Light in the Valley: church leader in the Rio Grande Valley shines as an example

By Jaclyn Bonner, Communications Specialist

It all started with giving a community member a ride. A conversation, a seemingly simple act of service, exposed Pastora Maricela and Pastor Rafael Hernandez to great need in a neighboring Colonia, an off-the-grid community lacking basic necessities like electricity, running water and plumbing.

The Hernandezes were living a comfortable life and pastoring a well-established church when God called them to plant a church in Penitas, a border town that more closely resembles Mexico than the rest of the United States.

When the Hernandez’s planted Family Christian Assembly, they did not have many resources either, but God provided for them.They did ministry out of a neighborhood park for 11 months.

“We had a park and all the ganas (“desire”) to serve the community,” reflected Hernandez. “Once you see a need,” Hernandez commented, “you cannot say to the Lord, ‘I am not aware.’”

Sister Maricela’s desire focused on seeing children and youth pursue education. She immigrated to the United States with her family when she was 14. Sister Maricela was the first in her family to graduate high school and complete a bachelor’s degree. She is currently pursuing a master’s degree in leadership.

After she emerged as a promising leader, Sister Maricela was counseled to settle in the metroplex and leave her home community on the border, She has a different perspective, calling her community a treasure. She chose to return to Penitas and use her gifting and education to give back.

Sister Maricela and leaders from her church participated in Urban Strategies’ Juntos en la Camino training to learn more about community engagement models and approaches. Family Christian Assembly offers summer youth programs to neighborhood children and parents to meet hunger needs and fill the academic gap when school is out. Summer programming also provides physical activities for kids as well as family activities that foster unity.

The Hernandez family is in and of the community they serve. Sister Maricela smiled as she shared that her children grew up playing alongside the children in the community and have chosen to serve alongside her as adults. Her granddaughter is the now the third generation to grow up in Penitas. She participates in the summer program with the other kids.  

Family Christian Assembly’s holistic model also connects youth with role models within the church. Sister Maricela encourages the community youth to pursue education, and she prays the Lord will call them to ministry.

“If there is darkness, we are the light. We need to go and place that light in an area where it will shine the most…. sometimes we feel that we better go to the city, the largest area, and we leave smaller communities in darkness,” reflected Sister Maricela. “There is a Penitas in every community. It’s not only our place here in the Valley…. There are so many communities that have need. If you run with a vision that there is a Penitas in every country and every city and every town, there is a Penitas that you need to go back and invest.”

If your church is interested in learning more about investing in the community and leading holistic engagement, contact us to learn about resources and tools.

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