ORLANDO, Florida — A trio of ethnically diverse speakers, reflecting the 44 percent nonwhite minority in the U.S. Assemblies of God, delivered 10-minute testimony/sermons during the Aug. 3 evening session of the Influence Conference at the Orange County Convention Center.
Waleska Ramos-Orellana and her husband, Roberto, are lead pastors of Casa de Amor y Fe, a church they planted in 2014 in Lakeland, Florida. Casa de Amor y Fe has made an impact in the city. Waleska is from Puerto Rico, Roberto is from Chile. They have been married almost 29 years. Son Isaac interpreted for Waleska in English as she delivered a fiery message in Spanish.
“God is looking for men and women who are radical,” Ramos-Orellana said. “Do not abort your dreams. Rise up and fight for what is yours.”
She told the crowd not to be dissuaded if church plans haven’t gone as expected, especially with lower attendance since the onset of COVID-19. Ramos-Orellana expressed gratitude to Church Multiplication Network staff for facilitating the launch of the church when she and her husband had no idea how to go about it. She also thanked Assemblies of God elected leaders for encouraging her and other church planting Hispanic women.
Travis and Brittany Jones have co-pastored Motivation Church in Richmond, Virginia, since 2017. In a passionate message at the conference the transparent Brittany recalled how she been sexually abused by a multitude of people for a decade starting at age 5, and lived in a neighborhood plagued by drug abuse, poverty, and gang violence.
Nevertheless, an Assemblies of God minister engaged in an Adopt-a-Block program cleaned up trash in the family’s yard every Saturday. That pastor, Scott Wells, invited the 10-year-old Brittany to church, where she gave her life to Jesus. When Brittany was 15, Scott and his wife, Debbie, invited Brittany to move into their home. The change in environment interrupted plans of the enemy, said Jones, now 35. She tearfully thanked Scott and Debbie, who sat on the front row as she spoke. Despite her horrific past, Jones has a buoyant outlook.
“The interruptions in life are not to destroy you, but to propel you toward purpose,” Jones told the audience. The interruptions of the past year and a half, ranging from the coronavirus to racial conflict, are opportunities to build faith, she suggested.
Jones has become a mental health advocate, frankly sharing about her bipolar disorder, as she did during her brief talk. Times she has been stuck in bed with debilitating depression have turned into moments of desperately crying out to Jesus, she said.
“Even sometimes when you don’t see the victory, you have to claim the victory,” Jones said.
Travis Jones likewise has overcome a childhood and youth of abuse and poverty. The couple are part of CMN’s lead team. Travis is also a member of the CMN field team. The Joneses received CMN’s Church Planter of Excellence Award in 2019.
Mike J. Santiago and his wife, Ashton, started Focus Church in Raleigh, North Carolina, in 2012. The congregation has grown to more than 1,000 attendees in multiple locations. Santiago also is training coordinator with the Church Multiplication Network field team.
Santiago, a third generation ordained AG minister, recalled how he began working at a nearby Panera Bread restaurant to support his family once Focus Church launched. He had to find a job within walking distance because the family had only one vehicle.
Most pastors must endure painful experiences, Santiago said, ranging from friends leaving the church over a petty disagreement to feeling called to a place they didn’t choose.
“Jesus specializes in healing those who have been hurt and wounded,” Santiago said.
He validated the ache of pastors who have felt the sting of unruly church boards.
“Jesus was with you in your darkest moment,” Santiago said. “The presence of pain does not mean the absence of God.”