My name is Juana Avila, I’m one of the pastors at Cypress UMC and the head pastor of the Spanish Ministry here. I’ve been married to Jorge Avila for 13 years and we have two boys: Isaac 10 and Jakob 6. We are originally from Illinois.
While I was in Illinois, God was calling me; at first it was unreal. I struggled with low self-esteem all my life, not believing that God could make something out of me. Even though I was always very active in ministry, something inside of me would say “God would never choose a person like you”. But I loved working behind the scenes and everything I did, I did with all my heart and wanted to serve. I served at El Mesias UMC for over 9 years.
One day, I remember very clearly God speaking to me. He told me that He chose me to become a pastor… I was like Sarah from the bible laughing inside and thinking to myself, “Sure, God, you know I HATE being in front of people.” But when God has a plan He does what He says. In 2009, God called us as a family to move to Houston, TX. At church, a Pastor came up to us and said “I saw a vision that both you and Jorge will be starting a church”… my husband and I just looked at each other, laughed and told the Pastor he must be mistaken, we had no desire to start anything. But I guess this verse fits perfectly in this situation: “our plans are NOT God’s plans.” Isaiah 55:8
After being in Houston for over a year, I was so disappointed. I felt completely lost. We couldn’t find a church where we felt at home. We were visiting so many churches and even stayed at some of them for a few months, but they would either close the Spanish ministry or it just didn’t feel like home. By this time, God started talking to Jorge and me and we started having a desire and urge to open a Spanish Ministry. In our minds we thought it would be impossible since nobody knew us and we really didn’t connect with any church. But my experience is that God always comes through. In October of 2010, Cypress UMC opened their doors; we are so blessed to be part of this family! I’m so glad that Cypress became our church home and that the pastors here were obedient to this calling to open a Spanish Ministry.
Recently, I was invited by the TAC to attend two events in Fort Myers, FL. The first one was an invitation for SLI (Spiritual Leadership Inc.) coach training. This is a 5 month process, which I will be working with a team coach and a group of leaders. We are holding each other accountable in working on areas in our lives that need improvement. Here I learned the importance about your spiritual formation and how to be a fruitful leader. The other part of this program will also help develop leadership for the Spanish ministry. In February we will start as a Spanish ministry, the spiritual leadership incubator. This will help us develop new ideas and strong leadership to help grow God’s Kingdom. As a new pastor I know that there is much to learn, so I was so blessed when I was invited by the TAC (all costs paid for). Out of 21 Hispanic Ministries they only invited two pastors to participate in this training and I was one of them.
While I was out there, I was also registered to attend the Grace in Action by Pastor Jorge Acevedo. It was an honor to see how this church works together and they have the same goal to reach the community for Christ. The one thing that touched my life the most was the love they have for ministry and others. Jorge Acevedo has 4 campuses, one of them is also a community center which opens every 3rd Saturday of the month to serve the community. Volunteers donate their time by handing out food, giving free haircuts, praying for the people, serving at the Thrift store and the people behind the scenes that make this event happen. It’s amazing the way they care for the people, not looking at them as “nobodies,” but children of God and, showing them through their service that they are important to God and that He loves them.
Another thing that stood out to me was when Jorge told his story about when he became the pastor of Grace church the bank statements showed that they only had $29.11. Wow! And look at this church now: they have 4 locations over 2,700 attendees every Sunday! Money was no obstacle to what God wanted to do in this community. I don’t ever want to put God in a box again. He is a God with “no limits”. I saw that with Grace Church, and I’m sure we serve that same God!
I see God opening doors for the Spanish Ministry without even looking for them. Doors will start opening for us as a Church here at Cypress UMC. Just like this amazing opportunity that I got to be part of a Spiritual Formation process that is focused on 3 principles LOVE, LEARN, LEAD, God is calling us as a church to put this 3 principles in practice.
These last 6 months have been a journey for me. I’ve struggled with my own personal unbeliefs. Sometimes I still come into this office and can’t believe that I am here doing what God has called me to do. I’ve had my ups and downs, but, through it all, I see God’s powerful hand moving, His love surrounding me, His direction and help when I need it most.
Don’t ever give up on what God is calling you to do. I just wonder what would have been of me if I would have given up on the calling that God gave me. Where would I be? Who would be in this office telling their story? But I just give God all the Glory because He gave me the strength and courage to continue, and thanks to all of you for supporting and praying for me.
Written By: Juana Avila,
Associate Pastor of Cypress UMC & Head of Spanish Ministry