“The Devil is quaking over there,” screamed Pablo Morales, in charge of enlivening the church service with hymns of joy and words of praise.
“Let him tremble! Let him fear!” responded the parishioners, freeing their emotions and allowing their feelings to surface. “Hallelujah! Glory to God!”
Under a clear sky, a full moon and bright stars, and from the parking lot of their church on Flagler Street, members of the storefront Ministerio Pentecostal Avivamiento de CRISTO (Christ Awakening Pentecostal Ministry) last week worshiped and praised the Almighty, “the great God who came in the flesh to spill his blood for our sins,” preached Marlene Cruz, pastor of the Little Havana congregation, tears in her eyes.
“Fire can burn material things, but the believer’s faith cannot be burnt,” said Pastor Cruz. “Amen, Amen, Amen,” replied the faithful in unison, their energies restored.
The fire Cruz referred to consumed part of a small shopping strip where the church is located, reducing the temple to cinders. It happened on Nochebuena or Christmas Eve, while the church’s faithful were at home, enjoying the typical dishes of the holiday season.
The cause of the fire remains under investigation, according to the Miami Fire Department.
While the flames rose, a neighbor notified Cruz by phone. “Smoke is pouring out of the church. It’s burning; it’s turning into ashes.”
Cruz entrusted herself to Jesus and, according to her, submitted herself as a living offering.
Bibles, prayer stools, sacred artifacts, musical instruments, chairs, computers, school desks, rugs, floral displays, everything seemed lost.
To any congregation, such a fire and destruction of property would be viewed as a tragedy. But for these charismatic Christians who say they are graced with the power of the Holy Spirit, the fire is one of the many signs of what they say is the coming advent of Christ.
“It is a test for us to grow, because the Lord says in his word that we shall be tested, but after all those tests we shall be freed,” said Cruz, a 58-year-old from Nicaragua. “That is why the Bible says, ‘when you walk through fire you shall not be burned.’”
The test for Cruz’s parishioners has been to hold the liturgical services without a place where they can kneel and pray for mankind.
They have been forced to worship without shade during the day and at night by the light of hundreds of flashlights.
Ever since Christmas Day, the parishioners — including children and the elderly — have spent long hours cleaning the church, removing the charred remains of the fire. Although they are sad, the parishioners have no doubt that the fire had a divine purpose, not only because of the brotherhood it has kindled among them but also because it has exposed the church to new members. People who walk past the church at 1745 W. Flagler St. and who hear its story on the evening news have joined the church’s open-air services.
“God does not want us to be comfortable inside, preaching, but to be outside so the whole world can see that Christ is the salvation,” said Cruz, a Catholic who founded the ministry in 1990.
Ronald Montenegro, a 63-year-old church member originally from Nicaragua, is convinced that the fire is a sign from God — a sign of Christ’s second coming.
In 1974, while living in his homeland, he used drugs, drank alcohol and broke the law, Montenegro said. One night, feeling that his life was an abyss, he heard music playing nearby and followed the beautiful sound to a Pentecostal church in his neighborhood.
“In that place I received the loveliest present of my life: the salvation of my soul,” said Montenegro, who works as a handyman. “The inclination toward evil died within me.”
Montenegro joined the Christ Revival church 18 months ago, attracted by what he calls “the actions of the Holy Spirit, as it cures cancer and various other diseases through the intercession of Pastor Marlene [Cruz].”
A week ago, he took part in a special service dedicated to Christ, standing in front of a sign saying “Christ comes soon.” Overhead, a billboard publicizing a pharmacy promised, in Spanish, “many smiles and great savings.”
In a liturgical gesture, Montenegro raised his eyes to the sky. His eyes met the billboard, but he took away a different message.
“The savings in a pharmacy are not real,” he whispered. “The only savings is the one we keep in the heaven’s bank as we fast, pray, read the Bible and obey God.”
Readers wishing to aid Pastor Cruz and her church may contact her at 786- 512-7590 or ministpentavdecristo @yahoo.com