February 14, 2014

WARMTH, SPIRIT, EASE:

Spreading the Pentecostal spirit : L.A.'s Rene Molina grew his church by appealing to Latino immigrants. Now he's helping to fuel Pentecostalism's expansion across the U.S. (Kurt Streeter, February 2, 2014, LA Times)

"Dios es bueno!" (God is good!)

Pastor Rene Molina moved among the sea of believers, bestowing blessings with his touch. He placed a hand on one worshiper's head, sparking such emotion that the man fell to the floor.

"Jesus was an immigrant and outsider too," Molina said, speaking in the Spanish of his native El Salvador. "God is here in Los Angeles as you struggle. God is there with your family, in Mexico and Guatemala.... Don't doubt your value, no matter what society says."

This is Sunday morning service at Restauracion Los Angeles, emblematic of how the practice of Christianity here is being reshaped. [...]

 "He has a clear emphasis," said Juan Martinez, a vice provost at Pasadena's Fuller Seminary who is overseeing the pastor's pursuit of a master's degree in divinity. "Society may have you in the shadows because of your immigration status or your economic status. But this is a church that says, in God's economy, you have total worth."

Restauracion is made up almost entirely of recent immigrants -- restaurant and construction workers, janitors and nannies -- or their sons, daughters and grandchildren. Most are either in the country illegally or started out that way, said Molina, who once sneaked across the border himself.

"In the crowd here you see the faces of Los Angeles," Molina, 51, said. "You see the reality of today."

Ricardo Romero is part of that reality.

Born in El Salvador, he came to the United States during the 1980s, using fake documents to make it through customs.

He scraped by on low-paying jobs, working at Burger King and as a janitor. But the loneliness that came from being far from home led to a drinking problem and depression. Romero was raised Catholic but had tired of religion. Out of desperation, he visited Restauracion.

"It changed my life," said Romero, 45, who met his wife at the church and is now a legal resident and an account manager at a janitorial firm. "There was a warmth, a spirit and ease that I had not encountered in church before. And the pastor was urging us to love God and improve ourselves.... It was not about wealth or becoming rich. It was about becoming the best student, the best father, the best person and citizen we could be."

Romero's narrative is a common one at Restauracion, where most of the membership was raised Catholic. So is the story of Eneida and Abelardo Alvarez.

Sweethearts growing up in Guatemala, they came to Los Angeles in the mid-1990s. America has been full of opportunity, they said, but life is a daily struggle. Eneida, 37, works as a nanny. Her husband is a plumber. They live in South L.A., supporting three children.

The church gives them strength.

The Alvarezes attend services three days a week. On a fourth night they host a Bible study in their home, one of about 110 meetings held by church members every week.
Posted by at February 14, 2014 6:31 PM
  
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