AUSTIN — A city with a Hispanic population of nearly 500,000. A church with a vision to reach the Hispanic community. A committed few who endured hardship hoping to see the fruition of that vision.
This is the story of Iglesia Bautista de la Gracia, where prayer actively is changing the hearts of people in the heart of north central Austin.
Less than five years ago, a handful of people — four or five people, 10 at most — came together to form a church. They were unified through prayer and a common purpose to reach the Hispanic community, but they lacked a meeting place and a pastor.
“[There were] more than a couple times that 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 [our] prayers answered — that’s one of the reasons we [stayed] together.”
Salas recalls having asked the Lord for a meeting place that would cost no more than $500. Shortly thereafter, a Haitian man at Salas’ workplace shared that he was in need of 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. Unbeknownst to Salas, it was being used as a place of worship for a French language church, of which the Haitian man was the 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, he came. The answer to prayer was Mario Alaniz, an architect who had heeded the Lord’s call to ministry less than five years prior.
“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,” said church member Juan Garay. “He gave us the encouragement to continue what we had started already.”
On January 1, 2007, Alaniz accepted the offer to pastor Iglesia Bautista de la Gracia. Since then, the church has grown from five to a regular attendance of 50-70 members. Numbers have forced the congregation to knock 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 to the Lord and sure of where their dependence lies. Because of that, their character is changing, and the result is they’re sharing that with others.
“The vision that God has on his heart is already producing fruits. We can see that already,” said Garay. “We have new people going to church now, who are part of the community. They come to this place, and they see the love that [God has for them].”
Salas adds, “Without the help of the Lord…and that small group of four or five names, none of this would be possible — 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.”