Called to minister, but also the young mom of a daughter approaching adolescence who needed more attention, Maricela H. Hernandez lamented to her mentor Mary C. García, pastor of Emanuel Church in Houston, that she no longer would be able to direct her district’s women’s program.
García’s response surprised her: “Your ministry continues,” García explained. “It’s not the title that makes your ministry.”
That’s a lesson that García, 63, learned by example. Raised in an Assemblies of God family, at age 14, García says she received a word from the Lord: Preach the gospel.
The Lord called García not only to receive the title of pastor, launching 38 years of pulpit ministry, but also that of secretary-treasurer of the Texas Louisiana Hispanic District, becoming in 2010 the first woman ever in the U.S. Assemblies of God to serve in district leadership.
Today there are three women in district leadership: Hernandez, who succeeded García; Silvia E Carrizo, secretary treasurer of the Southern Pacific District; and Rhonda C. Amer, treasurer of the Southern Missouri District.
García’s ancestral roots in the gospel hearken back almost a century ago when members of her father’s family came to Christ in Houston and soon took the gospel to relatives in their native Mexico. As a child, her mom heard the gospel and asked her parents’ permission to go to Pentecostal church services. Ultimately, all of García’s parents’ 13 siblings came to faith in Christ.
Her mother, Carlota F. González, now 84, nearly 40 years ago planted Emanuel Church, an Assemblies of God congregation in Texas’ largest city, where she preached, taught Sunday School, and interceded in prayer.
At 18, García received ministerial credentials. She shared preaching and teaching responsibilities at Emanuel with her mom from the church’s beginning, when attendance numbered 60. The congregation elected García as its first pastor at the age of 26.
Even though these two women long led Emanuel Church, and the Assemblies of God has long supported women called to church leadership, when García became the church’s lead pastor, some congregants left due to her gender.
“God has given me opportunities to preach His Word because that’s my passion,” she says.
García’s husband, Ruben, a firefighter, supported her ministry financially and spiritually. García has encouraged those in the flock who felt called to attend Bible school and become involved in leadership. To date, Emanuel Church has raised up more than 30 ministers and missionaries.
Through the years, the Lord opened doors for her to preach beyond her home church in congregations near and abroad. Then she gained the opportunity to serve in district leadership. In 2006, before the large Gulf Latin America District restructured into four smaller districts, García’s peers elected her to the executive presbytery.
“It’s not about the female and the male,” García says. “It’s about getting many people involved. The more people we can engage to work in the Kingdom, the better.”
“We’re not competing with the men,” García says. “We just want a place to do what God has called us to do.”
Maricela Hernandez is an admirer of García’s ministry.
“God uses her tremendously,” Hernandez says. “Her detailed sermons are rooted the Word of God, and she’s a prayer warrior.”
After serving in district leadership for a dozen years, including the first decade of the Texas Louisiana Hispanic District, this year García stepped down to devote more energy to the church, which had grown to a pre-COVID attendance of 250. She’s returning to preaching engagements outside Emanuel.
“My passion again is to preach the Word and take it to as many places as it can be taken — to other nations, to Facebook, to YouTube,” she says. Additionally, García will mentor and advocate for women ministers, as director of Network Women Ministers of her district.
She’s also entering a season to prepare the next generation for ministry. Her and Ruben’s children, Gabriel, Jonathan, and Natalie, all serve at Emanuel Church.