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Joint VBS latest venture supporting church for Hoover’s Hispanicscomment (0)

July 20, 2006

By Erin W. Tunnell

The very name of Iglesia Cristiana Agape speaks of God’s agape love for the world and His forgiveness of sins.
But the Birmingham Baptist Association church wants to do more than just speak of God’s love; it wants to demonstrate it to Hispanics in the Hoover area.
That’s why Agape and First Baptist Church, Hoover, in Birmingham Association joined resources to hold Vacation Bible School (VBS) June 25–29. Agape needed space to hold VBS for Hispanic children in the area, and First, Hoover, wanted to do more to reach Hispanics in its community.
Holding a joint VBS seemed like a good solution, said Randy Atkinson, pastor of First, Hoover. “We seemed to have the best location for VBS,” Atkinson said. And because both churches wanted to hold VBS at the same time, “why not combine them?”
The children of both churches met at First, Hoover, in the evenings for Bible stories and crafts. Because the children attend schools where English is spoken, the VBS classes were taught in English with both Anglo and Hispanic teachers who are members of either First, Hoover, or Agape, explained Dennis Chamberlain, co-pastor of Agape. 
“It’s been neat to see folks from First, Hoover, and Agape come together to make this happen,” he said.
And their efforts paid off. The combined VBS saw 87 children enrolled, with 26 adult workers, Atkinson noted.

Although there were no public professions of faith, both churches gained the names of several area families to visit that are not involved in a church.
“It’s beautiful, the fact that we’re able to (hold VBS) with no conflict, no tension,” Atkinson said. “We had two (VBSs) for one and had the privilege of seeing that kind of harmony between two languages and cultures and churches.”
As well as partnering to hold VBS, the two churches are in the process of creating a more formal partnership that would add First, Hoover, to the group of Birmingham Association churches supporting Agape and Hispanic ministry in the Hoover area.
Agape began as a small-group Bible-study ministry for Hispanics at Shades Mountain Baptist Church, Vestavia Hills. The Bible study began transitioning into a Hispanic church in fall 2003 when Chamberlain and his wife, Leticia, were hired by Shades Mountain Baptist to work with the Hispanic ministry.
Pastor Danny Wood said Shades Mountain Baptist started the Bible study with a vision for it to grow into a Hispanic church plant as part of the church’s effort to plant five churches in the United States.
As the Bible study grew, other churches also were reaching out to Hoover’s Hispanics with English as a Second Language classes (ESL) and the same vision of planting a Hispanic church. Two of these, Green Valley Baptist Church, Hoover, and Lakeside Baptist Church, Birmingham, decided to join with Shades Mountain Baptist in 2004 to support the work of Agape.
“Each of us had the same goal, so why not make this a Kingdom experience?” said Jeff Vanlandingham, pastor of Green Valley Baptist.
Once the partnership formed, Agape began meeting in Lakeside Baptist’s chapel on Sunday evenings. It is now meeting on Sunday afternoons.
Having Agape meet at Lakeside and partnering with it has heightened members’ awareness of community missions, said Lakeside Pastor Mike McLemore. “It has forged opportunities to get our people outside the four walls of the church,” he said.
In late 2005, as Agape expanded further in members and its vision for ministry, Chamberlain, who was pastor of Agape, met Harry Harper, leader of the Hispanic ministry at Hunter Street Baptist Church, Hoover.
As they met together, both men realized their ministries were overlapping. “My thought has always been that if we are going to effectively reach Hispanics in the Hoover area … we need to do a church plant,” Chamberlain said.
Harper and Hunter Street Baptist agreed with that vision, and in March 2006, Hunter Street’s Hispanic ministry joined with Agape and Harper and Chamberlain became co-pastors and formed Iglesia Cristiana Agape. Harper and Chamberlain, however, also remain on staff with their respective churches.
“It is neat to see how God has worked and placed a similar vision in the hearts of several people,” Chamberlain said.
The addition of Hunter Street further solidified the Agape congregation’s dream of a facility of its own preferably in the heart of Hoover near the apartment complexes where many Hispanics live. “One of our biggest challenges is we need a place where we can worship and also provide ministry that is direct to the Hispanic community,” Harper said.
He said the partnership also has created a church with a mix of families and single people, as well as those who have left their family in their home country. And while some members are immigrants, others are American citizens, either naturalized or born in America.
Agape is also developing its leaders and a love for missions. The church took its first missions trip when 15 members recently traveled to Eau Claire, Wis., to work on a Builders for Christ project. They joined other groups from Birmingham and elsewhere to work on a church building for Jacob’s Well Church.
Frank Blackwell, minister of missions for Hunter Street, said supporting Agape has been a positive experience. “We felt that focusing all of our energy on that church plant would be more effective (than working on our own).”
Volunteers from all partnering churches have offered financial and prayer support to Agape, along with practical support in helping with outreach projects.

Harper and Chamberlain both stress that Agape wants to give back to its church partners by contributing to their ministries.
“We want to try to be about building bridges between the cultures,” Chamberlain said. “If we can build bridges between the cultures and share Christ’s love that way, I think it would be a good thing.”

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