Rescued Church Rescues People
By Peter K. Johnson
With five Sunday services and nearly 2,300 worshippers,
International Christian Center (ICC) in Staten Island is now the largest
Assemblies of God New York District church. But a decade ago, ICC faced almost
Negative circumstances had caused the congregation to
dwindle to 100 members. Financial problems meant foreclosure seemed imminent.
Yet when God intervenes, the impossible occurs. Speaking at
the annual New York District Council meeting in May 1998, General
Superintendent George O. Wood, who was general secretary then, challenged the
audience about the need to plant churches in New York City.
The message stirred Russell Hodgins, pastor of a 300-member
AG church in rural Medina, N.Y.
“God hit me like a ton of bricks,” Hodgins recalls. “It was
a burning bush experience.”
Sobbing at the altar that evening, Hodgins says he sensed
God calling him to leave his comfortable surroundings and go to the metropolis.
Three months later, Hodgins received an invitation from the
New York District office to pastor ICC. District officials were forthright
about the many challenges.
Hodgins’ family was firmly planted in the Medina community
and did not want to leave. He owned two horses with his wife, Lou Ann, and
loved competing in rodeos.
Unable to shake off the Holy Spirit’s prodding, he joined
ICC as senior pastor in October 1998. His plan for the church was simple:
Preach Jesus and love people.
His step of faith opened a floodgate of unexpected events
that eventually led to financial victory.
Today most of the debt has been repaid. In addition to the
financial victories, the bigger impact that ICC is making deals with changed
District Superintendent Duane P. Durst calls Hodgins a
high-energy preacher who is thoroughly Pentecostal.
“They had to rebuild the pulpit platform because it bounced
when he jumped while preaching,” Durst says. “He leads a wonderful worship
service where there is great liberty.”
Hodgins connects with the multicultural congregation.
“I feel most cared for and loved here,” says Nadia Antoine,
a Black-American from Grenada. “There is no time to see whether your brother is
brown, black or yellow. The Holy Spirit has you focused on Jesus.”
“Prayer is a vital part of our ministry,” Hodgins stresses.
Besides regular prayer at the altar, members gather Fridays for a prayer and
healing service. On the third Friday of every month, hundreds of followers pray
“Because of this church, my way of praying to God has
changed,” Antoine says. “I have learned that God is able to do what He has
promised.” Antoine says her teenage daughter was healed of complications from a
serious arthritic condition in 2008 and funds came through recently at the last
minute to save her retirement home from foreclosure.
Vincent Rosario is representative of the several hundred
people who are converted annually at ICC. Invited by a friend who is now his
wife, he stumbled into a service in 2006 addicted to heroin and pills. For 25
years his life was wrapped up in drugs, robberies and spraying graffiti on
subway cars and buildings.
“I didn’t believe in nothing,” he says. He fled that Sunday
service cursing but challenged by the Holy Spirit. Living in a shelter and
attracted by the free food, Rosario accepted an invitation to an ICC men’s
breakfast. He responded to the pastor’s salvation message muttering, “I’m going
to give this thing a shot. God has to take me away from drugs.”
Within a few days he says the Lord delivered him from his
drug habit, and he began attending ICC regularly.
“Jesus means everything to me,” he says. “I wouldn’t be here
if it wasn’t for Him. I’d probably be buried somewhere.”
He joined the church’s maintenance crew two year ago and
works on the outside grounds, picks up trash and cleans restrooms.
“I could make more money somewhere else, but I do my job
unto the Lord,” he says. “That’s what gives me joy.”
Rosario loves sharing his life’s story. He has changed the
meaning of his old street name, BASIC, from “beat all suckers in competition”
to “bring all souls into Christ’s kingdom.” He recently completed the Berean
course on hermeneutics and broke down in tears when he received a passing
“The Lord helped me do it,” he says.
The church employs a full-time staff of six pastors and
enlists 1,000 volunteers in various ministries. For example, Alberto Cruz heads
a 40-member volunteer security force, a growing necessity in large churches,
especially in urban settings.
“It’s a big-time blessing,” he says. “I love what I do
because everybody feels secure with us on duty.”
Cruz and his staff head off potential incidents but also
evangelize newcomers and help those in trouble. One Sunday he spotted a woman
pacing anxiously in front of the building. He found out she was depressed and
on the brink of suicide. The woman committed her life to Jesus, and she now
attends the church.
ICC’s outreach has expanded to include a satellite service
in the St. George area of Staten Island and two churches in Monrovia, Liberia.
Plans are under way for another Staten Island location.
“We are raising up leaders to plant additional churches,”
Hodgins reports. “I have learned if you follow the call of God, He will make a
way. He is faithful to the end.”
PETER K. JOHNSON is a freelance writer living in Saranac
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