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Yet working in overwhelmingly white, conservative Springfield, Missouri (population 168,000), is quite a contrast from the liberal, ethnically diverse metropolis of Chicago. De Jesús spent the first 55 years of his life living in America’s third largest city before taking on his new role Sept. 30.
De Jesús says it’s not important to fathom why God moved him out of the booming megachurch he has pastored for 19 years to a national role in the Assemblies of God.
“I’m operating out of obedience,” De Jesús tells AG News. “I’m at the service of the King. Understanding can wait, but obedience cannot. I feel this is a divine appointment.”
It’s much the same story as his predecessor, Rick DuBose, recently elevated to the Fellowship’s assistant general superintendent. DuBose spent his first 60 years in Texas before sensing God’s directive in his election as general treasurer two years ago. In August, delegates at the General Council in Orlando, Florida, elected DuBose assistant general superintendent to replace the retiring L. Alton Garrison. De Jesús now will finish the remaining two years of DuBose’s treasurer’s term.
FIRST HISPANIC EXECUTIVE
The appointment of De Jesús is groundbreaking. He is the first Hispanic to be a member of the six-member Executive Leadership Team. (L. John Bueno, executive director of Assemblies of God World Missions from 1997 to 2011, had a father from Spain and Anglo mother.)
De Jesús hopes his high-profile post will lead to other Hispanics in leading roles.
“There are many educated, gifted, and talented Hispanic men and women who have a calling on their lives,” De Jesús says. Hispanics are the largest ethnic minority in the AG, comprising 22.8 percent of all adherents.
Hispanics from around the nation are expected to flock to Springfield on Nov. 12 for the formal installation of De Jesús at the national office. That includes his 82-year-old father-in-law, Ignacio Marrero, who will fly in for the occasion from Puerto Rico. De Jesús succeeded Marrero as pastor of New Life Covenant in 2000.
Back then, 68 members voted for his election as pastor. New Life Covenant is now the fourth largest church in the U.S. Assemblies of God, with 17,000 adherents. New Life Covenant is based in a largely Puerto Rican neighborhood of Humboldt Park on Chicago’s northwest side. There are seven additional campuses: four in Chicago and one each in Elgin, Illinois; Wesley Chapel, Florida; and Camden, New Jersey. Another branch soon will open in Hartford, Connecticut.
De Jesús, who for the past four years served as a member of the AG Executive Presbytery, believes the Fellowship is on the cusp of spiritual and numerical growth. He thinks a denomination that has congregations as diverse as robed choir members singing to organ music on the one hand and fog machine worship bands playing electric guitars and drums on the other demonstrates diverse strength.
“We allow people their autonomy,” De Jesús says. “We don’t take away their identity.”
Yet De Jesús says the AG’s steady support of its 16 Fundamental Truths is a unifying factor.
“Other denominations have wavered on beliefs because of pressure from culture,” De Jesús says. “But we’re not going to compromise.”
De Jesús believes his background at a growing church will assist in his new role as general treasurer. New Life Covenant had a $750,000 portfolio when he became lead pastor. When he left, the church’s capital amounted to $31 million.
“I want to make sure the 13,000-plus AG churches are healthy financially,” De Jesús says.
Every year, New Life Covenant takes a two-month spending break (excluding salaries) during winter in what De Jesús calls a time for the “books to heal.” The hiatus forces ministry leaders to plan well.
“We are going to be accountable to God for resources,” says De Jesús, who holds a doctorate from the AG’s Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida. “You can’t just spend crazy. I’m very frugal.”
The general treasurer oversees the denomination’s budget, investments, and audits, and reports to General Superintendent Doug Clay.
DuBose says De Jesús quickly assimilated with co-workers at the AG national office, and he believes he will be an effective general treasurer.
“He is humble and supportive of his fellow ELT members and an excellent proponent of Superintendent Clay’s vision,” DuBose says. “There is no doubt that his experience, gained from leading a large multicampus ministry, has well prepared him for his new assignment. I am confident that the national platform he was already blessed with will bring a wonderfully unique addition that will benefit this movement for years to come.”
The role De Jesús has assumed is quite a change for someone who grew up on welfare. As a child, De Jesús had to learn survival skills. He didn’t have a bed until he reached adulthood.
As a 14-year-old boy, De Jesús applied for a summer job at the Chicago mayor’s office to clean streets. Instead, the city assigned him to help with a children’s day camp at New Life Covenant Church. By the end of the summer, De Jesús — the youngest of six children in a family abandoned by the father — had accepted Jesus as his Savior.
New Life Covenant operates more than 110 outreach programs to minister to drug addicts, prostitutes, the homeless, gang members, and other disenfranchised people. The church offers not only the basic human necessities of shelter, food, and clothing, but also community-based programs providing mentoring, educational, and job-training opportunities. New Life Covenant operates a medical clinic, clothing store, homeless shelter for men, and the Chicago Dream Center for homeless women.
While pastors need to stay true to the Word of God in order not to drift into moral irrelevancy, De Jesús says the gospel needs to be preached to all people regardless of their ethnicity, financial status, or sexual orientation.
As the pastor of a theologically conservative church in a politically liberal city, De Jesús, who has chiseled features, dabbled in church and state matters when he sought to become mayor of Chicago in 2010.
“I ran to show that young men and women in churches can serve in government and still be godly,” De Jesús says. “The Bible says when the righteous govern the people rejoice.”
De Jesús and his wife of 31 years, Elizabeth, are empty nesters. Their three children all are married and involved in ministry in Chicago. Choco and Elizabeth have four grandchildren in the Windy City.
During the four decades De Jesús spent at New Life Covenant Church, his friend Efrain Muñoz likewise has been a fixture. Muñoz, who had been serving as executive pastor, has succeeded De Jesús as lead pastor. Before his election as senior pastor, De Jesús served for eight years as the district youth director of the Midwest Latin American District, which encompasses 11 states.
Tags: Choco De Jesús New Life Covenant Church General Treasurer Rick DuBose Rod Loy Alton Garrison Chicago 16 Fundamental Truths Executive Presbytery Midwest Latin American District Executive Leadership Team John Bueno Assemblies of God World Missions First Assembly North Little Rock Southeastern University Chicago Dream Center