The Walmart Pastor
By Carl Stagner
It could’ve been the slogan for the church: “Save souls. Live better.” Or possibly, “Always rejoices. Always.” But the church founded by Ercides Estrada wasn’t concerned about catchy phrases or slick marketing techniques. Estrada’s eyes were focused on a single goal: go to the people, and tell them about Jesus. After all, it wasn’t that long ago that he had been wandering the byways of life in total darkness. But Estrada had found the Light, and he wanted everyone he came in contact with to find the Light. So what does a minister do when he arrives in a new town and wants to evangelize? He goes to the local Walmart and begins to preach.
In 1998, while living in Virginia, Estrada surrendered his heart to the Lord through the ministry of Pastor Ramon Romero. Luz Gonzales and James Johnman encouraged Estrada along his spiritual journey. Gonzales taught Estrada important principles of evangelism. Estrada received a call to vocational ministry and began ministry studies through Anderson University School of Theology. In 2003, James Johnman contacted Estrada about the possibility of starting a Spanish-speaking Church of God in Lexington, Kentucky.
Estrada accepted the call, packed up his belongings, and moved his family west to Kentucky. Estrada remembers the sequence of events this way: “When my wife, my two children, and I moved from Virginia, we didn’t have anyone in Lexington. We didn’t know anybody, and we didn’t have family or friends there. So one day I prayed and God told me: ‘Go to the Walmart.’ And there were many people there!”
He continues, “I started to preach in the parking lot. Three to four new people came back each day to listen.” Estrada tells of how some people ignored him or didn’t accept his message, while others were blessed by it. And so it was that Iglesia de Dios Fuente de Vida (Fountain of Life Church of God) was founded.
The ripples of Estrada’s work in the Walmart parking lot continue to expand. Today Estrada pastors a Hispanic congregation in Cincinnati, Ohio, that has grown from about 70 persons to 125. Iglesia de Dios Nueva Esperanza (New Hope Church of God) worships at Dayspring Church of God. Meanwhile, a Church of God congregation has been planted in Veracruz, Mexico; Iglesia de Dios Árbol de Vida (Tree of Life Church of God) already sees 90 individuals come to worship on a regular basis. Estrada praises the Lord for the unique way God began his ministry and is amazed at the way God brings the puzzle pieces of life together to form a one-of-a-kind masterpiece. The pastor of the new Veracruz congregation was one of many souls won to Christ through Estrada’s ministry to shoppers in the Walmart parking lot.