Nearly two years ago, Leslier Munoa, pastor of Iglesia Cristo Nuestro Rey in North Plainfield, N.J., began a journey with 75 of his parishioners. It was a journey of faith and neither he nor his parishioners knew when or where it would end.
They stopped traveling in July 2014 when they were welcomed warmly in Bluffton and provided a temporary worship space at Maye River Baptist Church.
“My people told me that this was the place that God wanted us to be. It’s been now a year and a half,” said Munoa. “It was the environment – so peaceful. So different than in North Plainfield. The people, so nice. It was amazing for us.”
Having made the decision to stay, the families began finding homes. Munoa, who moved into New Riverside, had one more home to find – a place where his congregation, called Kingdom Community Church in English, could gather and worship.
Jack Gatlin, who previously served as pastor at Maye River Baptist from 2001 to 2008, was in his first day back – as interim pastor – when Munoa knocked on his door with a request.
“Pastor Lee said he would drive by here about every week and think about asking us to use our facility,” Gatlin said. “When he met with [me] and our deacons, he said that he just felt the Lord leading him down to South Carolina.”
Munoa began attending Sunday services with his family. His congregation was permitted to gather in the fellowship hall for New Year’s Eve. The following Sunday, the whole congregation came to the Maye River worship service.
After that service, he gathered his parishioners in the parking lot and told them about his discussions with Gatlin. The next week, Munoa received word that he would be allowed to use the fellowship hall twice a week for services.
“We felt so blessed,” he said. “Once again, another proof that God brought us here. … The first door I knocked, He opens.”
“My opinion is if our church, little local churches don’t get to the point where they are more accepting of other races and people, then we’re going to slowly die,” Gatlin said. “It’s just not right to exclude anybody.”
The congregation made a conscious decision to welcome the Hispanic community, Gatlin said. In so doing, he said, members “let them know that they are cared about, they are accepted here.”
The Maye River Baptist congregation hovers above 100 members, as does Kingdom Community Church. While both pastors know this is a temporary arrangement, and believe that Munoa’s congregation will eventually have its own place of worship, the sharing of space is gratifying to everyone. Gatlin said, “I believe our congregation is happy to have a bigger family.”
Gwyneth J. Saunders is a veteran journalist and freelance writer living in Bluffton.