‘People with a heart’

Host congregation provides help after tragedy

September 11, 2014

NWC Iglesia Santuario worships at Milner Memorial Presbyterian Church — partner congregation helped NWC pastor Elbis Hernandez survive the loss of his youngest son in a tragic accident —PNS file photo

LOUISVILLE

New Worshiping Community leader Elbis Hernandez credits the kindness of a local congregation — partnering in ministry with Presbyterian Mission Agency — for helping save his life.

In July 2012 Hernandez received devastating news: his youngest son, 17-year-old Job Hernandez, had been killed when a car going the wrong way on an interstate near Raleigh, N.C., plowed into a minivan that Job was riding in. The minivan driver, Job’s 21-year-old brother, Natanael Hernandez, was seriously injured. The car’s driver died. Her blood-alcohol level was three times above the legal limit.

The news knocked Elbis Hernandez into a downward spiral of grief. But that’s when Milner Memorial Presbyterian Church in Raleigh stepped in.

Hernandez was pastor of a non-denominational Spanish-speaking worshiping community that had been holding services at Milner for more than a decade. The Milner congregation liked him and his family — and recognized the kind of help they would need.

“Milner is made up of people with a heart,” Hernandez says. “They were kind, acting with care, in a natural, spiritual kind of way.” Their pastor at the time, Aleta Ash, “was like an angel attendant to me,” he adds.

The congregation created a fund to help pay for funeral costs, hosted a dinner for the family, and made pastoral visits. In addition, a $1,500 health insurance grant from the Presbyterian Mission Agency helped Hernandez get health insurance through the Affordable Care Act. The coverage, which began in January, included mental health.

“It’s one of the reasons I’m still alive,” Hernandez says. “I was finally able to see a psychologist . . . to help me with the incredible grief I’ve been going through since the accident.”

Elbis Hernandez, shown here (left to right) with former General Assembly Moderator Neal Presa and Hispanic Congregational Support staffer Hector Rodriguez, says a health insurance grant given to him by Presbyterian Mission Agency helped "keep him alive." —PNS file photo

Prior to the accident, Hernandez had developed a collegial relationship with Ash, who had come to Milner in 2007. They attended meetings of the Presbytery of New Hope as well as national multicultural events.

“He became very interested in our tradition and what he called ‘the wonderfulness’ of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.),” says Ash, who recently retired. 

Last fall, Hernandez attended a PC(USA) national Evangelism and Church Growth conference, where he began to develop relationships with Presbyterian Mission Agency staff.

They encouraged him to apply for both a health insurance grant and a $7,500 New Worshiping Community seed grant. Recently his community received a follow-up $17,500 investment grant for the next 18 months of ministry.

“It’s difficult to do a new start, which is why I’ve been so blessed from heaven to find this partnership — to become Presbyterian,” he says. Hernandez’s worshiping community, Iglesia Santuario, now numbers 80.

Milner Memorial also has forged a partnership with another new worshiping community, East Raleigh Fellowship, which engages people who have been hurt or excluded by the church.

“We are an older congregation going through renewal,” says Ash, “with two new worshiping communities. New folks are coming and loving it.” “For so long we talked about being multicultural,” says Ash. “Now it’s becoming a reality.”

“I feel like Moses,” she adds. “Because [of retirement,] I won’t be here to see the promised land, but I will celebrate the day when Santuario becomes a PC(USA) church.”

Hernandez says that even though his heart has been “crushed 100 times,” he sees God making him a “different kind of man” who no longer tries “to control everything.”

“I thank God for the Presbyterian Church for loving me,” he says, “both by helping me get health insurance and encouraging me to participate in the 1001 movement.”

“The psychologist helped me clear my mind,” Hernandez adds. “I am able to hear the Spirit again. It reminds me God is not finished yet.”

The Health Insurance Grant that provides supplemental funding to the partner congregation and/or presbytery in support of new church organizing pastors or new worshiping community leaders who would not otherwise be able to afford health insurance.  This annual grant is for up to $1,500 and is twice renewable. 

The health grant application is available at Mission Program Grants (scroll to bottom of page).