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The Orlando Sentinel

Pastor: Welcome Hispanics

by Tyler Gray

October 8, 2000
Copyright © 2000 The Orlando Sentinel. All Rights Reserved.

    "I believe pastors are leaders, and they`re public figures."

    -- Daniel Rivera, Pastor, Philadelphia Assembly of God, Kissimmee

KISSIMMEE -- Get Hispanics in the door. Make them feel at home. Then hit the streets, make some allies and make a real go at unity in Osceola County and maybe even in Central Florida as a whole.

That is Pastor Daniel Rivera`s plan for community leadership.

Rivera is a member of the Kissimmee Ministerial Association, a group of Osceola County pastors who have donated money and time to help feed and house folks who are down on luck and cash. Rivera didn`t start the association. But he wants to use it to round up pastors and community leaders from all backgrounds.

For several years now, the Kissimmee group`s cup of activity has not exactly run over.

"There are just a few pastors involved in it," Kissimmee Ministerial Association President and Alliance Church Pastor Jim Graff said. "If there was great involvement from the different pastors, it would be something that helps shape the community."

That is where Rivera comes in.

His parents are from Puerto Rico. He`s a 44-year-old New York City native who came to work as a Kissimmee police officer in 1988 after a career in law enforcement in New York. He retired from the Kissimmee Police Department in September 1999, "for my passion," he says. "The ministry."

These days, he is talking with pastors and asking, "Could we identify the community`s needs? There are so many, and if government is not meeting the needs, who is?"

Through the association and his own church, the Philadelphia Assembly of God in Kissimmee, Rivera wants to house and feed the homeless, who do not have a large shelter in Kissimmee. His church rents space from another church, but he is working on getting a permanent site.He also would like to see the Kissimmee Ministerial Association become a chapter of the Spanish Christian Church Association of Central Florida, which unites about 18 churches and Christian organizations.

"We are working to merge both organizations," said Pastor Edgardo Luis Lopez, president of the Central Florida organization. "We`re working with the community`s goals, but our main goal is to create fellowship for the pastors and continue education for the pastors."

Rivera said that as simple as it sounds, the word "Hispanic" in a group name or church can be the draw for Spanish-speaking families, because it signals that whoever is running the group probably speaks their language.

The plan is to lure such families with the promise of services in Spanish. Once they feel comfortable, Rivera would encourage them to branch out to members of the faith community from all cultures.

And the Kissimmee Ministerial Association, the Philadelphia Assembly of God and the Spanish Christian Church Association might be the framework Rivera and church leaders need to be force in the community.

"I believe pastors are leaders, and they`re public figures," Rivera said. "When one lives by example, others begin to see that."

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