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Reaching San Antonio 78207

Inner-city church gradually reversing some debilitating neighborhood influences.
Unlike other areas of inner city San Antonio where poverty abuts gentrification, its Westside area contains no pockets of wealth. It is home to the poor and working poor; 58 percent lack a high school diploma or have less than a ninth-grade education.

Marked by the Frio Street and Martin Street exits of Interstate 10, the 78207 zip code also has the city’s top violent crime rate. Its hunger, teen pregnancy, illegal drug use rates all soar. Many of its children are neglected or sexually abused. Grandparents routinely raise their grandchildren because of parental abandonment, incarceration, or death in violent crime or drug overdose.

Prostitution and alcohol abuse are rampant. Nearly all of the women selling sex were themselves victims of rape or abuse or rejection by parents who belittled them. Shoot-outs and drive-by shootings are commonplace. Dealers tote backpacks of drugs to sell in the community.

This is the neighborhood where God called Norma F. Quintero 13 years ago to pastor El Templo Cristiano, an Assemblies of God congregation planted in 1918 by Pentecostal missionary pioneer Henry C. Ball. After El Templo Cristiano moved to its current location in 1949, regular attendance reached 900; its congregants ministered throughout the nation.

When Quintero, 50, arrived in 2007, the congregation numbered 18 — the youngest being 72 years old. With the passing of that generation, the last of the tithers, Quintero lost her income. Her husband, Juan Quintero, a bivocational welder credentialed as an AG pastor, supports the family. She is a U.S. Missions missionary associate with Church Planters & Developers.

The couple live in the parsonage on the church’s property. Today, typical Sunday attendance has risen to 70.

“There is a bigger response when you live among the community so they see you as one of them,” Quintero says. “Our neighbors know us, that we’re here, aware of what we’re doing.”

She’s found the key to inner-city ministry is relying on Jesus for networking. She has been equipped with training from the Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation.

“Because of that, I was able to see the assets,” Quintero says. “Before, my eyes were focused on the need.”

The need never has been greater amid the coronavirus pandemic. Many of the businesses that partnered with her to provide food and other gifts in kind have at least temporarily ended assistance. The pause in providing food to the community has caused the church to shift into what it can do.

While that need is formidable, Quintero has seen transformation. Much of the church’s youth group is comprised of kids she watched grow up in the church. El Templo Cristiano is indeed growing; new families have brought children and teenagers. As Quintero has promoted education to break the cycle of poverty, seven of El Templo’s youth have moved on to university and college, launching into careers.

Although it’s been a slow go, Quintero has seen progress. She encourages the children and youth, affirming what they may not hear at home: someday you will grow up and break the cycle of poverty.

“But remember your roots and come back and help others,” she tells them.

Jason A. Brooks is executive director and lead pastor of AGORA Ministries, an Assemblies of God outreach a mile from El Templo Cristiano, also in the Westside neighborhood.

“Norma is an incredible woman of God,” says Brooks, a U.S. missionary serving with Church Planters & Developers. “She has character and integrity, and loves people. We need more people like Norma.”

Deann Alford

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