Moving Forward on Mission
Benjamin Paredes had a dynamic metropolitan church to lead. When not preaching or preparing sermons, the lead pastor of Templo Betania in Dallas counseled members or held meetings of deacons, church staffers, or the building committee.
The church he pastored for 19 years had bought land at a major Dallas intersection for a new campus featuring a school of missions and eventually a 5,000-seat sanctuary. He anticipated moving forward with the vision.
But the pastor didn't feel well. Dehydration from vomiting forced him to go to an emergency room, where doctors kept him overnight.
Scans discovered a tumor in his duodenum. Surgery revealed he had stage four cancer. Even with chemotherapy, physicians gave him no chance of survival.
Templo Betania responded with prayer and fasting, but the pastor's condition worsened. A year later, on April 27, 2012, the pastor/evangelist originally from Guatemala called his family into his hospice room. "Tomorrow the Lord is going to take me," he told them. He shared a personal exhortation with each of his four children and his wife, Maribel, then an associate pastor of Templo Betania. Their son Benji, then 20, served as one of the church's youth ministers.
"We struggled," says Maribel Paredes, 50, Benjamin's wife of 27 years. "We, his family, didn't want him to go, and he wanted to continue preaching. I still wanted him to be healed."
She remembers his goodbye to her: "Continue the church, you and Benji. Fulfill the vision God gave me. God is with you and my son. You have to go on."
And they have.
Members voted Maribel Paredes to succeed her husband. The Spanish-language church attended by 1,200, mostly Mexicans and Central Americans, continues its mission in four weekend services. The church is expanding ministry into areas such as legal aid to help those desiring U.S. citizenship as well as English as a second language classes.
And now Templo Betania is resurrecting Benjamin Paredes' vision for launching a school of missions. The church aims to plant more congregations, and is dusting off blueprints to construct a new campus on the 70 acres purchased in 2009.
But for the new head pastor and her son, the transition proved to be the hardest time of their lives.
"Humanly, my heart was shattered," says Maribel Paredes, who began Bible school at age 15 and by 23 had already planted and pastored churches in her native Mexico. But at Templo Betania her ministries focused on worship and Christian education. She had preached only occasionally.
"I had to sit in his seat and then get up to preach. It wrenched my heart," she says. "My ministry was different from his but we had the same vision. We've seen God and experienced His faithfulness, His support in an incredible way. This strengthened me."
Many in the church had difficulty processing their beloved pastor's death. Benji Paredes recalls a couple shouting at his mom, demanding to know why she didn't clamor in prayer for her husband to be resurrected from the dead. Others criticized Benji for preaching in English, something they claimed his father would disapprove of, even though the late pastor had been moving toward adding an English service.
Pressure to fill Benjamin's shoes was great. But nobody could replace Benjamin Paredes. Some attendees left the church.
"We had to trust the Lord," Benji says. "We're not him, but that doesn't mean the vision has died. It united us."
Grief, however, took a toll on the family. In the first year, life consisted of meeting after meeting and keeping the church running, with no time to mourn. Maribel and Benji Paredes shelved the building plans, not knowing when they might be able to move forward with constructing the $10 million facility. Templo Betania is composed mostly of humble working-class people.
"These are brothers and sisters in Christ who are very faithful in their devotion and service to the church and to proclaim the gospel," Maribel says.
The church is on Jefferson Boulevard, popularly called mini-Mexico for its Latin America feel. In front of the church is a bus stop that connects with the state's southern border. It's not uncommon for those fresh off the bus to turn to the church for food as they arrive hungry and with little money. The church often helps those in need of food, rent, and other essentials.
The church seeks to minister to the community at large as well.
"We want to be not just a church pursuing Hispanic people, but a church that's pursuing Dallas," Benji says.
Those inside the church and the community outside its walls alike needed them to continue the vision and outreach. New people began to attend the church. Because young Hispanics prefer English, the church will soon add an English worship service. Work crews started cleaning up the church's acreage. Later this year Templo Betania will launch a capital campaign to fund the new ministry complex. In 2016 the church plans to break ground on its construction.
Eddie Cantu, secretary/treasurer of the South Central Hispanic District of the Assemblies of God, describes Maribel Paredes as a great woman of God who's kept the church going.
"The church hasn't skipped a beat," Cantu says. "She's doing very, very well."
Cantu notes that Benjamin set up a strong team to keep Templo Betania on mission and thus empowered that transition.
"It's a testament to the leadership of her husband," Cantu says. "She's following in his footsteps."
Now under the leadership of the former pastor's widow and their son, the vision as Benjamin Paredes had expressed in his final hours is becoming reality.
"We have the mission to glorify God and proclaim the gospel and serve the community," Maribel says. "Everything is within His plans. The most important thing is to do His will."