Sunday school classrooms at the Full Gospel Holiness Church at 4955 15th St. E. in Samoset are small pop-up tents with no walls and a couple dozen folding chairs.
Rest rooms are portable outhouses, the fellowship hall contains rows of folding tables and chairs, and worshippers share their love for Jesus Christ in the shade of a yellow-and-white, circus-sized tent.
“We don’t have a church right now,” said Cesar Garcia, pastor of the church. “We have a tent. We are trying to get our church built.” The church has been in the process of raising money to build a new church for almost a year now, but a sluggish economy and financial woes have slowed their plans, according to Garcia. They need to borrow $1 million to build the $3.5 million two-story church they have had architects design, and before getting a loan, banks are requiring them to have at least 10 percent in a bank account first.
More than a year ago, the Full Gospel Holiness Church outgrew its other building just down the road from where it is now, according to Francisco Garcia, Cesar’s brother and the church treasurer.
The church sold its old building to come up with a down payment on four acres in an industrial area rezoned commercial on 15th Street East. Since then, members have been working hard to scrape together enough money to build their new church.
“We are not rich people,” said Cesar Garcia in a recent sermon to his people. “We work hard to pay our bills. There is a need in our community. People are going through circumstances.”
Church members have been diligently working two Saturdays a month trimming trees, cleaning yards and washing cars to earn the 10 percent needed to qualify for a loan to build their church, said Francisco Garcia. So far they have earned about $83,000.
“Money is the only thing we need,” he said. “We have everything else.”
Every other Saturday they meet around 7:30 a.m. at the tent to pray, said Francisco Garcia. About 8 a.m. they set out to work for the day at various locations around the county. They even have their own bucket truck to trim trees.
It’s Jesus Christ who gives them the strength to do this, said Francisco Garcia.
“It has been a lot of work,” he said. “It’s something for us to remember what we have been going through. We are doing this for the new ones to come.”
The Full Gospel Holiness Church was started on 15th Street East in Samoset about four years ago. In those four short years, they have grown to about 150 members, mostly families of Hispanic descent.
Even as temporary as the church now stands, it has been a constant for the community, and families pitch in to help each other and the church, said Francisco Garcia.
They cleared the lot of debris to make room for the new building, and built a playground for the children. Each week they give out more than 100 food boxes, and with a new building, hope to become a permanent food pantry for the community.
Every Sunday a different family prepares food for the rest of the congregation, said Francisco Garcia.
Following worship, they gather together and eat. Afterward, the children play while the adults enjoy fellowship.
“My wife and my sisters, they make a circle and they chat,” he said.
“We stay here until dinner sometimes, especially when there’s no school the next day.”
The church continues to strengthen family values and help youths stay out of trouble by offering incentives for good grades and good behavior, said Cesar Garcia. Youths of the church who have exceptional grades in school are rewarded with a certificate, a cash prize and a free dinner.
“We try to get those kids out of gangs,” he said. “It makes our communities more safe.”
Six months ago, about 30 of the church youth started HOPE, Helping Others by Preaching Eternity.
The group targets tough issues facing teens like gangs, teen pregnancy and drugs, said Cesar “C.J.” Garcia Jr., 16, a sophomore at Braden River High School.
The youths go to the streets, preaching the word and passing out informational pamphlets, hoping to create a new “culture” for youths in the community.
“It’s to open their eyes,” he said. “We try to help them get off the streets and into a better life.”
C.J., who also is the son of the pastor, leads the group by example by setting his sights on being accepted into Harvard Law School.
“If you ask any one of our kids what they want to be, you’ll hear lawyer, doctor or even president,” said C.J.
“Our kids won’t have to live the life that many of our people are living today. That’s what we hope to hear.”
At a recent Sunday service, members sat beneath the big yellow-and-white tent, shielded from the sun and the dust that swirled in the air from a stiff spring breeze.
Pastor Garcia talked to them about their struggles as people and their duty as Christians.
“Today is about inspiring our families so they can be somebody in society,” he told the crowd. “In order to achieve that, you have to think of God first.”
After congratulating the youth for their good grades, Cesar Garcia called his congregation to come forward and profess their love for Christ.
As they made their way to the front of the tent, they seemed oblivious to the noise from passing traffic.
“We are going to ask for God’s wisdom and strength,” Cesar Garcia told them as they knelt before the stage.
“We know with God nothing is impossible. With God’s help, we are going to make it through and build our new church.”