanish Mass at Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Peachtree City is at 1:30 p.m. Sundays at 101 E. Walt Banks Road. Information: 770-487-7672.
The Rainbow of Love's weekly service is at 5 p.m. Sundays at Central Baptist Church, 14 W. Broad St. Information: 770-683-0610.