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'Hispana means a lot': Pastor trying to expand Hispanic church ministry in Sumter

Javier Polo is a pastor at First Assembly of God in Sumter. He oversees Iglesia Hispana, the Hispanic ministry he's trying to grow.

SUMTER, S.C. — Javier Polo is a pastor at First Assembly of God in Sumter. While he’s led a Hispanic ministry at the church since 2009, he’s expanding that mission now. Polo is trying to make the ministry, called Iglesia Hispana, more visible in the community.

"Hispana' means a lot. Hispanic, it means a lot for us because we identify as Hispanics," Polo said. "We noticed that especially for us, although God is everywhere, I would much rather worship in Spanish. I would much rather worship in Spanish. It’s been a tradition, I learned it that way, I speak the language better, so it was something we needed to have."

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He wants all Hispanic community members to have that opportunity, which is why he made a sign for the outside of the church. He used material he found that was about to be thrown away.

"Some trash for some people is treasure for others," he said.

In this case, the treasure was getting to make the sign for free. Since Polo doesn't have a big budget for the ministry, he's trying to find ways to advertise the service for free.

That means he's also learning how to code a website himself, and is creating social media sites to reach more people. This comes as church member Damaris Cochran says the Hispanic population in Sumter is getting bigger.

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"It’s growing," she told me. "And I say it’s growing because I’ve been living in Sumter for 25 years and you see more Spanish people around."

Pastor Polo’s wife Airam explains this resource lets people come together and speak their native language no matter their background.

"The Hispanic community is, um, a little bit what we call ‘sancocho’ in our country, which is a special soup with a lot of things together, different vegetables…it’s the same thing with this Hispanic community," she said. "We have people from different countries, different cultures, different flavors."

And people from all different backgrounds are welcome, says church member Angelica Maria Barahona.

"People don't know where it is located and now that we have a web page where it will help them a lot to see where it is located and what our true purpose really is," Barahona said in Spanish. "We are working every day to grow this ministry."

Pastor Polo confirmed that he has seen people from all over worshipping in the ministry throughout the years. 

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"We have had people from Venezuela, from Dominican Republic, from Cuba, from Honduras, Guatemala, Panama...I don’t want to miss anyone...Mexico," he listed. "And locals, and Puerto Ricans that serve in the armed forces and they like to come and just worship."

Airam remembers what it was like to move from the Dominican Republic.

"When I first moved here, back then, we didn’t have a lot of people that spoke Spanish," she recalled. "So it’s hard to go to a different place, different culture, different language and you won’t be able to at least say hello in your language."

Cochran detailed the same struggle when she moved from Honduras years ago, without knowing any English. Now, she says she's come a long way.

"We’re working so hard to let people know we’re here," Cochran said. "We’re here. We’ve got a new sign and we have faith that we’ll grow bigger."

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