From the outside, the nondescript building in downtown El Paso doesn’t look much like a church. But the converted gymnasium does in fact serve as home to Mesa Place Church.
And Christian Gurrola may not look like a pastor to many. His ensemble recently included a denim shirt, buttoned to the top, camouflage cargo pants and socks with hot dogs on them.
Gurrola admits he is unique and embraces the conversations his appearance generates. The former business executive has found his rhythm serving a congregation of people who come from all walks of life.
The church’s purpose is simply described on their website: “We are a Christ-centered church with a modern approach to our Baptist roots. We believe in the Word of God, the power of prayer and the importance of community.”
When Gurrola and his wife started Mesa Place Church in the spring of 2015, they felt called to connect people with God, each other and the community. They began meeting as a small Bible study in their living room and soon found a temporary home at the University of Texas-El Paso Baptist Student Ministry building.
After running up against several struggles with the small congregation, Gurrola knew he needed help from other churches to be able to continue the work they were called to do at Mesa Place Church.
Gurrola reached out to John Silva, a West Texas church starter, and was soon connected with a sister congregation in New Braunfels that was looking to sponsor a new church on the border.
Jeff Covington, associate pastor of Oakwood Church in New Braunfels, was passing through El Paso with his family on vacation and was able to meet. Gurrola shared openly with Covington about the church’s need for a sponsor who could help them find a permanent location for their church, as well as the need for encouragement and prayer.
Covington was interested in what God was doing in and through Mesa Place Church and told Gurrola he would be in touch.
That night, Gurrola prayed.
“I was so tired,” he said. “I said, ‘Jesus, pray for me, I don’t even know what to pray.’ I am so thankful we have an advocate who prays on our behalf.”
Almost the exact moment he finished, Gurrola’s phone rang and it was Covington with news that Oakwood would like to be a sponsor for Mesa Place.
“Their heart lines up with ours to connect with the community and world,” Gurrola said. “Oakwood has a mindset for partner churches to connect and, from that moment on, they have been all for us.”
For Oakwood, it was also a perfect match with their 10-year vision to assist 30 new church plants. Beginning in 2012, lead pastor Ray Stills cast a vision for the church planting strategy and the congregation eagerly joined in. In the past four years, they have aided church plants along the border — from Laredo to Brownsville. Coming alongside a new church in the state’s largest border city was a natural progression.
“It’s been a tremendous blessing to see what God is doing there,” Covington said. “They are creative in their thinking and the way they are doing things.”
Oakwood has provided Mesa Place with financial assistance and with support and encouragement at deacon ordinations and other occasions.
First Baptist Church of El Paso has also come alongside Mesa Place as a sponsor church in the city.
“These guys have come through in so many unfathomable ways. When my arms got tired, they came along and supported and helped me.”
“These guys have come through in so many unfathomable ways,” Gurrola said. “When my arms got tired, they came along and supported and helped me.”
Through assistance from Oakwood and sacrificial giving of church members, Mesa Place Church was able to lease their own space in the fall of 2015.
The church has found great success reaching lower and middle-class Hispanics in the downtown El Paso region, now averaging around 60-70 people each Sunday. They also meet weekly in missional community groups and find opportunities to serve their neighbors.
With a heart for the “none and dones” of El Paso, Gurrola is training his church to reach out to those who have never had experience in church or who have been hurt by the church and feel like they are done with religion.
“We take every opportunity to highlight religious traditions and shine the light of the gospel,” Gurrola said.
— This story originally appeared in Texas Baptists Magazine.