By Kayla Rinker
VERONA – When Lendall Morris was called to be the pastor at Verona Baptist Church, the people there already knew what God was calling them to do.
“It seemed like when I was interviewed they asked me three questions: ‘What’s your name? Can you give us your testimony? And, we have a big population of Hispanic people in Verona, what do we do?’” Morris said. “That issue has always been big in their minds and it’s a very unique issue for a small church in a small town to have.”
Verona, located in southwest Missouri, has a population of just over 700. About 60 percent of those are Hispanic.
With the arrival of Morris in 2001, the 80-member church began to pray … and pray … and pray some more.
Up to that point, as far as Hispanic ministry, the only thing the church did was invite them to come in and have their own style of worship service on Sunday afternoons when regular service was over.
“The people at Verona Baptist have a huge heart, but that wasn’t working,” Morris said. “We are told throughout the Scriptures to put God first so opening the building for use when we were done just didn’t feel correct.”
Meanwhile, Morris worked on getting leadership for the Hispanic ministry that began looking less like a church ministry and more like a church plant. He felt God smile on their efforts even more when church members Mike and Linda Gates approached him about donating a building.
“She and her sisters inherited the old Verona bar that had been in her family for many years and she came to me and said, ‘Preacher, my sisters and I own this building and you are welcome to have it,’ Morris said. “So we gutted it and turned it into a place of worship.”
However, the new church plant, Iglesia Bautista Centro de Alabanza (translated Praise Center Baptist Church), had its share of struggles in the beginning. In fact, it wasn’t until June 2004 when Melvin Mendoza and his family came to Verona to serve there that the church really took off. He and his wife, Leticia, are originally from Honduras.
“I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else,” Mendoza said. “At first Bro. Lendall was like a father to me and now he’s more like a brother, and not just a brother in Christ. We have the same mentality as far as church ministry. No matter who, what, where, when, or how we will both reach down and try to meet the people and their greatest needs.”
“Since Melvin has been there it has really grown,” said Ken McCune, multicultural specialist for the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC). “It did have about six or eight people going and now I think they run about 80 people. Also, they have added new leadership and they are reaching beyond Verona and are helping with other church plants in Anderson, Monett and Aurora.”
In 2009 Centro de Alabanza accomplished two more milestones. The church became independent of its sponsor church, Verona Baptist, and it was accepted into the Lawrence County Baptist Association (and in turn, the Missouri Baptist Convention). On Dec. 12, the two Verona churches joined together for a celebration of Centro de Alabanza and the success story it represents.
“It has been a long road and it has taken a long time but the church is established and working on its own and that would not have been possible without the help of willing Baptists on every level, Verona, Lawrence County and the MBC,” Morris said. “When we first started this I remember telling (the people of Verona Baptist) that we’ve got to be willing to fail in order to succeed with God. I said we will not start this without the understanding that we will carry it all the way through … and we have. Praise God.”
“No matter how small of a church you are, you need to remember that you serve a God who is bigger than everything,” he said. “We must all remember that.”