By Joel Hall
Before Pastor Rafael Rasado, of La Roca (The Rock) Pentecostal Hispanic Church in Riverdale, went into ministry, he was a mechanic for the now-defunct Eastern Air Lines.
In 1980, his job required him and his wife, Pastor Lydia Rosado, to move from their home in Puerto Rico to Riverdale, Ga.
When the Rosados moved to Clayton County, they found a community with a growing Hispanic population, but with very few places for Hispanics to worship in their own language.
"Before the 80s, there was no Hispanic church on the south side," said Rosado. "If was difficult to make a church. Evangelists would try to make a church, but it was impossible."
Rosado said in the mid-1980s, some of the local English-speaking churches began to have Hispanic ministries. In 1989, he was picked to lead the Hispanic Ministry of Living Waters Assembly of God on Valley Hill Road.
The small congregation met every Sunday in the basement of the Rosado home and in 1990, was registered as an official church under its current name.
As the La Roca congregation grew, it became more apparent that the church needed it's own space. One day, a visiting pastor from California revealed this to the Rosados.
"We were comfortable, but a prophet came to us and said that it was time to come out from the basement and let ourselves be known to the community," said Mrs. Rosado. Throughout the early 1990s, the Rosados leased facilities at several different churches to hold their services. In 1996, with $44,900 and the help of a co-worker, Mr. Rosado was able to purchase 2.5 acres of land on the corner of King and Walker roads in Riverdale, which would become the future home of La Roca.
The land was barren, however. The Rosados needed to take out a substantial loan to in order to build a sanctuary in which people could worship.
"That was really difficult because nobody wanted to give us a loan because we are not from here and we didn't have houses as collateral," said Mrs. Rosado. Eventually, Pastor Billy Shirah, the now deceased, former pastor of Living Waters Assembly of God, was able to convince Peachtree National Bank in Fayetteville (now Bank of North Georgia) to give the church a 20-year loan.
On March 31, the church made it's last payment on the church sanctuary -- nine years and nine months ahead of schedule. On Sunday, May 25, the church celebrated being one of the only Hispanic churches in the Southern Crescent to be completely free of debt.
"Sometimes, it was very hard," said Mr. Rosado. "I praise the Lord that all the problems are gone and we are moving forward. Everything that He promised to us is already a reality."
While La Roca's congregation has never exceeded 80 in number, the Rosados now hope to focus on expanding their ministry.
"Right now, our goal is for the church to grow," said Mrs. Rosado. "We have 200 chairs ... we would like to see all of them filled."
On the web: www.iglesiahispanalaroca.com