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Ministering faith, regardless of legal status

“Alabad a Jehova! Naciones todas, pueblos todos…”

“Praise God! All nations, all people…”

They had come this Sunday morning to pray, as they always do, at Riverside Heights Baptist Church, out beyond Rosehill Cemetery, where the graves of Civil War dead are marked with tattered Confederate flags.

For more than a decade in Tallassee, Ala., the white Southern Baptists in this small country church have opened their doors, wallets and hearts to a group of Latino strangers who had appeared among them suddenly one Sunday, desperate for a place to pray.

They hired a bilingual pastor, launched a countywide “Hispanic mission,” and let their children play side-by-side with the newcomers’ kids on field trips and in summer camps. They knew or suspected that many of them were here illegally.

Now, since the law’s passage, the Latinos are moving away. And in the pine pews of Riverside Heights Baptist Church, many white members are struggling to reconcile strongly held convictions about a lawful society with their compassion for their new brothers and sisters in Christ.

Pastor Randy Billingsley is among those who support the Latino mission as staunchly they do the law that is thinning its ranks.

To Billingsley, a retired Air Force master sergeant, illegal immigration poses a national security threat. At the same time, he said, “They’re humans. We want to minister to them regardless of what legal status they have.”

Read the story by Richard Fausset

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