Thanksgiving for Local Atlanta Residents Is About Helping Others

November 25, 2000

Source: The Atlanta Journal and Constitution

On November 25, 2000, The Atlanta Journal and Constitution reported that "Miguel and Lydia Ayala are co-pastors of a small church in Canton called Iglesia Pentecostal El Faro (the Lighthouse) whose members are mostly Latinos. 'For many, this is the first time they hear of it (Thanksgiving),' said Lydia Ayala. 'It is something we have to do. And they are very happy that the nation gives thanks together,' she said. 'It is very American, and it's something that's very important.'Miguel and Lydia and their four sons will join other church members next week to celebrate Thanksgiving after returning from a youth retreat in Wisconsin. Both the family and the church members say they have much for which to be thankful. In the two years since the Ayalas "felt the calling" and moved from Florida to open the church, they have made their mark in a community of contrasting cultures and poverty. 'My husband and I give thanks just to be here and able to help,' said Lydia. 'I feel like we are doing something very important here. I have to teach them everything . . . laundry, parenting classes. Most don't read and can't understand even a label on a can of food.' Their calling has turned out to be a full-time job for the entire family. Three months ago, the couple adopted Juan Perez, a 14-year-old Guatemalan boy who had lived on his own for four months. 'In Guatemala, children quit school when they're 9 years old to work to help support the family,' Miguel said. 'They become men at an early age. He has only a second-grade education.' Although everyone else in the family is fluent in Spanish and English, communication with Juan began in sign language. Like many Guatemalans, Juan spoke neither Spanish nor English, but an obscure dialect. The family is teaching him to speak Spanish first, and he is enrolled at Holly Springs Elementary School, where he is learning English. Miguel and Lydia Ayala have served as pastors at several churches together, including two in Florida, and have traveled as missionaries in South and Central America. Miguel is Puerto Rican, and Lydia grew up in New York. Married 27 years, they have two decades under their belts as pastors and missionaries. For other immigrants in the county, the Ayalas are a lighthouse in a storm. The church offers English classes, taught by volunteers, several days a week. The Ayalas perform myriad tasks for the immigrants, including giving advice on how to obtain green cards (save seven years of documents for proof of residency), acting as liaisons between the immigrant community and the school system, and helping with employment problems...A storeroom at the rear of the church provides clothing, child car seats, toys and other low-cost necessities. First-time visitors are given everything they need free of charge. Others pay a small price for donated household items and clothing. 'I ask mothers with children if they have heat,' Lydia said. 'They tell me no. One has a little baby. We gave away 45 mattresses to families, but that was not enough. Most sleep on the floor, and it's cold now. But still, they are so grateful to be here. It is still so much better than where they came from. These are a very grateful people'...Jose Ayala, 19...already has begun the church's annual toy drive for the immigrant community. He and brothers Jonathan, 14, and Juan, along with other volunteers, will deliver large sacks of donated toys to families at Christmas. Another brother, 26-year-old Miyazaky, is mentally and physically disabled, but still helps out at the church...All the Ayalas are thankful for what they have, but probably none more than Juan. Instead of being on his own on the streets, the sixth-grader has a warm home and a new family...'Juan said he is most thankful he can go to school,' said Miguel, translating for his son. And that's not something you hear every day."

See also: Interfaith, Civic