Melissa J. Alfaro is the first in her family to graduate from high school. And to earn a bachelor’s degree. And master’s degree. And doctorate.
Alfaro, 35, also is the first in her family to become a member of the Assemblies of God Executive Presbytery. In August, voters at the biennial General Council in Anaheim, California, elected Alfaro from a field of four candidates as the designated under 40 minister to the Fellowship’s 21-member top policy-making body.
Such a trajectory appeared unlikely early in Alfaro’s life. Her Mexican-born father, Victor Arellano Sr., immigrated to the U.S. at 18 and worked two jobs to make ends meet. Her Texas-born Hispanic mother, Janie, quit school at 16 in order to work as a waitress and later in a factory to support her family.
While Alfaro’s parents didn’t have much money, they did provide for spiritual blessings. Victor came under the tutelage of Daniel Rios at Getsemani Asamblea de Dios (now Primera Iglesia Hispana) in Graham, Texas, and joined the pastoral team (he now is pastor of Bethel Church, an English-speaking congregation in Jacksboro, Texas). Melissa went to Missionettes, the forerunner to National Girls Ministries.
Growing up in Graham, an overwhelmingly Anglo community, Melissa felt insecure because of her ethnicity and socio-economic status. She rarely spoke in class and made middling marks. But a seventh-grade history teacher noticed Melissa’s potential, and wrote a lengthy letter to her parents explaining they had a bright daughter who could change the world.
Initially, Melissa sensed frustration. Why would a teacher put fanciful ideas in the heads of her parents, who struggled to even pay the bills? But the teacher’s encouragement proved pivotal, and Melissa’s parents insisted she get a college education.
In high school, Melissa excelled at all her athletic, band, and academic ventures. She went to the Assemblies of God Youth Ministries Fine Arts Festival finals her junior and senior year, presenting short sermons.
Thanks to her brains, and multiple scholarships, Alfaro made it to college. At Southwestern Assemblies of God University (SAGU), she met Jay Alfaro. They have been married 15 years.
Alfaro earned a Bachelor of Biblical Studies at SAGU. Her Master of English as well as her Doctor of Rhetoric and Composition both are from Texas Woman’s University (TWU). The Holy Spirit notwithstanding, she says rhetoric courses helped her become a bold and practiced preacher and teacher.
“The message is powerful in itself,” Alfaro says of instructing from Scripture. “But many times it’s important to convey it in a powerful way so that hearts are receptive to it.”
Alfaro counts SAGU professors Danny and Amy Alexander among her mentors. The Alexanders cultivated a relationship with Alfaro, and attended her wedding, graduation, and even her doctoral defense five years ago.
“Melissa is an articulate, passionate, intelligent, highly motivated young woman,” says Danny Alexander, who likewise obtained his doctorate from TWU. “It does not surprise us at all the giftings God placed within her have come to the forefront.”
Amy Alexander says Alfaro is among the handful of most outstanding students she’s ever taught.
“Danny and I both thought she would become a minister,” Amy says. “She is exceptionally gifted and has prodigious energy.”
Alfaro has been administrative pastor of El Tabernaculo in Houston since 2010. Her husband is lead pastor of the urban Hispanic church. In 2015, El Tabernaculo started an English service, to go along with Spanish and bilingual services.
“We felt we were missing the second- and third-generation Hispanics by going all Spanish,” says Alfaro, who says she didn’t become “academically fluent” in Spanish until after college.
Alfaro also has been Texas Louisiana Hispanic District Girls Ministries director the past seven years.
“Our girls have such great potential to become great women of God — Esthers, Deborahs, Ruths,” Alfaro says. “But many need a spiritual voice to guide them on that journey, and maybe they can identify with my story. I want to give them a voice, and let them know they have a platform.”
In addition to her other duties, Alfaro joined the Christ Mission College board of directors in 2016. Alfaro, who also writes a blog, says she only adds new tasks if other areas of her life are healthy.
“Not every door is a God door, even if it’s a good door,” Alfaro says. “Even good things can end up being distractions if they are not aligned with God’s perfect purpose for that particular moment.”
Alfaro believes starting a four-year term in November as an EP is the right time.
“God doesn’t work on our time clock,” Alfaro says. “This is a birthing season in so many ways.”
The Alfaros have struggled with infertility issues during marriage, and Melissa had a miscarriage in 2013. She is pregnant, with her child due in April.
“I just want to enjoy the journey,” Alfaro says. “It doesn’t have to be what you asked for, but as long as you are where He wants you, you can find fulfillment, even in time of loss and grieving.”
As far as her EP role, Alfaro says she feels a bit like David being at the right place at the right time — when he brought meals to his brothers’ encampment as they listened to the taunts of Goliath.
“In no way do I think I’m called to revolutionize,” Alfaro says. “I will glean and learn some great leadership tools from these individuals I respect and admire.”
She is in no hurry, but at some point she would like to be a bridge to a younger generation.
Alfaro is the first female elected to the EP unrelated to gender, joining Beth Grant who has represented ordained female ministers since 2009.
Danny Alexander says greater accomplishments could be in store for Alfaro.
“I knew the Lord would have a wonderful destiny for her,” he says. “But the rest of the story has not been written yet.”