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Bicentennial: Church planting among language groups grows over the years

The Hispanic congregation of Dawson Memorial Baptist Church's VBS in 1992

When Richard Alford was hired in 1991 to serve in language missions with the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions, he had a skill they needed — fluency in the state’s most widely used language behind English: American Sign Language.

At that time, the Deaf were by far the largest language group after English in Alabama. But Alford had barely unpacked in his new office before he started noticing a shift.

“The 1990 census for Alabama was showing 30,000 Hispanics, and as best I could tell, that was probably reasonably accurate,” he said. “But for the first few years I was here, it seemed like two to three times a week I would get calls from a church or a director of missions saying, ‘We’ve got Spanish speakers in our area. What can we do to reach out to them?’”

Alford didn’t speak Spanish or have any experience with Hispanic culture, but he knew his office’s ministry needed to adjust. At that time, the Spanish-speaking population of north Alabama was growing rapidly because of the pull of the poultry industry, and other areas were starting to gain a Hispanic population too.

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