Published May 6, 2004
DALTON — Whitfield and Murray counties in North Georgia have seen a constant increase in the Hispanic population in the past decade. In a setting where some may see nothing but obstacles common with immigration, Bob Bagley has seen opportunities.
It is primarily through his work with Hispanics and other ethnic groups that Bagley, director of missions for the North Georgia and Murray County associations, was recently named Associational Missionary of the Year by the Georgia Baptist Convention. The honor was based on recommendations by the Georgia Baptist Convention staff.
“Ethnic groups have been a growing area of ministry for some time now,” says Bagley. “In the past five years, it’s expanded even more. Our goal is to keep getting our local churches more involved.”
According to statistics from the Georgia Department of Education, an average classroom of 30 students in the Dalton City School system will have 17 who are Hispanic. An overwhelming majority of students’ parents are employed by one of the numerous carpet industries scattered throughout the area. Language and cultural barriers abound.
It is with these factors that Bagley oversees five Hispanic churches and three full-time Hispanic pastors. The largest of the three churches, Nueva Vida, averages 350 in Sunday School attendance. The other two pastors divide their time among six missions.
In addition to the Hispanic ministry, a newly formed Vietnamese mission has been attracting individuals from as far away as Chattanooga.
“Bob Bagley is one of the most respected and beloved associational missionaries in Georgia,” stated J. Robert White, executive director for the GBC. “He has consistently demonstrated sensitivity to the needs of the ministers and churches of his association. He has strong commitments to church planting, evangelism and worldwide missions.”
A native of Atlanta, Bagley graduated from Chamblee High in 1957. He got a job as a dockworker in an Atlanta trucking business and eventually was transferred to Memphis, Tenn., where he joined Trinity Baptist Church. While a member there, he responded to a call to ministry.
At age 26 Bagley returned to Georgia and enrolled at Shorter College in Rome. Following graduation, he went on to Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. While a student, he once again worked in the trucking business.
Following graduation, Bagley went on to pastor churches in Indianola, Miss., Rome, and Mableton before accepting the pastorate at Dug Gap Church in Dalton, where he stayed for six years.
In 1986 Bagley’s predecessor at his current position died. Bagley felt led to apply for the job.
“Bob Bagley is the reason these ministries are here,” says Bill Vasbinder, who promotes and teaches English as a Second Language (ESL) classes in various churches throughout the North Georgia Association.
Vasbinder, an Anglo, is also a pastor at Nueva Vida, the largest Hispanic congregation in the area. In addition, he is the head of the ESL program, despite the fact that the 55-year-old has yet to step foot in a Spanish class.
“Bob Bagley has effectively served as associational missionary in the North Georgia and Murray County Baptist associations for many years,” explains Frank Nuckolls, specialist with Associational Missions Ministries of the GBC. “During his ministry he has mentored and cared for many pastors and church leaders. He has ministered to a changing culture by developing and implementing a mission strategy that led to the starting of several Hispanic congregations, a Vietnamese congregation, and an Arabic congregation while seeking to lead in the starting of several new Anglo congregations.”
Promoting relationships between Anglo churches and the Hispanic community is the first step to building Hispanic churches, says Bagley.
“The process by which we build these churches is to first establish a mission somewhere – such as an abandoned store or trailer in a trailer park – that there is a large Hispanic population,” he explains. “When there are enough people, that group will begin to share a facility with an established church.
“The goal is to eventually have the Hispanic congregations strong enough to have their own church building and programs.”
Nueva Vida is already there. Begun as a mission in the early 1980’s by First Dalton, the congregation had plateaued when Ernesto Mendez arrived in 1991 as pastor.
It wasn’t the first time Mendez had been in Georgia, having moved with his family from Mexico to Augusta in 1986 to help with a military ministry. A pastorate stop in Brownsville, Texas preceded the move to Dalton.
After experiencing growth during the early 1990’s, Nueva Vida moved into new facilities in 1997. Continued growth has led to the church looking for more space.
Recently, Mendez was appointed by U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige as Georgia’s representative for incorporating clergy participation into President Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act.
Future plans for Hispanic ministry include holding a “911” seminar this summer as well as expanding theological training for pastors offered through Language Missions Ministries of the GBC.
Getting to know Bob Bagley...
Wife – Evelyn
Children – Lisa Malcom, Gainesville; Susan Bagley, Dalton; Tricia Jennings, Dalton; and five grandchildren
Additional areas of service
• Mission Trip to Haiti – Construction and Evangelism
• Mission trip to Mexico – Construction and Evangelism
• Mission trip to Indiana, Missouri, West Virginia, and New York – Construction
• Volunteer at State WMU camp (Camp Pinnacle) for 20 years
• Served on Associational Sunday School/VBS Faculty; Associational Missions Committee; Associational Sunday School Director; Moderator
• Served on Georgia Baptist Convention VBS Faculty
• Served on GBC Credential Committee
• Served as first vice-president of GBC for 2003
• Presently serving as GBC Disaster Relief Volunteer
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