English - Left: Pastor Roberto Alegre, Jr. with his wife Mayelin. Right: Jennifer Hickey (right) with a congregation member (left). Español - El Pastor Alegre y sus esposa, Mayelin Imagen arriba – La Pastora Jennifer Hickey abraza un feligrés en la cena comunitaria de Community of Faith.

In the 1740s, two frontiersmen, Mark Evans and Tasker Tosh, explored the heart of a salt lick valley in the Appalachian Mountains. Through their optimism, patience, courage, and inspiration, “Big Lick” became the city of Roanoke, Virginia.

These days, two Brethren in Christ “frontier pastors” explore the spiritual land of Roanoke: Roberto Alegre, lead pastor of La Roca BIC, and Jennifer Hickey, lead pastor at Community of Faith Church.

While these pastors and their congregations are different from each other and diverge from many of the norms seen in the Allegheny Conference of Brethren in Christ U.S., both lead a prophetic charge, paving the way for more people to cross cultural and societal boundaries. And they are doing it with optimism, patience, courage, and a whole lot of inspiration through the power of the Holy Spirit.

La Roca BIC

Church at La Roca BIC.

Pastor Roberto Alegre, Jr. was born in Havana, Cuba, where he grew up in a Christian home. In his youth, Cuba was a country where there was no freedom of religion; in school, Roberto was persecuted by other students and even teachers for his Christian faith. At the age of 11, his family moved to Miami, Florida, where Roberto spent the next 27 years of his life.

In 2007, God called Roberto (along with his wife Mayelin and their four children) to Roanoke to plant a Spanish-speaking congregation, La Roca BIC. At that time, only 2% of the people in Roanoke were Hispanic. Yet with a passion for reaching others with the love of Jesus, Roberto explored the Hispanic and Latino neighborhoods armed with tracts and friendship evangelism, determined to further the kingdom of God in the Spanish-speaking community.

The La Roca BIC congregation.

Now seventeen years later, more than 7% of the population in Roanoke is Puerto Rican, Mexican, Cuban, Salvadoran, Dominican, and others from Latino backgrounds, a diversity that also exists in the La Roca church family. As the Hispanic presence grows in Roanoke, so does La Roca, now numbering up to 250 on some Sundays.

La Roca’s biggest challenge is an abundance of children. Around 50 children attend each week, and in this new generation of believers, a reverse language barrier presents itself. For some children raised in the U.S. by Spanish-speaking parents, English has become their first language. La Roca’s children’s ministry must discern how to lead these English-speaking, culturally-Hispanic young people.

The peace and love found at La Roca draw in the unchurched, the nonbelievers, and the seekers alike. But more importantly, it is through the joy of the worship and the good news of the Gospel in their native language that lives are being transformed by the power of Jesus Christ. For when the Spirit of God is moving in a church such as La Roca, the peace and joy of Christ is seen, experienced, and shared with others.

Community of Faith

Children’s ministry at Community of Faith.

Jennifer Hickey’s first call was to secular work. She earned her BA from Kutztown University in Speech Communication and first came to learn about the Brethren in Christ when she attended Grantham BIC in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. It wasn’t long until she was working as Minister of Young Adults and Administration there. Eventually Jen began seminary at Evangelical Theological Seminary in Myerstown, Pa., and earned a master’s degree in biblical studies with an emphasis on theology and spiritual formation.

Jen continued to live for Jesus and create environments where people could thrive and find value in themselves and what they did. Her occupation in collegiate dining brought Jen and her husband Dan to Virginia. God showed up (again), leading them to Community of Faith Church and further calling Jen to full-time ministry in 2021.

First planted by a BIC pastor in 1996, Community of Faith Church today is a congregation of about twenty. In this precious community, transforming relationships with Jesus and with each other are pursued. While small congregations like this are not unusual in the Allegheny Conference, Community of Faith is the only one with a female lead pastor. Brethren in Christ U.S. fully recognizes and supports women in all levels of ministry leadership, but Pastor Jen navigates well the opposition and questions that come from those who may not understand or affirm her position.

Community dinner at Community of Faith.

These extra hurdles only strengthen her desire to make Community of Faith a place for all without question where: Jesus is the focus, the Holy Spirit resides, and church members follow him faithfully. Everybody is welcome whatever their stories, questions, doubts, or struggles. Pastor Jen will tell you that this church is all about doing life together, being intentional about spiritual growth, and serving one another and the broader community along the way.

One way that Community of Faith fulfills this vision is through Second Saturday Suppers. Once a month, they offer a free community meal with church members and neighbors sitting down together for good food and friendly conversation. While the Community of Faith numbers haven’t changed much, the people have. Everyone participates in some way to impact the surrounding community for Jesus.

Trailblazing for the Glory of God

Despite the differences, biases, and challenges that Pastor Roberto and Pastor Jen face in their respective roles, the truth of the message they proclaim is the same. God uses pastors that possess enough optimism, patience, courage, and inspiration from the Holy Spirit to provide congregations with a true picture of what God’s love looks like. The revealed truth is evidenced in ways that are biblical and relevant as Jen and Roberto cross cultural lines to advance the Gospel. For we know that the truth of Jesus Christ never changes. Rather, this truth manifests itself by changing us.

Jill Thompson
Jill is a freelance writer and the pastor of congregational care at Hollowell Church in Waynesboro, Pa.

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