Hispanic/Slavic congregations sprouting in Sedalia with help from MBC, churches
By Bob Baysinger
May 25, 2004
SEDALIA – A food processing plant and cheaper prices for land in the Sedalia area has created a need in this west-central Missouri town for a couple of Baptist churches that speak in “tongues.”
Not “tongues” in the charismatic sense of the word. In Sedalia, it’s just saved people worshiping God in foreign languages – Slavic and Spanish.
Immigrants began moving into the Sedalia area in large numbers about eight years ago, creating a foreign mission field on the doorstep of the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC). Employment possibilities attracted the first wave of immigrants to Pettis County. The first wave found work at the Tyson Chicken processing plant, prompting more to move into the area. The 2000 U.S. Census showed the Hispanic population in the county at 1,600, but local government officials say the number now is much higher.
After hearing about plans to locate the plant at Sedalia and how it would likely attract a large number of immigrants, the MBC began laying the groundwork to get the Gospel to the state’s newest residents.
Because of the foundation that was laid in the mid-1990s, one of the state’s strongest Hispanic congregations now meets for worship every Sunday evening in First Baptist Church, Sedalia. The growing Hispanic congregation that meets weekly is about 200 and is expected to reach 250 before the end of 2004.
However, Hispanics are not the only immigrants making Sedalia their new home.
In recent months, Slavs have moved to Missouri from the Pacific Northwest. Missouri Baptists at the church, association and state level are already working to get a Slavic-speaking Baptist church started at Sedalia.
Churches in the Lamine and Harmony Baptist Associations have provided time and resources for a Slavic congregation to worship at Calvary Baptist Church in Sedalia every Sunday afternoon.
Mauricio Vargas, MBC multi-cultural specialist, has been instrumental from the beginning in outreach efforts to the migrants, first to the Hispanics, now to the Slavs.
According to Vargas, the ethnic impact in the Sedalia area actually predates the opening of the Tyson plant. It all began, he said, with an egg business at Knob Noster.
“The first migrants settled in Knob Noster to take jobs picking up eggs in a hatchery,” Vargas said. “When we heard they were coming, we brought in a summer worker (Mauricio Martinez) to work with the migrants. The following summer we brought in another missionary. The third summer, we brought Ephrain Baeza from Guadalajara, Mexico.
“It really opened the door for Latinos and Mexicans when Tyson advertised that they needed 1,500 workers in Sedalia.”
According to Vargas, the Hispanic church at Knob Noster extended a call to Baeza to be their pastor after he spent five weeks ministering to Hispanics in the Knob Noster, Lamont and Sedalia areas.
“Before making a decision,” Vargas said, “he returned to his home in Guadalajara, Mexico, to pray with his wife about moving to the United States. They decided to come, and he has been working with Hispanics in that area ever since.”
Baeza and his wife, Giselle, both gave up professional careers to minister to Mexicans in Missouri. Baeza has a degree in architecture. His wife is a medical doctor, specializing in obstetrics.
The Hispanic and Slavic groups at Sedalia are at different stages of growth. Hard work and persistence by Baeza has developed the growing Hispanic congregation. The Slavs, many of whom were born in the Ukraine, are in the process of getting organized. Approximately 25 meet for worship each week.
Calvary Baptist got involved because John Tygart, a retired pastor and current member at Calvary, serves on the church’s missions committee.
“My daughter, Sandra, is a member at Calvary. She works at Tyson on the evening shift. There are quite a few of the Slavic people working there. They had to drive up to a Slavic church at Kansas City for worship.”
One of the Slavic men told Tygart they would like to find a place in Sedalia where they could worship.
“I told them I was sure they could meet where my membership is. I asked the pastor, and he told me, ‘yes, by all means.’ One fellow showed up on Sunday. He couldn’t speak any English, but he stayed during the whole service. The next Sunday, another Slavic man showed up. The third Sunday, Bro. Lenny, their pastor, showed up.”
The Slavic mission received a boost when Ron Melton, director of missions, Lamine Baptist Association, used his woodworking skills to make a pulpit and communion table for the Slavs.
Sherry Heeren, executive director, Pettis County Community Partnership, said cheaper land prices in the Sedalia area is what attracted the Slavs from Oregon, Washington and California.
“They decided to come to Central Missouri because the terrain is similar to what they knew in their home country,” she said. “And the land prices are so much cheaper here. It was getting so expensive for them to buy land in the Northwest.”
Jeff Pollard, Calvary Baptist pastor, expects the Slavic congregation to grow rapidly this summer.
“They have 200 families ready to move to this area from those three states in the Northwest,” Pollard said. “Some may be coming in this summer. It is my understanding that they were attending a large Ukrainian Pentecostal church in the area. But the Baptists didn’t feel comfortable there.”