by Linda LawsonNow He Pastors Church
When the members of Primera Iglesia Bautista in Hartford, Conn., began praying for the salvation of Gregory Torres in the early 1980s, they had no idea he would one day be their pastor.
Torres, then an administrator with Bell Pump Services and also the owner of a bar, accepted Christ as his personal Savior in 1985. The bar was the first thing to go.
"They [the church] put me to work. I didn't have much time to grow," Torres recalled. "God worked in my life very fast." He served as a Sunday school teacher, church treasurer and a deacon. In 1991, the church asked him to serve as interim pastor. The search committee then asked him to submit a resume to be considered as pastor.
"I prayed and prayed," Torres said. The support of his wife, sons and extended family was a key factor in his conviction that God was indeed calling him to change vocations.
When Torres became pastor in February, 1992, the church was meeting in a school. Later that year, they purchased an 18,000-square-foot building to remodel into a church facility. Located in a Hispanic neighborhood a few blocks from the state capitol, the building was structurally sound. However, it had burned three times and the inside was filled with garbage and asbestos.
"It was a horror," said Angelita Torres, wife of the pastor.
After the asbestos was removed, volunteer teams from New England and several Southern states traveled to Hartford to help create a worship center, preschool room and other facilities on the first floor. They moved into the first floor in June, 1997.
Church members completed the second floor that includes a fellowship hall, Sunday school and discipleship classrooms and a commercial kitchen the church hopes to use in a soup kitchen ministry.
Today, the church includes members from eight Hispanic cultures plus African Americans and persons of Irish descent. Most Sunday school classes are held in English while discipleship groups, also held on Sunday morning, are conducted in Spanish and English. "A lot of our kids and teenagers feel more comfortable in English. I'm glad the church is open to that," said Mildred Carrasquillo, Sunday school director.
Carrasquillo said the church has seen the Holy Spirit at work in recent months as "people are really turning to the Lord."
In addition to envisioning continued growth for his congregation, Torres sees a need for starting more Latino (Hispanic and Brazilian) churches in New England. The strategy will be to involve at least three existing churches in starting a new work. In addition, Primera Iglesia Bautista plans to start a Brazilian mission in their building in 2002. Torres also hopes his church can play a role in starting an Anglo mission in downtown Hartford.
Earlier this year, Primera Iglesia Bautista called one of its laymen, Julio Carrasquillo, as associate pastor. Like Torres, he had held several leadership roles before the church licensed him to preach.