There's a mantra the Rev. Max Guzman turns to as he ministers to undocumented immigrants in the community.
Some, he said, have become believers since crossing into the country illegally.
"They wrestle with the morality of it, with the wrong they've done," Guzman said. "I tell them, ‘Let it be the only thing against you.'"
Guzman is the pastor of Iglesia Bautista Cristo Vive in North Augusta, which holds its services entirely in Spanish. Through Cristo Vive, Guzman offers ESL classes and a ministry to migrant workers.
"We teach them to live a moral life, to pay their taxes, to not abuse the Medicade, to follow the traffic laws," Guzman said. "Crossing the border should be the only thing against them. It's not a perfect system, but scripture from the Old Testament and New Testament both say, ‘Welcome the stranger,' ‘Welcome the foreigner.' Life is tough for them, and the Biblical command is to see to their needs."
Guzman's Cristo Vive is the only Spanish-speaking Southern Baptist church in the area, which is why I checked in with him following the Southern Baptist Convention's annual meeting in Phoenix in June. We sat down on Friday to discuss an article coming out in Monday's Augusta Chronicle.
Several things happened in Phoenix, but one in particular seemed to grab the most headlines. Baptists approved a resolution advocating for a "path to legal status" for undocumented immigrants living in the country. Look for more on that topic in Monday's paper, but in the meantime, Guzman had a few thoughts to share that you won't find in the story.
In addition to the resolution on undocumented immigrants, there was a second item of note that also made headlines. Baptists adopted a plan to increase the ethnic diversity of church leadership.
Guzman said he thought that efforts to boost minorities in Baptist leadership could do a lot of good for the convention. Here's why:
In his young and growing Spanish-speaking congregation, relationships are everything.
"The beauty of the church plant is we don't have nothing but people," he said.
And the congregation, largely composed of those who have moved to the U.S. from Mexico, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Puerto Rico and Cuba, are looking to reach out to other's with similar backgrounds and experiences.
"They're in a country where the language is different, the culture is different, the food is different, the schedules are different. They're looking for relationships at church with people doing things like them," Guzman said.
Regardless of race, a leader who is passionate about relationships could revive a convention saddled with programs, Guzman said.
"It's the way things go," he said. "Churches grow, and the programs overshadow the relationships. Someone with multi-cultural experience, someone who has been around the world, seen the poverty, learned to love those people, will make a difference. That's what we need."
"The pulpit," he added, "should look like the assembly. When it does, that's when we know we've made a step forward."