Hispanic Church by Kirk Noonan

       We know that for us to enjoy an intimate relationship with God we must pray.

       The newly added sanctuary at Iglesia Christiana Misericordia (Mercy Christian Church) in Laredo, Texas, is not yet complete. Inside, I-beams and insulation are exposed, the concrete floor is yet to be tiled and the air conditioner is not working - but hundreds of worshippers file into the church undeterred.

       "Every Sunday nearly 600 people come to worship here," says Gilbert Velez, M.D., pastor of the church. "Some families in the congregation cross the border (from Mexico) to be here. The people of this church really love God."

       Outside the temperature is creeping toward the century mark, and it is not much cooler in the sanctuary. But when the music begins, the worshipers spring to their feet and begin praising God. In the front row, two women dance - one has a colorful streamer that she whips back and forth. The Spanish lyrics are accompanied by the beating of drums, the rattle of tambourines and shouts of "Hallelujah" or "Gloria a Dios."

       In 1994, this church started as a Bible study in Rebecca Gallegos' home. Gallegos had read about a woman who started a home Bible study that eventually turned into a thriving church. Inspired, she wanted to do the same. Unbeknownst to her, God was also working on Velez, who at the time was practicing medicine.

       "I felt like the Lord was leading me to start a Hispanic church in Laredo," says Velez. "But the growth of this church really caught us by surprise."

       Within six months, the Bible study of 15 moved to a storefront location and quickly grew to more than 75 people. As God moved in the church, Velez and his wife, Zulma, also a physician felt impressed to leave their medical practices.

       For their first four months as fulltime ministers, another Christian physician paid Velez a pastor's salary. By the beginning of the fifth month the church had grown enough that it could support him. Since then the church has continued to experience growth due in large part, says Velez, to prayer.

       "Every weekday morning at 6 a.m. more than 20 come to the church to pray," he says. "We know that in order for us to enjoy an intimate relationship with God we must pray. Prayer is the key factor to this church's success."

       Evangelism is also a cornerstone of the church. Five years ago when Balbemar Sanchez's daughter was critically ill, church members went to the hospital and ministered to the family. When they prayed for Sanchez's daughter, God healed her. Touched, Sanchez accepted Christ as his Savior.

       "The people of this church supported our family," he says. "When we were going through a hard time, this church was there." In children's church the next generation of prayer warriors and soul winners is being discipled. More than 150 children sit in child-sized plastic chairs paying rapt attention to Jeff Miller, youth and children's pastor.

       "The children and youth are spiritually hungry," Miller says. "We can't feed them fast enough - they are serious about church and reaching the lost."

       Gilbert Sanchez, a layperson, says the church is just getting started. "We are going to outgrow this place very soon, because we are going to reach more people," he promises, pointing to the sanctuary. "And we will continue working toward that until the coming of the Lord."

Reprinted by permission of the Pentecostal Evangel.