Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Pastor holds open doors for Latino community

Valley churches offer services in Spanish

Express Staff Writer

Pastor Tito Rivera

In Spanish, the phrase to describe Pastor Tito Rivera would be "hombre estupendo." This "super man" is simply everywhere. He is the epitome of "Faster than a speeding bullet. More powerful than a locomotive."

A pastor for the interdenominacional Ministerio Vida Abundante, he is currently offering ministries in the Wood River Valley as well as traveling to offer ministries in such far-flung spots as Brazil, Puerto Rico, Mexico, the Dominican Republic and Ghana, as well as California and Texas.

"Our ministry is non-denominational. Presbyterian, Baptist, Catholic, Mormon, Jehovah's Witness. They find me somehow. It's my ministry and my passion. Passion for God, that's what you need. I'm here mostly for the Latin American community. That's why I believe God called us five years ago."

Born in Puerto Rico, Rivera and his wife, Dartha, moved to the valley in 2000 at the behest of the Valley Christian Fellowship (now The Life Church) in Hailey. He said he met the former pastor of Valley Christian on a trip in Africa.

"He said, 'Tito, we need your help. We need a Hispanic minister (in the Wood River Valley).' I came and prayed. After six months we agreed and came here."

The Riveras weren't looking to move from their home in Lander, Wyo. Life was going pretty well, after all. The Riveras, whose family includes three grown children and three grandchildren, had a ministry for Lander's Latino community, ran a successful business and owned a ranch with Morgan horses.

"We had a life there, but it was not just my decision, but my wife's," he said.

They spent three years building up a Latino congregation at Valley Christian before moving on to new challenges. Because he speaks Portuguese as well as Spanish, he conducts services in both languages.

Today, Rivera preaches to an enthusiastic and multi-cultural Latino community at two locales: La Capilla in Hailey and Presbyterian Church of the Big Wood in Ketchum. "Ministerio Vida Abundante," or Abundant Life Ministry, is a nonprofit organization run by Rivera and his wife. They hope to open a second-hand store this year to help support the ministries.

"Some Brazilians told me, 'We need a church where we can praise God.' Pastor Bob (Henley) asked if I'd like to start a ministry there. I told him I think we can start a congregation."

On any given Wednesday at the Church of the Big Wood, 20 to 25 people attend his service, including natives of Peru, Ecuador, Costa Rica, Brazil, Romania, Mexico and France. They also play soccer together on Wednesdays and Saturdays. The same group also meets at the home of a Brazilian on Tuesday and Sunday mornings.

Glauber Rangel, 32, from Brazil, has worked for Sun Valley Co. since 2001. His wife and two children remain in Brazil, although his wife is coming to the valley soon to work through the winter. Because it's during his children's school vacation, they will stay with his wife's mother in Brazil. Rangel has gone to Rivera's services at Big Wood since he started in 2003.

"Most of the people are Brazilians," Rangel said. "That's what I say to the guys, (when they ask) why is the church doing that? Open church for us? It's not just to teach religion. It's God and love of Jesus. We are far from home. People alone can be here, working, making friends, learning about Christ. We're together, family. There are a lot of bad things to find like drugs. Right now they can find good things. That's why the church opens the doors. So people can find good things. They don't have to be drunk to be happy."

Rivera brings many of his loves and abilities to his ministries. He's a surfer and ministers to surfers in Puerto Rico, where his family still lives. He also used to be a ski instructor at Ski Apache in New Mexico where they lived.

"We like to have fun. God wants us to be happy. God doesn't want you to stress out," Rivera added with a huge, sunny smile. His personal charm and friendliness is immediately welcoming.

"I believe God has called me to be an apostle, like Paul. That's what he did. This is the third church I've opened in the valley. This is what I do best."

As an ideal, Rivera has chosen well. St. Paul is regarded as the founder of Christianity and journeyed afar to open churches.

Known as "Father Tito" in the community, Rivera also is asked to officiate at weddings, funerals and memorial services. He works with Stuart Sonnenland and Young Life and travels with students to help build houses in Mexico each year. Two days a week he preaches at the Blaine County Jail, another of the ministries he initiated. As well. Rivera is on call on a rotating basis with the valley's other clergy at St. Luke's Wood River Medical Center. One of his other pet projects is their annual spring soccer tournament at Atkinson Park in Ketchum, held for the children of the Hispanic Latin American community.

"Everyone is welcome," Rivera said. "We had about 13 nationalities last year, playing on 12 teams. There are 450 families involved. We have five piñatas and we do one every hour."

Rivera and his wife bought a home in The Meadows neighborhood south of Ketchum. They continue to run their successful businesses, Sun Valley Window Cleaning in Ketchum and Wind River Window Cleaning in Lander.

"We believe it's all good," he said. "We tithe at all the churches but God provides."

This year, Rivera is looking forward to more missionary work in the Philippines, Thailand and China. Last year they went to Jerusalem, but that was a vacation.

"We had a great time," he admitted, grinning. "I'm invited to all kind of churches. I'm in love with Africa. I can't wait to go back. This is what I do best. It's going and it just keeps growing."



· Iglesia Latino Americana del Big Wood, 6:30 p.m. Wednesday in the River Room Chapel; worship in Spanish and Portuguese. All ages and languages are welcome. Presbyterian Church of the Big Wood, in Ketchum.

· Services en Español, en "La Capilla" los Domingos a las 11:30 a.m. de la Mañana. Localisada entre la calle, Woodside y Esquina Wintergreen, in Hailey. Informacion: Ministerio vida abundante, 720-0820.

For more information, contact Pastor Tito or Dartha Rivera at 726-8994 or 481-0671.

Other services in Spanish:

· St. Charles Catholic Church, Saturday Spanish Mass 7:30 p.m.

· The Life Church, Sunday Spanish services, noon with Pastor Rudy Chavez. 406 Main St. Hailey.

· Bellevue Community Church, Sunday, Bilingual, Worship 10:30 a.m., Iglesia Bautista el Valle Hermoso, 307 Cedar St. Bellevue.

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