WILMINGTON, N.C. – Hispanic Heritage Month is a time to celebrate the contributions and influence of Hispanic Americans to U.S. History. When it comes to accomplishments like that, I think of my grandfather, Agustín “Gus” Lara, or Papa, as we called him.
He never really talked about the difference he made (my grandmother honestly did most of the talking), but I was able to read more about it through old newspapers I found at my grandparents’ house after they passed away.
Lara was born on January 8, 1936 in Laredo, Texas. He served in the U.S. Marine Corps for 20 years, with an honorable discharge.
He received his call to ministry in 1981, the same year he married my grandmother, Peggy Lara. In 1983, he became a minister. In 1993, he and my grandmother established Primera Iglesia Bautista, the first Hispanic church in Wilmington, North Carolina.
“Peggy was always on his side and they both started talking to people from several countries,” said current pastor, Humberto Mendoza, “but it was with the Hispanic community where they started their little Bible study group.”
Their ministry included worship services, and providing transportation to church, hospitals, and grocery stores. They also had a clothing closet, Bible studies in migrant camps, English classes, Spanish Bible distribution, and several social events.
“It was the first church to hold their service in Spanish. Soon thereafter other churches started with leaders that once came to our church,” said Pastor Mendoza.
They even were able to get a medical bus to stop by the church every year through the Baptist Association. Doctors, dentists, OB-GYNs, and nurses donated their time to offer free services for migrants who didn’t have insurance.
I did come across a profile feature on my grandfather from a local newspaper. When asked his reason for joining the clergy, he said, “After seeing my country for over 20 years in the Marine Corps, the Lord called me to preach the gospel, to preach to the Hispanic, to take the message of hope and salvation to migrant workers in their own language.”
Primera Iglesia Bautista is still in operation today. Pastor Mendoza has been leading the church for nearly 20 years.