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Pastor Fulfills Dream In Steel And Concrete

Dr. Ruben Perez and his congregation are building a huge new Christian church.

By Debbie Barr | Special to the Sentinel

October 7, 2004
Copyright © 2004 THE ORLANDO SENTINEL. All rights reserved. 

Wearing a hard hat, Dr. Ruben Perez saw blue sky as he surveyed the steel rafters that would support the roof of his 37,000-square-foot church under construction in south Orlando.

What to most would look like just another building in progress is, for Perez, the manifestation of an unlikely dream come true.

Perez, a native of Puerto Rico, is the founding pastor of the Pabellon de la Victoria -- Victory Pavilion -- church at 12355 John Young Parkway. A physician by training, Perez began the dual role of doctor and pastor in 1995 to follow a vision, he said.

"I received what I believed was a special calling from God," said Perez, who saw himself as pastor of a church with more than 3,000 people. "It was glorious. It was awesome."

The primarily Hispanic, nondenominational Christian church, which began nine years ago with a congregation of 12 on Sundays at his medical office, now has about 650 churchgoers weekly.

The church was formerly housed in a small, 4,000-square-foot sanctuary plus five portables on 7 acres off John Young Parkway. However, Perez said he knew from the beginning that he was destined to build a sanctuary that could seat 2,000. He and the church embarked on the process to erect the $3.4 million building two years ago.

The building, slated for completion by January, will include a sanctuary that will seat close to 2,000 people, an education and administration area with offices, classrooms, a choir room and a children's and youth sanctuary, and a second-floor multipurpose area that will give the church an extra 10,000 square feet of space for weddings, special events and possibly an exercise facility.

Born the 10th child of 15 to a pastor and his wife in Mayagüez, in western Puerto Rico, Perez knew what he wanted to do with his life even as a small boy.

"Since I was 4 years old, I said I was going to be a doctor and a pastor," said Perez, 48. "Since I was a kid, I have had a passion for people."

During his growing-up years, Perez decided to pursue medicine, but kept the idea of becoming a pastor on the back burner until he felt called to it.

"In any profession, you need a lot of ability and desire. But the profession of a pastor must be a special calling from God," he said.

Perez graduated from the University of Puerto Rico with a degree in medicine in 1981 and then moved to Detroit to do dual training in internal medicine and family practice at the Mount Carmel & Trauma Center Hospital, affiliated with the Wayne State University School of Medicine.

He was fully prepared to head back to Puerto Rico to practice medicine and eventually go into politics, when his wife, Astrid, had two dreams that changed the course of their lives.

The first was that they were in Florida trying to outrun a tornado but were saved. The second was that she and Perez became separated from each other in a throng of people in Puerto Rico just before he opened a door to an abyss.

Until that point, Perez said he had never put much stock in dreams. But he took hers as a sign that in Florida, problems may arise, but he and his family would see them through.

Perez moved to Orlando in 1986 and opened his own internal-medicine practice a year later. In 1993, after establishing a thriving practice, he had a vision that he would be pastor of a huge church. He tried to ignore it at first, but the signs kept coming, he said.

Two years later, he heeded the call. After organizing the small congregation that met at his medical office, he spotted an available piece of land off John Young Parkway and was overcome with the mission to build a church there.

He and his small church family -- originally made up of eight adults and four children -- donated personal funds to put a down payment on the land, which was then priced at $1.6 million. His brother Hector Perez, a pastor in Puerto Rico, also raised money from his own congregation to help with the down payment.

Construction of the original sanctuary and installment of auxiliary portables began the next year, raising the price tag to $2.3 million.

With financial contributions from a growing congregation, the church succeeded in the monumental task of paying off the full amount of the loan to a private lender in just seven years. The church's ability to do so enabled the organization to qualify for a bank loan of $3.4 million to build the new sanctuary.

Perez said the new building represents a financial benchmark in both Hispanic and religious communities.

"No Hispanic church in Florida has gotten a bank loan of this magnitude," said Perez, who still sees patients at his practice one day a week.

With the new building under way, Perez said he is confident he is fulfilling God's plan. But the journey, at least according to his original vision of supervising an even larger congregation, is not over, he said.

"I do feel very fulfilled, and I have done what I was called to do. But I'm not finished. I really feel this is just the beginning. God has a big plan for my life, for my family, my church and my community, and I'm looking forward to that," Perez said.

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