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Reluctant Megachurch Pastor

Her childhood aspirations were to be a lawyer and judge, but God had a different plan for Iris Nanette Torres Padilla and now she's reaching Puerto Rico for Christ.

Born and raised in church, Iris Nanette Torres Padilla graduated from the University of Puerto Rico with aspirations of attending law school and becoming the island’s first woman Supreme Court justice. But in 1985, after the birth of Sheryl Andrea, her first child, a prayer warrior named Doña Fifa received a word regarding Torres’ calling: She was to help her father in the church.

Her dad, Rafael Torres Ortega, was a prominent lawyer who walked away from a promising political career to plant what became one of Puerto Rico’s largest congregations.

For Torres, the news was “like a bucket of cold water,” she says. “I didn't want that. I had my own plans.”

She’s grateful the Lord changed her heart. That year, Torres began ministering as a staff pastor, and in 2002, she became lead pastor of what is now called El Caballero de la Cruz (Man of the Cross). The church, in Bayamón, Puerto Rico, has a weekly attendance of 2,700.

“There’s nothing more marvelous than preaching the gospel,” says Torres, whose other child is Fabián Raúl. “I learned to love the Lord with this passion from my dad.”

The church includes a primary and secondary school and a television station, Encuentrovisión, channel 64. Encuentrovisión, Puerto Rico’s first Christian broadcaster, reaches the entire island. Both the school and television station were founded by Torres’ father, who died in 2015 after 43 years in the pastorate. Today, his daughter also serves as director of the television station and of the school. In addition, the church operates El Caballero de la Cruz Theological Center. In 2016 El Caballero de la Cruz became an Assemblies of God cooperative church and this year it is in the process of affiliating with the Fellowship.

Torres believes what most distinguishes the church is its missions outreach, especially to youth, both within Puerto Rico and throughout South America. El Caballero de la Cruz has planted two daughter churches and opened a children's home in Paraguay. She’s fervent in keeping the church’s focus on the Great Commission.

“What I teach youth is that we’ve got to talk about Jesus,” Torres says. “We don't have time to waste. There's nothing more honorable than winning souls.” To that end, El Caballero de la Cruz has planted five churches on the island.

Iván De la Torre, superintendent of the Puerto Rico Assemblies of God, notes Torres’ impact as she carries out her calling. In addition to evangelism within the U.S. territory, each year El Caballero de la Cruz focuses international missions work on a different Latin American country, often with stunning success. In Ecuador, for example, she preached an evangelism outreach that resulted in 10,000 salvation decisions to follow Christ.

“She and her vision is one of mission and reach,” De la Torre says. “She's a great evangelist and has a great missionary heart.”

Torres understands that the key to reaching the Puerto Rico of tomorrow is reaching the youth of today. To communicate with the next generation, she believes speaking and understanding their language is essential for the gospel message to become rooted. That’s why the church places priority on getting the youth both on mission trips and to events such as this summer’s biennial General Council in Orlando. They take part in street evangelism.

“The coming generation must take the torch and run with it because Christ is coming,” Torres says.

Deann Alford

Deann Alford is a journalist and author. She attends Glad Tidings of Austin, an Assemblies of God congregation in the Texas capital.