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By Joni B. Hannigan
HOLLYWOOD, Fla. – When the
house lights dim in the newly-renovated historic Hollywood, Fla., theater and
the spotlight trains on pastor Martin Vargas, a message—not a person—will take
center stage. The message: “God knows; He changes lives; there is growth in the
truth; and we are fulfilling the Great Commission.”
Vargas, a native of the
Dominican Republic, appreciates the vision Hollywood Playhouse had for more
than six decades in bringing live theater to its community—but he wants more.
Real Church, or Iglesias Real,
is set to share the gospel in Spanish, English and Portuguese—from one of the largest
stages in South Florida—and will serve as a hub for church plants.
“I wanted to plant a church
that is doctrinally sound and that has authentic Christians,” Vargas said. “If
they speak English, fine. If they speak Spanish, fine.”
Reflecting on the meaning of
the church, Vargas discovered “Real,” which in Spanish forms an acronym for, “know
God, changing lives, growth in the truth and fulfilling the Great Commission.”
When he saw the vintage theater
in 2012—a vandalized building with broken skylights—he wasn’t deterred. Vargas
saw a gift from God.
Just five years earlier, the
theater had undergone a restorative face-lift. A magazine described the
18,000-square-foot facility as a “full-service venue” with recording and dance
studios, a design shop, film-editing suites and a closed sound stage.
In 2004, Vargas left a
lucrative business to start a church in South Florida. Eight years later, with
a passion to move his congregation to where they could have the greatest
impact, he prayed about the $1.5 million price tag for the two-acre theater property
with its 300-seat auditorium.
The timing was not right and
soon the bank, which owned the property, sold it to a Miami man who hoped to
re-vamp the declining theater.
“It was hard to compete with
cash,” Vargas said.
After a two-year search Vargas
led his congregation in a 40 Days of Prayer campaign. On the final day, he got
a call. The bank wanted to meet. The man with the cash had been jailed on
“That Monday was a divine
appointment,” Vargas recalled. “I went to the meeting with my realtor, a member
of my church, with the thought that, ‘I’m just a pastor with no money.’ I said,
‘If this is coming from God, I need to see God’s hand clearly.’”
Vargas could not believe
what he heard at the meeting. The bank would lower the selling price to $1.2
million and pay for the installation of new electrical wiring, 17 brand new air
conditioning units and a new roof. The terms came with a “good faith” agreement
to wait on part of the down payment and close in 90 days.
The only big expense the banker
warned Vargas about was a need to purchase theater seats. At that point, Vargas
started smiling. A local synagogue had offered him 300 seats they no longer
needed—just in case.
“The banker asked me if I
believed in fate. I said, ‘No sir, I believe in God,’” Vargas remembers telling
him. “Only God could do that.”
“I left the building that
day with the confidence that the Lord was giving this property to us,” Vargas
With just three months to
raise a quarter of a million dollars, Vargas, and his son, Homer, who will lead
the English-speaking congregation at Real, started a Nehemiah fundraising
campaign. Sacrificial pledges and commitments poured in—some from believers from
as far away as Bolivia and Nicaragua.
The bank called and moved
the closing date up to June 26. They told Vargas to bring whatever he had in
his hands. He still needed about $70K.
A local restaurant owner
gave a large donation. A church member drove by and handed him a check. A BBQ
yielded several thousand dollars. Meanwhile renovations began, with members
providing skilled labor to return the theater to its former luster.
Send North America: Miami city
missionary Alex Comesañas offered to help. He organized a mission team from
the Suwanee Baptist Association in the Florida Panhandle to assist through the
North American Mission Board’s Send North America strategy.
The Suwanee team was “so
impressed,” Comesañsas said, they gave Vargas a check for $6,000 on the
It was the final amount needed
to complete the down payment. Construction should be complete by the end of
2014 and the church plans to start meeting in the theater in early 2015.
“This has been a journey of
faith and miracles,” Vargas said. “When you don’t have a problem, you don’t see
miracles. In every situation, we find difficulties and possibilities. God will
find a way.”
Learn more about Send North
America: Miami and how you can become involved at namb.net/Miami.
Joni B. Hannigan, a freelance writer based in
Houston, writes for the North American Mission Board.
Date Created: 11/20/2014 6:09:43 PM
A Southern Baptist Convention entity supported by the Cooperative Program and the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering®© Copyright 2014 North American Mission Board, SBC