Fresno Spanish church members pool together to renovate outdated facility

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Pastor Antonio Huerta visits with Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin to share photos of the newly remodeled Hispanic church.

Pastor Antonio Huerta visits with Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin to share photos of the newly remodeled Hispanic church.

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Three years ago Pastor Antonio Huerta walked across the street to one of the neighborhood’s small businesses and asked the owners a question. “What does our church look like?” The answers came swiftly. “Like a rundown hotel. It looks like a jail.” Huerta heard what he already knew. The Fresno, Calif., Hispanic church did not look like a place of worship.

Located in a high crime area, the bars on the windows served a necessary purpose. But over the years, the neighborhood slowly changed. Built in 1942 and purchased by an Adventist congregation in 1985, the aging house of worship desperately needed remodeling, both inside and out.

“I let the members know the need,” Huerta says. “They didn’t notice it before. But when we knew what other people thought, it brought us together.” He reminded the members that the carpet and windows in their own homes were better than in God’s house.

The bids for the job were between $900,000 and $1.2 million. “We didn’t have the money,” Huerta explains. Very few of the members were in a position to give significant contributions. "You know what you make, how little money is in your family,” Huerta told the congregation. “Don’t give if you can’t.”

Tithe was the first priority. Building fund contributions were in addition to God’s 10 percent. As the spirit of generosity grew, so did the pledges. Members began to give what resources they had. “We are blessed with a large number of skilled construction workers,” Huerta explains. “We calculated the cost of materials and purchased them at very low prices.” With most of the labor donated, costs remained low as well.

Resources

Cruz and Catalina Flores raise animals on their five acres and decided to donate a cow to the building project. They dedicated a calf and watched her grow. When finally ready for auction, the cow died. “Maybe God doesn’t want us to give,” Cruz said. But Catalina didn’t agree.

They chose another calf and nine months later they took her to auction. As people were bidding on the animal, it collapsed and died. Cruz was so embarrassed. And he had to pay money to have the animal removed. Cruz left very discouraged that he couldn’t give a contribution.

Catalina was persistent. She wanted to dedicate another calf. Nine months later they sold it for $750!

Other members also gave what they had — horses, goats, jet skies, boats, bicycles, and cars. One man sold his 10 piñatas. The sacrificial spirit grew greater as the months went by.

“When it comes to giving, the pastor has to model it,” Huerta says. “The windows are $30,000. I don’t have the money, but I am pledging and asking you to match it,” he told the congregation.

Recognition

The remodel was completed for $350,000. The newly remodeled church caught the eye of Fresno’s Mayor Ashley Swearengin. Though her schedule prevented attending the dedication service, Swearengin presented her message by DVD.

Thanking the congregation for making a difference in the city, Swearengin said, “When I viewed the photos of your newly remodeled church, I am absolutely overwhelmed. Your church is stunningly beautiful. Not just for the way it looks, but it reflects the heart and soul of your church and your love for the surrounding community. As your neighbors drive by, what they see is a congregation that is optimistic and hopeful, that has a heart for the city and a love for families.”

“We like to finish each year with 60-70 baptisms,” said Huerta. “One member told me, ‘Pastor, now I don’t feel embarrassed anymore.’”

“It is amazing how Gods responds,” Huerta continues. “One family does not have the resources. But together, with increasing faith, it was a wonderful experience.”