WINSTON-SALEM — Leaders of
the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of North Carolina (CBFNC) solicited urgent
prayer Aug. 27 for a Hispanic pastor facing possible deportation for a
15-year-old crime he committed before accepting Christ.
According to media reports,
Hector Villanueva, pastor of a Spanish-speaking church in Siler City, N.C., was
arrested Aug. 19 by United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents
and taken to Gainesville, Ga., to face an immigration judge.
Villanueva, 40, has lived in
the United States since he was 3. He is a legal resident with a green card and
Social Security card. He and his wife, Martha, a U.S. citizen, have four
children and are in the process of adopting two foster children.
Martha Villanueva told
the Raleigh News & Observer that a lawyer alerted her husband several months
ago that his green card might be in jeopardy because of a “commercial burglary”
conviction in the mid-1990s.
He was homeless at the time
and apparently tried to cash a check that wasn’t his. He became a practicing
Christian while in jail and dedicated his life to the ministry. His wife
admitted that in his former life her husband did some things of which he is not
“He is a man that loves to
help people,” his wife told
North Carolina television station WRAL. “His passion is just to serve God in
the ministry and to help.”
After moving from California
four years ago, Villanueva helped CBF-NC Hispanic Leader Coach Javier Benitez
start Iglesia Bautista la Roca in Raleigh, one of a dozen congregations that
form the state organization’s Hispanic Network.
He recently started a new
church in Siler City.
His conviction surfaced in a
background check after he applied for U.S. citizenship. Under current
any non-citizen convicted of an “aggravated felony” faces deportation, whether
or not they have served their sentence.
“Hector has an immigration
lawyer, who is petitioning on his behalf to be released on bond,” noted the
from CBF-NC Executive Coordinator Larry Hovis, Missions Coordinator Linda Jones
and Social Ministries Coordinator Laura Barclay. “Many of us have written
character reference letters, but now we need your prayers. Please pray for
Hector and his family in their time of need.”
“We are hoping he will be allowed to stay with his
church and family,” Jones said in a separate Aug. 27 e-mail. “He’s a great guy,
and this is a real tragic story so far.”