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The Journal News

Rev. Bartolo Martinez: Church Leader Celebrates 40 Years In Pulpit

Ceremony to mark service to Hispanic Pentecostal group

By Ernie Garcia

March 28, 2003
Copyright © 2003
The Journal News. All rights reserved. 

Despite four decades of leadership behind him at Iglesia de Dios Pentecostal "Casa de Dios," the Rev. Bartolo Martinez laughed when asked how much longer he can continue.

"I'd like to stay as long as I'm strong," said Martinez, 63, who has led the storefront church for virtually his entire adult life. This weekend, the congregation with celebrate his 40th year with the church.

As leader of one of the city's oldest Hispanic Pentecostal churches, Martinez has seen his congregation grow as the city's Hispanic population increased from a small community in the 1960s to almost 26 percent of the city's population, or more than 50,000 people.

From 10 members in 1963, Martinez built his flock to more than 300 today. Much of that growth occurred in the past 10 years as outreach intensified.

"This growth is due to the people, the members. They tell others about the church, and when they come they like the atmosphere and the way we treat people," said Martinez, a native of Puerto Rico who lives in east Yonkers off Tuckahoe Road.

Martinez said his flock now wants to take the family warmth on the road. In recent years, the church has held summer revivals in the "Chicken Island" parking lot near Getty Square, and soon church members will begin a campaign of home visitations.

Casa de Dios - as the congregation calls the church, or house of God in Spanish - has been housed in storefronts all its life, spending 23 years at 11 Manor House Square near Warburton Avenue before moving to 206 New Main St. in 1995. The former furniture store, where the congregation has invested about $1 million in renovations, is planning a facade make-over that will give the building a more dignified, church-like appearance.

Casa de Dios is aligned with the Concilio Latinoamericano de la Iglesia de Dios Pentecostal, an East Harlem-based denomination formed in 1957 with missions in 26 countries and 20 U.S. states. The denomination has more than 44,000 members and 626 congregations. Casa de Dios celebrates its services in Spanish.

A majority of the congregation is Puerto Rican, though there are members from virtually every Latin American country. Casa de Dios holds weeknight services on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays starting at 7:30 or 8. On Sunday, the congregation gathers at 11 a.m. for Bible study and 1 p.m. for worship. Tonight and at Sunday's service, the congregation will commemorate Martinez's service to God and Yonkers' spiritual life. The two-hour services consist of devotional prayers, songs of praise, special singers, a sermon and closing prayers.

This weekend's celebrations are not just a spiritual milestone for Martinez; they close a circle that began in his youth. The pastor who recommended that Martinez come to Yonkers was vice-president of the Concilio Latinoamericano de la Iglesia de Dios Pentecostal, and today Martinez holds that title. Martinez, who is married and has three children, said that he is pleased the church has prospered, but is not complacent.

"In secular life...he who has $10 wants $20," Martinez said. "In the service you do to God, you're never satisfied. You always want to do more."

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