Few people expected Calvary Worship Center (CWC) in Staten Island, N.Y., to be a successful church. Located in a hub of urban sprawlwith all the problems of the inner citythe 25-year-old congregation was once labeled a "problem church" by its parent denomination, the Assemblies of God (AG).
But thats just history now. The church has quadrupled in size since the spring of 1997, and its moving to a former Coca-Cola bottling plant capable of seating more than 1,000 worshippers. The AG provided $1 million to purchase the new property, the largest loan the denomination has ever granted to a Spanish church.
"Weve had the greatest manifestations here," said associate pastor Franklin Hurd. "The presence of God has been so strong, and people are falling and repenting. Weve had people walk off the streets and be delivered from drugs."
Hurd joined the church in 1990 after he was freed from alcoholism. He walked into the Spanish service and claims he understood the message, even though he cant speak the language. "Nobody translated anything for me," he said. "I heard everything in English."
Before rushing to the altar to give his life to Christ, he saw a vision of a giant liquor bottle shattering into pieces. "The liquor went out, and I was delivered," Hurd said.
Senior pastor Samuel Rodriquez Jr., 28, assumed the leadership post in April 1997 after 12 years as an evangelist. Rodriguez, who is of Puerto Rican heritage, now broadcasts his radio and television program, Moving Mountains, in 68 countries. He is ordained with the AG and oversees youth ministries in 312 Spanish churches in 14 states.
A fireball preacher, Rodriquez encourages zealous, ear-splitting praise. He seldom stands still, racing up and down the aisles exhorting: "The world yells. We shout! We are shouting that Jesus is alive. We are shouting that Hes real."
Worship songs are led by Peter DeJesus, 23, an energetic associate from Rodriquezs ministry. "I bring a deep sense of intimate, profound, relational praise and worship going beyond the norms," he said. "We have had people come up to the front for salvation during praise and worship."
CWC sits in the busy Mariners Harbor district of Staten Island, home to a multiethnic mix of 137,000 residents. Bridges connect the island to New Jersey and Brooklyn, N.Y., only 15 minutes away. One of five boroughs that make up New York City, Staten Island has a growing population of 502,000, including more than 40,000 Hispanics.
The churchs rapid growth to almost 600 stems from 125 new converts, about 300 backsliders returning to Christ and others who were inactive in their former churches. Juan and Marciano Diaz, charismatic Catholics, were searching for a church that was alive.
"I traveled all around Staten Island, and I came here and liked what I saw," Juan said. "Its a very lively church and very free and sensitive to the Holy Spirit."
"We have received a renewal of the Holy Spirit and were baptized in water," His wife added.
Rodriquez hopes to reach 1,000 members by the end of the year, and he plans to establish separate Spanish and English congregations. Every Saturday teams of 15 people visit 32 homes to meet a monthly goal of 2,000 visitors.
Rodriguez wants CWC to go beyond the status quo. He plans to partner with a bank, the New York City school board and other agencies to fulfill his goal to open computer classes to the public from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Other services will include English classes, day care, a feeding program and special services for new immigrants.
"Our vision is people, not numbers," Rodriquez insists.
Rodriguez is framing a new style Hispanic church that is not hung up on legalism and is open to non-Spanish-speaking people. In the past, many Hispanic Pentecostals in the United States have been known for their strict dress code and sectarian divisions.
"We used to categorize the Anglo church as being worldly, as selling out," Rodriguez said. "Weve grown up from that immaturity. We are looking at each other as brothers now."
The pastor predicts that Hispanic churches will lead evangelistic outreaches in the inner cities and urban areas in the 21st century. And he believes that Calvary Worship Center will be a catalyst of revival fire in the city of New York and the eastern corridor of the United States.
"It will be a multicultural revival," the young pastor said. "And New York City will never be the same."