Home a gift to the spirit

Fellowship: A church in Columbia draws worshippers with international roots and a common faith.

March 15, 2002|By Donna W. Payne | Donna W. Payne,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

At Columbia's Iglesia de Dios Pentecostal M.I., a diversity of cultures is united by a common language as parishioners worship together each week at this Spanish-speaking church.

The church, which meets in the facilities of Abiding Savior Lutheran Church, includes individuals from a variety of Spanish-speaking nations. The Rev. Jose L. Ocasio, senior pastor, said the largest number of parishioners are from Mexico, followed by Puerto Rico and El Salvador. Others come from the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Costa Rica, Venezuela, Panama and Peru.

"I love the culture," said Zaylimar Bocanegra, a native of Puerto Rico who coordinates the Sunday School program. "To be able to worship in your own language is more free."

Bocanegra was introduced to the church by her Peruvian husband, Juan Bocanegra.

Iglesia de Dios Pentecostal M.I., which means Church of God, Pentecostal, International Mission, belongs to the Pentecostal denomination of the same name. The denomination was founded in Puerto Rico in 1916, Ocasio said, and "from there it moved all around the world." There are about 500 churches in the United States, he added.

Ocasio, who was born in Puerto Rico, worked in youth ministries there before coming to the United States in 1985. He moved to Columbia to take a job with Westinghouse, now Northrop Grumman, where he is an electrical engineer.

From 1986 to 1992, Ocasio served as president of the youth ministries program for the Eastern region of the Iglesia de Dios Pentecostal M.I. denomination and attended its Silver Spring church.

Because there was no Hispanic church in Columbia, Ocasio's pastor asked him to start a Bible study in the Columbia apartment of another church member, Josefina Reynoso.

"[In 1992], we started [with three members] as a Bible study," said Ocasio, "and then people started coming." As the group grew, he said, "we talked to our leaders in New York City, and they decided to start a church in Columbia."

With Ocasio as pastor, the young church quickly moved its meetings to Bryant Woods Elementary School. In 1993, it moved again to Oakland Mills Interfaith Center. Seven months later, the church began holding services at its current location in Abiding Savior Lutheran Church. The Pentecostal church now has about 150 members.

"I come here because I want to seek the Lord. And I find the Lord here," said Maria Cruz of Columbia.

Pentecostals adhere to the same historical creeds, such as the Apostles Creed, as other Protestant churches, Ocasio said. "The main difference is that we believe that the gifts of the Spirit [of God] are still present in the church today. ... [Gifts] like speaking in tongues, interpretation of tongues and healing.

"Our mission is to win the world for Christ," Ocasio added.

At a recent worship service, Juan Bocanegra led the congregation in an opening period of prayer and praise. Parishioners stood, some with outstretched arms, to call out praise to the Lord and to offer spontaneous individual prayers.

A team of singers and musicians led the song time that followed. Adults and children filled nearly every chair in the sanctuary. The room could barely contain an extra decibel of sound from the voices that were raised in enthusiastic and harmonious song. Several kept time with tambourines while many clapped their hands.

The message was brought by the Rev. Ariel Torres, president of the Eastern region of the denomination. Torres had traveled from his home in Newark, N.J., for a visit of encouragement and oversight.

Music director Rebecca Miro said the church has multiple initiatives to reach out to Hispanics in Howard County. Volunteers offer English classes and provide information and advice about education, health and finances.

Parishioners said they appreciate the family atmosphere and spirit of love and sharing at the church.

Church leader Manuel Medina has been traveling from Reisterstown with his wife and four children for the past eight or nine years to worship at Iglesia de Dios. "[There is] that belonging feeling here," he said.

Cesar Rivera came to Columbia four years ago from his home in El Salvador.

Speaking through an interpreter, Rivera said he worships at Iglesia de Dios "because I find peace here for my soul."

Iglesia de Dios Pentecostal M.I.

Denomination: Pentecostal

Leadership: the Rev. Jose L. Ocasio, senior pastor

Size: 150 people

Location: 10689 Owen Brown Road, Columbia (in facility of Abiding Savior Lutheran Church)

Date founded: 1992

Phone: 410-772-6396

Web site: www.iglesiapentecostal.org

Worship services: 3:15 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays; prayer meeting, from 7:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesdays; Bible study, 7:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Fridays.

Children's program: Sunday School is offered from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m., ages 3 through adult. Infant care is available during services.

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