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Compassionate pastor plants churches for disadvantaged

By Barbara Denman

September 21, 2012


Araceli Velasco had attended La Esperanza Iglesia Hispania in Lake City for only a few times when she was forced by her landlord to find a new home for her family of five.


After asking Pastor John Wethington for suggestions of an alternate place, the pastor and his wife invited the family to move into their home.


While living there, Velasco, who migrated to Lake City from Mexico, began attending church regularly and “little by little” began to understand the message of salvation. Soon Velasco, along with her brother Juan Carlos, asked Jesus to be their Savior.


With tears in her eyes, the house cleaner explained that the pastor hugged her when her own father never did. Jesus changed her life, she said through a translator, because the pastor shared the love of Jesus with her.


John and Mary Wethington have lovingly wrapped arms of compassion around the Hispanic community in Lake City. As he serves as the Anglo pastor of the church that reaches out to Lake City’s disadvantaged Hispanic community, the couple never hesitates to help in a moment of crisis or need.


Carlos Maldonado just started attending the church when his mother died. The pastor accompanied the family to Miami for her funeral, and the church made a donation for her urn. “We knew them for only three weeks, but we felt like we had been family for years,” said Maldonado, who is now taking theological education classes.


Fourteen-year-old Christian did not attend school before moving in with the Wethingtons. The pastor immediately began to fear that the boy was destined to be a migrant farm laborer “picking tomatoes in the next two years” without an education. After encouraging his enrollment in school, Christian now brings home straight A’s.


Wethington also has a heart for starting new churches. Since planting La Esperanza two years ago, the pastor has planted new mission churches in Mayo and Chiefland.


Working with worship leader Robert Sarai and his wife, the church also sponsors a Bible study in the family’s home, with the hope that it will also become a viable mission church in the future.


“He has a heart for the Spanish people,” Sarai said of Wethington.


La Esperanza is also sponsoring an English congregation that meets in their building on Sunday mornings. But with only a dozen in attendance, the Beluah Baptist Association is bringing in a new pastor to lead the Anglo church.


Many of the Hispanics in the north Florida region arrive in the area as migrants, prepared to cultivate and pick the area’s agricultural bounty, including tomatoes and watermelons. Eventually some of them find jobs working in the service industry in hotels and restaurants. They live life on the edge of financial security with meager wages and minimum resources for their families.


Through gifts to the Maguire State Mission Offering, $30,000 is available to help 85 Florida Baptist ministries serve migrant communities. Administered by Florida Baptists’ migrant consultant Misael Castillo, the funds also underwrite children, youth and family camps and theological education for the migrant church leaders.


La Esperanza has benefitted from those funds. Additionally, the Convention has provided the church with church planting assistance and an interest-free loan, also from the Maguire State Mission Offering, to purchase the double wide mobile home that now serves as the church. The congregation recently purchased a portable classroom to use as an office and additional space for Bible studies.


When they originally purchased the double wide, Wethington said the realtor refused to enter the building due to its filth. But Mary Wethington and Campers on Missions volunteers renovated the building into an attractive and functional church building.


The pastor’s wife, who does not speak Spanish, spearheaded the renovation effort working long days and nights. 


The congregation, which numbers between 35-45 regular attendees, represent at least eight countries—Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.


“I find it easy to talk to Spanish people about God,” said the bi-vocational pastor who mows lawns for a living. “They are receptive to the gospel.”


James Roberts, director of missions for the Beulah Baptist Association, said the Wethingtons “excel in reaching the downtrodden that no one else is reaching.”


“No one works harder than John and Mary to reach that community,” he said. “Nobody is more devoted or dedicated to reach that segment of society.”

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