Torre Fuerte: Small and StrongJuly 15, 2017
Story by Leann Burke
Photos by Tegan Johnston
Pastor Oscar Lopez of Iglesia Torre Fuerte shook a tambourine and swayed to the beat of the contemporary Christian music that filled the main room of his church on Medical Arts Drive in Huntingburg. His wife, Martha, walked among the handful of families that had come to worship, greeting everyone with a smile and an ‘Hola.’ She, too, played a tambourine. The tunes would have been recognizable by anyone who listens to Christian radio — Chris Tomlin’s “Our God,” for one. There’s a big difference between the radio versions and the versions the Torre Fuerte band plays, however. The band plays in Spanish. At Torre Fuerte, everything is in Spanish.
Oscar and Martha founded Torre Fuerte — which means “strong tower”— in 2009 after seeing a need for an all Spanish-speaking service. Martha named the church Strong Tower after Proverbs 18:10, which states, “The name of the Lord is a strong tower: the righteous runneth into it, and are safe.” Their mission is simple: To show all people the life-changing love Oscar and Martha believe faith in Jesus brings.
“All people want hope,” Martha said. “They can find it in God. We want them to know there’s hope.”
When Oscar and Martha founded Torre Fuerte, they housed their church at First Baptist Church on Geiger Street. Over the years, the congregation grew, and now Oscar and Martha minister to eight to 10 families — enough for Torre Fuerte to have its own space. In December 2016, the church began renting a former bank building on Medical Arts Drive.
Ministering to Torre Fuerte’s families often keeps Oscar and Martha up until 10 or 11 p.m. Both work other jobs — Martha teaches nutrition for the Purdue Extension in Washington, and Oscar is in construction — and dedicate their evenings and weekends to the church. The couple, who lives in Jasper, often goes to church members’ homes in the evenings to pray with the sick or families who don’t have the time to make it to a Wednesday night or Sunday morning service. Fortunately, other church elders step up to help Oscar and Martha take care of the members. Martha’s sister and brother-in-law, Rosa and Efren Burciaga, as well as church members Alfredo and Patty Ferruzquia often take on pastoral care work.
“I try to do my best to help the members,” Alfredo said.
Alfredo and his family began attending Torre Fuerte two years ago after Alfredo’s mother found the church during a visit from Mexico. She told Alfredo to come with her one week, and he never left. He likes Torre Fuerte because everything is in Spanish. Over the years, they’ve tried several bilingual churches, but Alfredo said sometimes the deeper meaning can get lost in a bilingual service.
“The thing is you can understand everything (at Torre Fuerte),” he said. “At a bilingual service, you can hear the message (in Spanish) and understand it, but the worship music is in English. The feeling gets lost because you don’t always know what it’s saying.”
Alfredo and Patty moved to Huntingburg 18 years ago after immigrating from central Mexico near Mexico City. He and his wife love the area because the rural setting and hills remind them of where they grew up. When a new family moves to the area, Alfredo said, he tries to teach them to love and take pride in the area, too.
Many of the families at Torre Fuerte, including Oscar and Martha, are from Mexico. But families from El Salvador, Colombia and Peru also attend. A Chinese family attended for a while, as well, and Oscar always translated his sermons into Chinese for them. They moved to Indianapolis, however.
It’s common for families to come and go from Torre Fuerte like the Chinese family did. Often the new families are immigrants who move to the area in search of work. If they can’t find jobs, they move on. For example, a Cuban family recently started attending the church. They immigrated to New York and moved to Dubois County a few months ago, but only just found jobs working at restaurants. The restaurant jobs don’t pay them enough to live and support their daughter, however, so they’re thinking about moving again.
Even though a family moving means fewer members at Torre Fuerte, Oscar and Martha support the families in whatever they choose.
“We don’t pray for them to stay,” Oscar said. “We pray for what’s best for the family.”
As immigrants themselves, Oscar and Martha know the struggles the families in their church face. Being far away from family, living in an unfamiliar culture and having to learn a new language are challenges the couple experienced for themselves. The two met in college in Mexico. Although Oscar attended church as a child, he never felt a strong connection to God and even fell away from faith at one point. When Martha invited him to her church, he said, he met a different God.
“The God that I needed found me,” he said.
Now, Oscar feels called to preaching, and the two say they serve God by serving others. About 20 years ago, the two immigrated from Ciudad Juarez, a Mexican city on the Mexico-Texas border near El Paso, Texas, to help Martha’s brother, Ruben Franco, plant a church in Huntingburg as part of the North American Missions Board. After they immigrated, Oscar and Martha settled in Louisville and commuted to Huntingburg each week. After a couple years of that, Oscar and Martha moved to Dubois County. When they started Torre Fuerte, Rosa and Efren moved from Arizona to help. Now, Rosa and Efren live in Rockport and are preparing to plant a Spanish-speaking church in Dale as an offshoot of Torre Fuerte.
For Oscar and Martha, their congregation at Torre Fuerte has become a second family. The couple focuses on helping their congregants in any way they can and teaching them to put God first, just as they did with their two sons — Osmar Isai who lives with his family in West Lafayette and Oscar Abraham who lives in Indianapolis. Martha said it’s not easy to convince people to put God first. Many of their congregants work factory jobs that require 12 hour shifts throughout the week. When Sunday rolls around, they’re tired, have housework to do and want to spend leisure time with their families. Another challenge for the families is transportation. Many of them don’t drive, so coming to church means walking. When the church was on Geiger Street, Oscar said, more people walked. Now that it’s moved to the north end of the city, however, it’s too far. One family does walk almost every week, though, and Oscar often offers them a ride home afterward. Sometimes they accept; other times they choose to walk.
“They like to walk,” Oscar said.
Besides Christ, the biggest focus at Torre Fuerte is community, and that was on full display on Father’s Day. After the service, the families gathered in the church’s Sunday school room for a potluck lunch of homemade tacos, beans and salsa. As families who missed the service filed in the back door carrying dishes to contribute, the room erupted in “Bienvenidos” — which means “Welcome” — as people greeted the new arrivals. Everyone settled around two tables — one for the adults and one for the kids — to eat together. After the meal, everyone adjourned to the sanctuary where the fathers stood at the front of the room while their wives and children thanked them for the work they do as fathers. Tears of joy flowed freely as families embraced each other in hugs.
When it was time to leave, Martha offered everyone her send-off: a hug and, “Dios te bendiga.” God bless you.
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