Resurrected Church Brings Gifts and Gospel to Community
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Pastor Jovannie Canales says that the church knows there are kids who do not have the supplies they need for school. For the past three years, the church had held a free community event in cooperation with the Medina police and fire departments and other organizations where resources — from school supplies to clothing — were given away in a fun, music- and game-filled day that hundreds enjoyed.
Jovannie explains that this year, due to COVID, the event had to be cancelled, but with kids still in need, they knew they had to do something. So on Sept. 16, school leaders gratefully accepted the gifting of school supplies that they could distribute to kids, pre-K to 12, in need.
But as nice as that may sound, it’s far from the whole God story. Jovannie and his wife, Melisa Rivera, pastor Segunda Iglesia Fieles Discípulos de Jesucristo, which translated reads: Second Church True Disciples of Jesus Christ. But for 10 long years, the name could have been, “The Place Where No One Wants to Pastor.”
“The church lost its building about the same time the last pastor left, about 10 years before we arrived in 2017,” Jovannie says. “It was seen as a small church where a pastor’s ministry would go to die.”
What makes this story compelling is that Jovannie and Melisa accepted Christ as their personal Savior in 2013, just four years prior to coming to Medina, a community of about 6,000.
“We were desperate,” says Melisa, referring to their salvation experiences. “Our marriage was breaking down, he was drinking and doing drugs . . . we seperated and I went to Puerto Rico with my kids for eight months. I started going to church to know more about Jesus. I learned to forgive and to pray for him . . . God had to do a miracle in my husband, my life, and my kids.”
When Melisa returned to Rochester, New York, Jovannie checked himself into the hospital for his addictions and started going to church. God transformed his life.
“God did it!” Melisa exclaims. “God did a major change in him, in me, and even in my kids (who were about 10 and 7 at the time).”
Unexpectedly, as new Christians, God immediately impressed upon the couple that He had ministry in their futures. They started volunteering in their home church in Rochester whenever and wherever they had the opportunity. Even though they didn’t fully realize it at the time, God was enabling them to gain experience in everything from teaching to how to run a building program and a multitude of other practical experiences future pastors need to know.
In 2015, the couple started taking courses through the Spanish Eastern Bible Institute (AG Watertown Branch). And then, in 2017, came the opportunity to pastor the small congregation in Medina, roughly 45 miles northwest of Buffalo, where no one wanted to pastor.
“I told myself that I wasn’t ready yet,” Jovannie says. In many people’s eyes, that was likely a fair evaluation as he and Melisa were still two years away from graduating from the Bible institute. They would be leading the church as lay pastors.
But the Holy Spirit kept speaking into Jovannie’s heart, telling him that Medina was where He wanted them to be.
“People kept telling us that God has a calling for you,” Melisa says. “And a year before this, our pastor told us he believed that we were ready. Neither of us felt ready. Then I had a dream of my husband pastoring in a small church. We kept on praying.”
Jovannie and Melisa took a step of faith and went to visit and minister to the congregation. After Jovannie gave that first message, both he and Melisa knew beyond a doubt that this is where God wanted them to be.
“This was the place,” Melisa says. “Nobody wanted to come here, there were just seven people here believing God was going to do something . . . they had prayed for a pastor for more than 10 years and I believe God used us as an answer to their prayers.”
Anita Garcia has been attending the church for about 20 years and is currently a deaconess in the church. She expresses deep appreciation for pastor Abner Garcia of Erie, Pennsylvania, who drove out biweekly to speak throughout the years (2007-2017). However, Anita; her mother, Annie De Jesus; and sister, Helen Garcia; formed a core group that helped keep the church going, with Annie often filling in as minister while also teaching Sunday School and Anita and Helen leading worship.
“There were days when the burden was really hard,” Anita says. “We went through a series of people, men and women, who would come in, but they never felt this place would work for them . . . we just continued to trust God and pray for a pastor.”
And God more than answered their prayers with Jovannie and Melisa. Not only were they a young couple eager to engage the community, they came with music — Jomar, Jovannie’s twin brother, now plays piano for the church and his wife, Melissa, leads the worship team; their son, Sebastian, plays the drums; Jovannie plays guitar and his daughter, Valeria, is also on the worship team. Angel Rodriguez rounds out the team.
“God gave us a worship team,” Anita says with enthusiasm, as worship for the last decade had been acapella. “They love to worship — it’s genuine, you can see it! It’s been really powerful for us to see what God has helped us do and done through them.”
Initially Jovannie and Melisa commuted the hour from Rochester west to Medina, but then God enabled them to find a place to live in town. Since that time, God has blessed the couple as well as the church. Currently the congregation runs between 35 and 45 people and has a good start on a building fund. But what really stands out is that despite the churches relatively diminutive size, it is impacting Medina, often in tandem with its host church, Calvary Tabernacle.
“The first two years we held the back-to-school outreach event, we held it in the church parking lot,” Jovannie says. “But I noticed that we were running out of room, so I went to the village clerk and they allowed us to be at the main park in Medina.”
Even though the family-focused event provided a day of “vacation fun” for hundreds of people, Melisa says that the event was far more than just seeing people have a good time.
“We want to give families the hope that God is here,” she says. “So many families are just needing a hug and for someone to tell them that Jesus is here to help them conquer their situations. And in the moment of crisis in a community, we have to be there as the church of Jesus Christ.”
Anita says that Jovannie and Melisa are loved and adored by the growing congregation.
“We are always really amazed — and know it was definitely God who brought them here — by how humble they are,” she says. “Their love, their commitment, the way they serve the church and the community . . . there’s just something about them, the way they talk and relate to people . . . how passionate they are for souls.”
In 2019, both Jovannie and Melisa were credentialed with the Assemblies of God. And for many families or individuals walking through addiction, experiencing financial problems, and/or marital challenges, the couple are the perfect pastors as they’ve already walked that path.
But perhaps what’s the best news of all is that Segunda Iglesia Fieles Discípulos de Jesucristo is no longer a place where ministry comes to die, but where the Holy Spirit is pouring out His blessing and bringing new life in a way that no one — for at least a decade — imagined.