Alfonso Morales didn't intend on becoming a pastor.
It was a response to the love and care his family received when they fled Guatemala in the '90s and sought political asylum in the United States. Alfonso and his wife Vilma were social workers and helped the poor in tumultuous areas of Guatemala where guerrillas roamed the mountains. When political tensions rose, their family was no longer safe. They fled the country.
“Christian families helped us a lot to start a new life here,” Morales remembered. “We learned about God.”
Alfonso became a credentialed Assemblies of God pastor and his wife Vilma a lay minister alongside him as a way to thank God and give back by helping others. They planted a church in Columbia Heights five years ago. They started meeting in their garage with just a few people. Now, about 100 attend the church that rents space at St. Timothy's Lutheran in Columbia Heights and meets in 13 home fellowships across the Twin Cities throughout the week, including White Bear Lake.
ICASA Igelsia Casa de Dios' (ICASA House of God Church) name describes what the church is all about. I stands for the Spanish verb ir, which means go. C stands for conectar (connect). A is for adorar (worship). S stands for servir (serve). A represents aprender (learn).
The church's goal is to connect people with God and help them understand how they can be better parents, spouses, community members and “how to bless the city,” Morales said. The church does outreaches and community service projects. Last year, the church donated 10,000 pounds of food and hygiene supplies to families in need.
“We think how we can help give to this country,” Morales said. “Our goal is to make a difference in the community.” The church is entirely volunteer-run, he added. He works at Regions Hospital full-time as a materials manager.
The weeknight home fellowship group in White Bear Lake recently began to get too large for the apartment where it was meeting. It will now be meeting at First Presbyterian Church in downtown White Bear Lake. ICASA was connected to First Presbyterian through a relative of Children's Ministry Director Shara Marquez, said Len Pattky, office manager.
Morales hopes the weeknight home fellowship group grows even more and ICASA can expand its Sunday services to the east metro.
“The goal is to plant a Spanish church here in this city,” Morales said. The church mapped the area around First Presbyterian and found that there are an estimated 200 Spanish-speaking families within a few miles of the church. They have begun knocking on doors to invite people to fellowship. The White Bear Lake fellowship group meets from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesdays for coffee, prayer and Bible study, at 4821 Bloom Ave. in the Shalom Room. The larger church group meets at 2 p.m. Sundays at 825 51st Ave. NE, Columbia Heights.