Representing Christ in an Unexpected Culture

As Carlos’ love for Christ grew, so did his desire for those in Houston’s East End to know His redeeming grace.

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Representing Christ in an Unexpected Culture

Carlos Rebollar | May 5, 2017, 17:31 PM

As Carlos’ love for Christ grew, so did his desire for those in Houston’s East End to know His redeeming grace.

I remember being invited to a Frida Khalo art show by a friend about six years ago. It was being held at a bustling plaza in a particular neighborhood nestled under the eastern shadow of Houston’s beautiful skyline. I hadn’t really visited this part of town often before this, except for as a kid when I’d visit some of my family just a couple miles south of this art show. But like most kids, when I was on a drive through any neighborhood, I simply admired the overarching trees passing me by as I leaned my head over to look out through the car window. I was in my young 20s when I visited this neighborhood again for this art show, and I felt an instant connection to this area the moment I set foot into one of the businesses at this plaza.

“Who is representing Christ in the midst of this culture?”

It was a love for a neighborhood and its people that I had yet to experience.

See, I was raised to look up to drug dealers and thugs. Growing up in a culture where being tough was glorified, expressing yourself through visual and performing arts other than rapping and break dancing was seen as weak and soft. I was always artistically bent growing up, so I lived in that tension. But here I was at a coffee shop and an art gallery next to it with a crowd of Mexican-Americans who grew up in a rough neighborhood, yet were equally as proud of their canvas paintings as they were of their 2nd Ward Houston roots. It was an intertwining of two worlds, and this was my first time witnessing it — men and women coming from rough parts of town expressing themselves and displaying their cultural roots through the arts. As a believer and follower of Jesus, my immediate next thought was, “Who is representing Christ in the midst of this culture?”

This sent me on a journey of researching everything I could about this area known as East End Houston, and what I found was heartbreaking. I found the poverty rate in this neighborhood depressing, with more than half of East End Houston’s population lacking a high school diploma. This pointed to deeper issues of generational poverty, drugs, gangs, and the breakdown of the home. While I found this all to be true, I later found that this neighborhood was experiencing gentrification, and many new people were moving in. God used all of this to create in me an even greater desire and vision to see the gospel of Christ transform, heal, and unite an area that was becoming increasingly diverse. During this time, I had already been a member of my local church (Sojourn) since our core-team phase a couple years before I stumbled upon this neighborhood. I had also been feeling an increased burden and call to pursue becoming a pastor. I knew this mainly because of how God was increasing my love for His Church and my desire to give my life to it. Prior to joining Sojourn, I did much street preaching, and I loved it. However, at this stage in my walk with Jesus, I was desiring more than just sharing my faith with people I had never seen before. I wanted to engage in the hard work of making disciples and mobilizing the Church to engage in this work as well.

As my burden for East End Houston and my call to its people became clearer, it was only a matter of time before God would join together both the call to pursue the pastorate and the call to make disciples in East End Houston via church planting. In doing this, He made it very clear that He was calling me to become equipped to plant a church in and for East End Houston. After God crystallized this call through internal and external confirmation, I joined our church’s part-time, church-planting residency. In 2015 one of our pastors approached me and our other church-planting resident about going full-time into the residency so we could fully devote ourselves to getting equipped. He talked about Reliant and what it does for missionaries, church planters, and pastors. Our pastor knew Reliant through a good friend and old coworker of his who had joined the Reliant team. Our pastor said we would have to raise financial support for our salary for the residency and that this journey would also serve as part of our church-planting training (very true — you can’t be a church planter if you’re not comfortable with raising funds).

I was excited, scared, and everything in between when I heard this. I had never raised financial support in my life, but I was committed to the work that God had called me to be a part of in East End, so I accepted! Next thing you know, I’m in Orlando getting trained by some of the best people in the world on how to develop a ministry team of financial partners.

I cannot begin to express my gratitude for Reliant. They not only trained us extensively and thoroughly on how to raise funds, but I was also assigned an amazing coach who walked alongside me through the lowest and highest points of my support-raising journey. God has built in me a kind of confidence in His faithfulness and in who He’s made me to be that I had not experienced before stepping into this journey.