This is a tale of, well, two tales. One is the tale of Lupe Barron, a young woman broken and lost after suffering personal tragedy, and her personal testimony of embracing Christ’s redemptive love. The other is a tale of R Church and Danny Flores, a young, energetic pastor living out his dream to find and love as many broken individuals in his community as he can.
Each tale can certainly stand on its own as evidence of the literal life-changing power of the gospel. After all, this is what God’s kingdom has been built upon ever since the early New Testament churches were formed: Love. Grace. Mercy. Forgiveness. And it continues with R Church in Elgin, Illinois, where the stories collide.
On second thought, to divorce the two would be a gross disservice to the reader. One simply cannot be told without the other.
Lupe Barron would agree. Seven years ago, her personal life took a devastating turn when her brother ended his life. In the aftermath, Lupe’s parents divorced, and her father attempted suicide multiple times. Meanwhile, her marriage began to deteriorate.
“I didn’t feel there was a god,” Lupe said. “I was trying to find God, but I doubted. I wondered, How can God allow that to happen?”
Growing up Catholic meant doing what she described as “the family thing.” For Lupe, this included certain routines: how she was to act in church, how to sit, when to stand and how to pray.
“It just wasn’t really me,” she said. “I never felt a connection through prayer, and so I never really felt close to God.”
About a year ago, a friend posted on social media about R Church, a new church plant meeting in a private school in Elgin, roughly 35 miles northwest of Chicago. R Church ministers to 150-180 worshipers on a typical Sunday, with services in English and Spanish.
Lupe remembers watching a video of Flores, R Church’s pastor, and realizing she and her husband, Miguel, needed a change.
“I had withdrawn myself from our marriage while I was grieving,” she said. “It took about three months of my asking Miguel about going to R Church before he said, ‘Let’s go.’ But I needed something. We needed something.”
“My wife and I finally found hope.”
What she found that first Sunday, more than anything, was love. And it started with a hug.
“One of the first things that impacted me was how welcoming everybody was. It was, ‘Good morning,’ and I got two hugs. I didn’t know it, but I needed those hugs so bad!”
Lupe’s experience at R Church was a breath of fresh air compared to her Catholic upbringing. Rituals, she admitted, were replaced by a message of healing, hope and peace — delivered by a regular human being. It felt almost as if the pastor was talking directly to her.
“When we first went, I felt very welcomed, very loved — by the word, the people, all the way around. I want to make people feel what I felt. An open heart leads to an open mind.”
She and Miguel left that Sunday wanting to hear more. The ensuing months saw them say yes to Jesus and be baptized. For Miguel, who as a child had been close to Lupe’s brother, the experience has been a rebirth of sorts.
“After all the dark moments and thunderstorms we encountered, my wife and I finally found hope,” Miguel said. “We both were baptized, and we were able to restart, be refreshed, renewed and restored.”
The Barrons have attended a small group each Friday for the past nine months and have become active, serving those in need in their community and where they work. Lupe credits the discipleship from the leaders at R Church and within her small group for helping rebuild her relationship with her father.
“I had a lot of hate toward my parents for what happened,” she said. “I had to forgive them and come to peace with that, but I had to ask for forgiveness as well.”
Lupe’s father began attending the church and, on Easter Sunday, gave his life to the Lord. He lives in California now, but watches the sermon online every Sunday. Lupe said she has seen a man now “more passionate about his family.”
“I want to make people feel what I felt.”
The couple also have been serving in the church the past six months. Miguel leads the security crew at R Church, while Lupe stands in the same place where her path to redemption began: with a warm, welcoming face greeting people.
“When we first went, I felt very welcomed, very loved — by the word, the people, all the way around,” she recalled. “I want to make people feel what I felt. An open heart leads to an open mind.”
Miguel echoed his wife’s desire to share with others. “Even though sometimes we are put through challenges in life, God still loves us,” he said. “And through those challenges we are able to help others find him.”
An opportunity for discipleship
Pastor Flores has had a front-row seat to the transformation, not just in Lupe and Miguel, but also in the church. “What we’ve seen is remarkable — every sacrifice, every tear, every dollar invested,” said Flores. “This is just one of the testimonies that have come out of it. The more I think about it, the more pumped up I get.”
Flores came to the United States from Monterrey, Mexico, as an 18-year-old who spoke only Spanish. Having accepted the Lord at an Assemblies of God youth convention, Flores later became a youth pastor. In 2010 he planted an Assemblies of God church in Camden, New Jersey. Two years later, he was asked to oversee New Life Covenant’s new Spanish-language campus in Chicago.
“We are raising leaders, not finding them. We’re able to bring up new Christians and teach them how to be leaders. It takes a disciple to build a disciple.”
Now 37, Flores has a background planted firmly in directing and planting churches in the Midwest. His infectious enthusiasm fuels his passion for the Hispanic community that comprises much of R Church’s congregation. Others see building up a church of roughly 75% new believers and mostly first- and second-generation Hispanics as a challenge. Flores sees an opportunity for discipleship.
“We really rely on small groups because there are so many suburbs around the area,” he said. “As a result, we are raising leaders, not finding them. We’re able to bring up new Christians and teach them how to be leaders. It takes a disciple to build a disciple.”
And Flores isn’t done building. In 2020, R Church is launching a campus in Pilsen, a community on Chicago’s Lower West Side. In an area predominantly Mexican and Catholic, this second location will offer a night service in Spanish.
“Pilsen, for many years, has been in my heart,” Flores said. “There are so many great churches in the area, but there is still a huge need, particularly in this type of community. There are a lot of Lupes in the community, and we have work to do there.”
Flores’ work won’t be limited to traveling between campuses each weekend to preach. R Church is one of multiple churches helping financially support VIVE, a church plant that launched September 29, 2019, in North Houston, Texas. He also is increasing R Church’s presence in the Elgin community, including partnering with local hospitals to create in Elgin and eventually in Pilsen awareness of suicide.
Troy Emenecker, Guest writer
Troy Emenecker is a freelance writer for Converge. He attends a Converge church in Mesa, Arizona.