was a businessman for a custom-doors factory in Tucson, Arizona, when the Lord called me into the ministry. For six months, my wife, Gabriella, and I prayed every day at 5 o’clock in the morning because the Lord told us we were going to be part of a group of people who would take the Hispanic Church of God to the next level for the next generation.
We did not understand. We had never been pastors, although we had been in the Church of God all of our lives. One day, Brother Fidencio Burgueno (then the overseer of the Southwest Hispanic Region) told us about an opening at the Oasis Retreat Center. Somebody was needed
to clean the bathrooms and wash the dishes for weekend retreats, and we sold everything to make that step of faith. We worked there for a year in the middle of the desert near Palm Springs, California.
For those 12 months, we had the opportunity to be by ourselves, praying at night, just looking at the stars. It sounds kind of romantic, but it was that way. That’s how the Lord prepared us spiritually. We were ready to go and do anything for Him.
In November 2006, the Lord brought us to Cleveland, Tennessee, to attend the Pentecostal Theological Seminary. Three months later, Brother Fidencio (then serving as Hispanic Ministries director) told me, “There is an Anglo Church in Athens (30 miles from Cleveland) that is looking for a pastor for the Hispanic ministry. Would you be interested?”
When I showed up for the interview, Pastor Clifford Waters told me, “You’re the guy.” I was surprised. The Lord had everything prepared for every step of the way. That’s how we started leading the Woodward Avenue Church of God Hispanic Ministries. Five years later, we are pastoring a church that is heavily involved in the community.
As a Hispanic pastor in the United States, my challenge starts with my kids—Amy, 17, and Alphonso, 15. They are Americans who speak Spanish, but they also speak English. They have the Hispanic heritage, but they also are part of the American culture. Every day
they go to school. They have iPods and iPhones. At home, they have computers and television. However, sometimes our Hispanic churches are like a time machine, going back 50 years.
So, our church is investing in technology and in young people. Because Hispanics are family-oriented, we have good connection with our youth. The problem is keeping them when they are 18 years or older because of technology, language, and cultural issues.
Another matter is how to integrate Hispanics into the American church. I thank God for putting me under the leadership of Pastor Clifford Waters. He has a heart for Hispanics. He understands the challenge we have as a church.
Because our congregation is part of the Woodward Avenue Church of God,
I do not have to worry about paying the utility bill and paying rent at the end of the month. Instead, I can concentrate on working in the school district and doing chaplaincy ministry, which makes a big impact in the community.
Because of my involvement in the McMinn County schools as a community service chaplain, one day I received a call about a student named Noah. He was going to be expelled because he had 25 absences without justification, along with many other problems. His mother, who does not speak English, did not know about all this. Finally, this situation reached court, where I was asked to be the interpreter.
After the hearing, the mother asked to speak with me. Noah did not have a father at home. I began meeting with this young man and his family, and in three months, they started attending our church. They were born again!
The older sister is now working in the media ministry. The youngest child is heavily involved, and the mother is there. Noah is singing in the choir. His school- teachers are saying a lot of good things about him. He is making good grades. This did not begin at the church, but at the courthouse.
We need ministers to stop being the pastor of the church and start being the pastor of the community. We need to walk in the Holy Spirit on the streets of our city. In Athens, we are developing a mentoring program for Hispanic kids with no father figure.
When the Church of God Chaplains Commission was looking for a Hispanic coordinator, I showed up at the office to meet with Brother Jack Popejoy. He had a lot of well-qualified applicants from everywhere (even outside the U.S.), yet once again I heard, “You’re the man.”
This position began in 2010, and now the Chaplains Commission also has a bilingual secretary—Deanna Cordova. She is doing an awesome job.
We have Spanish-language chaplaincy-training seminars taking place all around the nation. As a pastor, I schedule my traveling around the country between Wednesday and Sunday because, even though we are still a small church, I want to be there.
I recently came back from Chicago, where the Hispanic chaplaincy ministry is under the coordination of Alberto Arias. He is doing a great job. Since the last General Assembly, we have 250 new Hispanic chaplains in Chicago doing all kinds of work. It is amazing.
Hispanics who want to get involved in chaplaincy have to understand things are different in the U.S. than in their country of origin. In my home country of Mexico, for example, ministers can go into the hospital freely, but not in the United States. That’s where chaplaincy training comes along.
Chaplaincy ministry starts with the pastor. After the pastor becomes a certified community service chaplain, he can start his own chaplaincy chapter in his church.
Individuals can have a very effective ministry in hospitals, jails, schools, and private industries when they are trained, certified, and recognized as chaplains. If you want to know the social needs in the Hispanic community, get involved with the schools, because that is where the kids are. It’s a gold mine! I believe every pastor in the Church of God needs to be a chaplain.
A Willing Spirit
I wish I had better preparation as a pastor and a leader, and I know the Lord is going to give me that opportunity some- day. So, I use myself as an encouragement for others: Don’t look at whether you’re ready or not; just be willing, and the Lord is going to help you with the rest.