Summer 2017

And the Believers Shared All Their Tools With Each Other

What community looks like here

For a guy who loves to build, fix and help others, I was in heaven: a brand-new laser level. I lovingly nestled it among my other prized tools.

When Abdel asked to borrow it, I hesitated. Ooh. Well, OK. But bring it right back.

I never saw that level again.

It turned out that Abdel and a few other guys from his church used it to help repair the home of a struggling single mom in their church, Iglesia Evangelica Libre Genesis (Genesis Evangelical Free Church). Then another brother needed to install cabinets for his cousin, so he borrowed it. Somewhere along the line it got misplaced.

I was bummed. Rebuying tools that somebody else lost frustrates me. But I bit my tongue. Abdel, after all, was my new son-in-law.

But then one day, I was the one needing some project help and didn’t have a needed tool. Who shows up? Not just a tool, but Genesis: many hands, many tools and a fiesta to boot! Mi herramienta (tool) es su herramienta.

This wasn’t a “father-in-law special,” it turned out. At Genesis, everyone’s tools, time and skills belong to whoever has a need. I could tell story after story:

  • Maricela, widowed: Ten people showed up to replace her broken sewer line.
  • Mitch, disabled: When his garage (which hosted a home-based business) needed more repair than he could handle, all the Genesis men teamed up to rebuild it.
  • Pepe and America, new neighbors without a lawn mower: They returned home exhausted after long days at work to find their lawn mowed.
  • Illness? A new baby? Meals pour in.
  • Alone for a holiday? There’s a place at someone’s table.

In every case, Genesis does it together. It’s a party.

The church body is its best evangelistic tool.

Flavio Gonzalez planted Iglesia Evangelica Libre Genesis in 2000. Now his son Abdel serves as pastor and Flavio has gone on to plant Iglesia Evangelica Libre El Faro (The Lighthouse Evangelical Free Church)—also in Wichita, Kansas.

Neither church is large. About 90 people are part of the Genesis family, with another 35 attending the 3-year-old El Faro. Pastor Flavio is not only an experienced church planter but also a gifted evangelist. Still, he observes about his churches that “most who come to Christ do so because of the testimony of the church body and their love,” rather than any one person’s evangelism.1 The church body is its best evangelistic tool.

There are no strangers here. You walk in the door, you’re embraced.

It’s obvious from the moment someone walks in the door. According to Flavio’s daughter, Sarahi Philip, to be a first-time visitor to Genesis is to be mobbed, “like someone who brings a new baby for the first time.”

Attorney Ross Hollander put it this way: “There are no strangers here. You walk in the door, you’re embraced. They are always looking for a new person, even Anglo lawyers, for heaven’s sake.”

“Everyone wants everyone else to come to everything they do,” adds Roxanne Turner. She and her husband had long been active members at a nearby Anglo EFCA congregation. But God drew them to Genesis, and the church’s mission and warmth compelled them to stay.

“If someone isn’t [at an activity],” she continues, “it’s like part of their family is missing. I don’t remember being in a church that is so loving and welcoming.”

At first I figured this was just Hispanic culture. But even some Hispanic families who visit have been caught off guard by the love and care. “Hispanics do tend to be better at living together as a family,” Flavio agrees, “but they [naturally] get together with their own kind: the rich with the rich, the poor with the poor.

“But we followers of Christ, we try to look out for those less favored: the poor, those in need, those who are not loved by many” (James 2:1-4).

When one member was battling cancer, Abdel shares as an example, “each Sunday instead of everyone going out to eat, we collected that money to pay for his next week’s radiation treatments.”

Loved into the kingdom

It all seems to tie back to the atmosphere that both pastors have fostered and modeled. They preach “the church being the church”—all members doing their part, going beyond simple kindness to a lifestyle of contentment, self-sacrifice, service and sharing the good news. Each one uses the “tools” they have: a warm welcome, meals, counsel, prayer, witness and, of course, wrenches, hammers and laser levels.

“The pastors are that way, and they teach us,” says Mitch Zuniga. “When I first walked in there, everyone gave me a hug, and after a while, you know, I started doing it, without even realizing it. It’s the love that you feel—it sinks into ya.

“They helped me a lot, and I want to be able to help back in return,” he adds. “Before, maybe I’d help, but it seemed like a burden. It’s not like that anymore.”

There’s a growing list of those who have come to Christ after being touched by the body’s caring: Mara and Victor, and Manuel and Araceli, whose marriages were also turned around in the process. Socoro, Dulce, Pepe, Tony, Raquel and many more—all “loved into the kingdom.”

Of course, Genesis isn’t perfect, and people are only human. Abdel bemoans that the church’s spontaneity—the quickness to drop everything to meet a need—is often not matched with forethought and organization. Efforts get scattered and disorganized. Even Genesis can occasionally turn inward and care only for its own rather than remain open to all ethnic groups, all ages, and both first- and second-generation immigrants.

Still, when I think of Genesis and El Faro, my mind turns to Peter’s pastoral admonition to the church: “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms” (1 Peter 4:8-10).

Without a doubt, Genesis has rubbed off on me. I grew up treasuring and hoarding my tools. Genesis taught me to place my tools in the hands of the body of Christ. Together, what we each have to offer becomes a light, a city on a hill that transforms and rebuilds lives in Christ.

Pssst! Hey, can I borrow your tool?

1 This is John 13:34-35 in action.

Dennis Hesselbarth is interim pastor at United EFC in Seattle, Washington. He served for 26 years as pastor of Hilltop Urban Church (EFCA) in Wichita, Kansas—just down the road from Iglesia Evangelica Libre Genesis and Iglesia Evangelica Libre El Faro. Both church plants started their meetings in the Hilltop building, and El Faro still meets there. “And I can’t help but add,” Dennis says, “that standing beside Abdel is an amazing and loving pastor’s wife named Holly.”