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Planting Churches, Healing Homes

Contractor Eli Simental responds to a call to build up families.
As a sought-after contractor who built quality high-end homes in posh Malibu, California, Eli Simental’s professional success brought financial prosperity and the American Dream. But 21 years ago, a word from the Holy Spirit interrupted his trajectory.

He sensed the Lord calling him to plant a church and restore families.

Perhaps that shouldn’t have been surprising. Simental’s mom, Delfina de Simental, had received a prophetic word in 1963 while pregnant with him, the sixth of her 10 children: her son would be used by God as a minister.

At age 6, Simental received Christ and was baptized in the Holy Spirit; at age 12 he felt the call to ministry. As an adolescent, he often preached in a park in his community of Mexicali, a city in northwestern Mexico on California’s border.

Instead of opting for the ministry, however, he went into the construction business. By age 35, he could provide materially for just about anything his wife, Herminia, and the couple’s two daughters, Diana and Alejandra, could want.

Although the word from the Lord had been imparted, Simental didn’t know the details. Yet he remembered that the Hebrew patriarch Abraham didn’t receive any specifics from God about his direction, either.

“We don't have to know,” Simental says. “We have to obey.”

He shared the calling with his family and his parents, who declared they would serve with him. So after wrestling with God for two hours, he ended up saying yes to the ministry.

Two weeks later, he left the Assemblies of God church he and his family attended in Santa Monica, California. In 1999, in his living room, Simental launched Centro Familiar Cristiano (Christian Family Center) of Sylmar. Today, the majority-Hispanic church with a weekend attendance of 250 on two campuses has services in English and Spanish. In addition, the church has birthed five other congregations. Two more are in the pipeline. Each campus is under 300 adherents, he notes, as that size is more efficient and offers a deeper family connection and greater engagement.

“Everything we do is relationship-oriented,” Simental says. Most of those in the church are families that have been restored from the brink of separation or divorce.

“We reach the family one life at a time,” he says. That’s carried out through the church hospitality ministry. “There are people waiting to greet you and seat you. When you leave, there are people who will walk you to your car.”

Home Bible groups nurture those relationships and ground them in the Word of God. The church also has a vibrant counseling ministry. More family help is provided through its Saturday 40,000-pound grocery giveaway to help those struggling with food insecurity. Simental’s other brothers and sisters all minister; his parents, several siblings, and their children serve at Centro Familiar Cristiano.

Simental serves as the SoCal Network executive presbyter for Hispanics, which represents 120 Spanish-language congregations. Additionally, he’s part of the credentialing and missions committees. He also is the assistant director of the SoCal Network’s Men’s Ministry, which assists pastors in developing Christ followers in the home, church, and workplace.

“If you change a man, you change a family,” Simental says. “I want to help young people not make the mistakes I made. I want to be the bridge that propels them to be all God wants them to be.”

Rudy Paniagua, director of church planting for the SoCal Hispanic Network, shares Simental’s burden.

“I've seen his heart for the next generation of pastors, that they may have what he didn’t: mentoring, financial support, and a safe place to continue growing,” Paniagua says. “Eli has been one of the pastors who made the change from the traditional church to the contemporary church. It’s the reason that he now is in the movement of multiplication of churches as presbyter and men’s director.”

Deann Alford

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