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Rescuing from Inner-City Clutches

AGORA Ministries brings hope to at-risk children and youth in San Antonio.
A parachurch ministry has facilitated hundreds of people in accepting Christ while bringing hope to low-income San Antonio residents who live in the Texas city’s highest violent crime area.

Launched almost 30 years ago, AGORA Ministries has been encouraging, empowering, educating, and mentoring disadvantaged children, as well as at-risk youth, with the gospel.

Fabian Martinez, 20, and his two brothers didn’t have enough food growing up in the inner city, where they saw gang violence, drug activity, and other negative influences. At the age of 12, Martinez and one of his brothers began catching an AGORA bus as part of the ministry’s Saturday outreach.

“As we got older, we started going to their youth program and I got saved,” he recounts. “AGORA believed in me and made me feel accepted. They pushed me to strive for more than I could think of for myself.”

Martinez is now a kid’s pastor with AGORA and also serves at the ministry’s food pantry.

“The Lord caught me with AGORA before the inner city could,” he says. “Now I am in a position to help others avoid the situation I was in and help them change their outcome.”

AGORA Ministries Executive Director Jason A. Brooks says Martinez is just one of hundreds saved by Jesus and rescued in the 78207 zip code of San Antonio. The impoverished area has 13 percent unemployment and nearly 60 percent of residents have less than a ninth grade education.

“I have seen not just commitments, but miraculous change,” explains Brooks, 44, an AG minister and U.S. urban ministry missionary with Missionary Church Planters & Developers (MCPD). “Drug addicts set free. Teenagers leave gangs beaten up after confessing their allegiance to Christ.”

Hundreds of mission team campers are comprised of youth group members from across the country who come to AGORA in the summer for the ministry’s street camp. The youths serve in the inner city by feeding the homeless, painting houses and doing beautification lawn projects. They also share their faith and grow spiritually through mentoring and discipleship.

Like Martinez, Angel Velasquez, 26, is on staff at AGORA, where she leads worship and a women’s Bible study, assists with the food pantry, and is a youth leader. On a weekly basis, AGORA ministers to more than 80 children and youths.

“I joined a gang to fit it, got in fights, made choices I wasn't proud of,” recalls Velasquez, who became a Christian through AGORA at 14. “But AGORA showed me the love of Christ and it impacted my life. Now I'm called to reach other youths who are living in the same situation that I was in.”

Tim R. Barker, superintendent of the AG South Texas District, says AGORA has served inner-city San Antonio faithfully for decades. In 1989, Edgar and Claudine Ackerman, Brooks’ father- and mother-in-law, founded AGORA. Edgar Ackerman died in 2011; Claudine remains a U.S. missionary associate with MCPD.

“Jason and his wife, Misti, continue to serve the needs of those hurting,” says Barker, who serves on the AGORA Ministries board of directors. “God uses this ministry to touch lives in such practical ways, while ministering to the spirit as well.“

Brooks, a graduate of Southwestern Assemblies of God University, says AGORA is called to partner with others, including church planters.

“Our core ministries are kids, youth, food ministries, educational programs, missions teams, and the homeless,” he explains. “Nearly all of the inner-city pastors are bivocational and do not have the funds, training, or resource network to support their works, so we can be a team for the inner city.”

Joshua Gaines, who along with his wife, Tiffany, co-pastor Forerunner Church in San Antonio, says AGORA has helped the past three years. Forerunner Church started in AGORA’s facilities.

“We’ve never had a ministry link arms with us to fulfill the Great Commission in such a drastic way,” Gaines says. “AGORA has sent amazing groups to impact the children and families with different outreaches, opened its doors for Forerunner Church to have a place to gather the community, and provided prayer support.”

Eric Tiansay

Eric Tiansay has been a full-time journalist since 1993, writing articles for Christian media since 2000. He lives in central Florida, where he is an active member of an Assemblies of God church.