AUSTIN—Combine a city with a Hispanic population of nearly 500,000, a church with a vision to reach its community and a few committed Christians who endured hardship hoping to see the fruition of that vision.
Add them all together, and that’s the story of Iglesia Bautista de la Gracia, where prayer is changing the hearts of people in the heart of north central Austin.
Less than five years ago, fewer than 10 people came together to form a church. A shared commitment to pray and to reach the Hispanic community united them, but they lacked a meeting place and a pastor.
“More than a couple of times, we felt like we had to go in a different direction,” church member Gustavo Salas said. “But … we had the team … and a reason for us to keep pressing on. We saw a lot of prayers answered. That’s one of the reasons we (stayed) together.”
Salas recalled asking God for a meeting place that would cost no more than $500. Shortly thereafter, a man at Salas’ workplace mentioned he needed someone to share $500 of the rent on a 1000-square-foot office space.
True to the church’s vision, the meeting place was a small office building in a predominantly Hispanic community. Salas didn’t know it was being used as a place of worship for a French language church, where his Haitian coworker served as pastor.
“You can turn your back on God, or you can let him do his answering,” Salas said.
Following God’s provision of a meeting place, the handful of believers again returned to their knees in prayer, this time, for a pastor.
In August 2006, they found Mario Alaniz, an architect who had answered God’s call to ministry less than five years earlier.
“We always had the vision, to grow up (the church), to be part of the community and to help the family, but our vision did not expand until Pastor Alaniz came,” church member Juan Garay said. “He gave us the encouragement to continue what we had started already.”
Alaniz accepted the call to become pastor of Iglesia Bautista de la Gracia on Jan. 1, 2007. Since then, the church has grown from five to a regular attendance of up to 70 members. Numbers have forced the congregation to expand, knocking down two walls in the small office building they use for worship.
Soon, they hope to move to a separate suite that can house up to 350 people.
“Prayer is key. It’s essential in what we’re doing,” Alaniz said. “We don’t have a lot of funds to put into the projects that we do, but we’ve seen a lot of results. And that can only be attributed to prayer.”
Through prayer, Alaniz has seen God work in the lives of church members. They’ve become more faithful and sure of where their dependence lies. Because of that, their character is changing, and the result is they’re sharing that with others, he observed.
“The vision that God has on his heart is already producing fruits. We can see that already. We have new people going to church now, who are part of the community. They come to this place, and they see the love” God has for them, Garay said.
Salas gives the glory to God, but also gives thanks to the faithful few who held onto a vision against the odds.
“Without the help of the Lord…and that small group of four or five names, none of this would be possible,” he said. “Thanks to them and thanks to the Lord for keeping us together and for pressing on the vision, but also for taking us to a bigger step.”