There was a time when the work of the Carolina Conference with our Hispanic brothers and sisters was minute in comparison to what we are experiencing today. Back in the early 1990’s, Pastor Mario Muñoz was part-time pastoring the only Spanish church in the conference, which was in Columbia, SC.
In 1992, Carolina Conference President Ken Coonley sensed the Holy Spirit’s prompting to expand this ministry to meet the increase in Hispanic Adventists and Hispanic communities throughout the Carolinas.
Enter Samuel Romero, a young theology student at Southern Adventist University who had immigrated to the United States from Costa Rica.
Pastor Frank Ottati introduced Sam to Ken and the other officers. With recommendations from newly elected General Conference President Robert Folkenberg and Carolina Conference Treasurer Benny Moore, who were both acquainted with Samuel, they extended a call to this young pastor who barely spoke two words of English. (His story of sitting on the front row in a college composition class—smiling like he understood but having no idea what
was going on—is one that will leave you fascinated, amused, and absolutely amazed! It simply
illustrates Samuel’s total commitment to follow God’s calling for his life.)
Sam and his wife, Mary, who is originally from Honduras, were invited to consider coming
to the Carolinas, but because of limited funding, the offer was only $1,500 a month and no
medical, educational or retirement benefits. As if that were not enough reason to say no,
they were being asked to launch a ministry in a territory with no prior track record of success.
Meanwhile Pastor Sam was offered another call by the Georgia Cumberland Conference to be their Hispanic Ministries leader with a full-time salary and benefits. Which one would you choose?
After careful thought and prayerful contemplation, they felt the Holy Spirit’s leading to ministry in the Carolinas, even with no church, no office, and with two young children to support. Moving into a duplex that became his office and his home, Pastor Sam and Mary began a
work that was nothing short of a leap of faith and trust in God’s provision. To make ends meet, Sam continued his house-painting business in his spare time.
But God’s provision came through in a big way just two weeks later. An anonymous donor gave funds to the Conference designated for new ministry initiatives, and there was more
than enough to cover a full-time salary and benefits for Pastor Sam. Both of their sons were
able to complete their elementary education at Adventist Christian Academy in Charlotte,
their secondary education at Mount Pisgah Academy, and their higher education at Southern
Pastor Sam and Mary got right to work, initiating a small church group in the lower-level fellowship hall/kitchen area of the Charlotte Sharon Church with 12-15 Hispanic members. By the end of 1992, there were five small Hispanic groups, with a combined membership of 97.
Through prayer, Bible study, fellowship and witnessing, they created a model based on small
group ministry and discipleship. The expansion of God’s kingdom among the Hispanics was founded on service, training in preaching, and Bible study, along with creating what were known as Societies of Youth. The work expanded from Charlotte to New Bern, Hickory, Roanoke, and Rockingham. When the work expanded into South Carolina, Eli Rojas, Sr. was
called as our very first full-time Hispanic pastor, covering the territory of Charlotte, Columbia,
Over these past 29 years, phenomenal growth has taken place through the God-given vision, pioneering leadership and faithful efforts of Pastor Sam and Mary Romero. From that first group of 12-15, God’s Hispanic work in the Carolinas has expanded to well over 6,000 members, with 19 Hispanic pastors (three of whom also pastor English churches in their district). That represents 25% of our full-time pastors serving 25% of our conference membership. God has blessed our Conference family with a host of Hispanic hearts for Heaven, souls that will be cherished throughout the realms of eternity.
I can hardly believe that almost 10 years have come and gone since the day I drove from my home in Montgomery, AL, to Nosoca Pines Ranch to meet my new Carolina pastoral team. A
group of Hispanic pastors leaned toward Pastor Sam and playfully said it looked like his brother was the new president of the Carolina Conference! Our complexion and our salt and
pepper hair are not the only things we have shared through the years as we experienced the joy of working together as colleagues, friends, and brothers in Christ.
Mary, with her ready smile and willing heart, was always at Sam’s side assisting in a host of ministry functions, Hispanic camp meetings, and a never-ending calendar of events both in an out of the Conference office. With an excellent command of both English and Spanish, she was always will to assist colleagues whenever they needed something translated into Spanish. Both she and Sam served as my coaches as I practiced the delivery of my messages in Spanish...even though realmente no hablo español (I really don’t speak Spanish)! Mary was always a listening ear or a helping hand or a second mom to many of our fellow office workers, pastors’ wives, and members. Her beautiful, God-given love for others has been abundantly evident throughout her ministry here in the Carolinas.
With the Romero’s retirement this past May, what I will miss most are the times we enjoyed each other’s fellowship, sharing occasional Sabbath sunset dinners and worships at our home, laughing together over stories and events of our lives, and even the times we shed tears together and prayed for each other, our children, and our grandchildren.
Although they have entered into a more restful and relaxed phase of their lives, Sam and Mary will always remain the patriarchs of the Hispanic work in the Carolinas, and a cherished part of our Conference family.
May the good Lord bless and keep Sam and Mary in His constant love and care till that glorious morning when we meet our Savior beside the crystal sea (Revelation 4:6). The greatest honor that can ever be bestowed on both of them and all who have consecrated their lives in service will be expressed in the heartwarming words of Jesus himself, “Well done, good and faithful servant...Enter into the joy of your Lord.” (Matthew 25:23)
Your servant leader,
Carolina Conference Presiden