New baptisms during pandemic: An interview with church planter Carlos Pulgarín

Editor’s note: Pulgarín is a Send Network church planter with Send Vancouver, in British Columbia, Canada. This interview has been translated from Spanish and edited for clarity.

Send Network: What is your vision for your church? What do you hope the Lord does through your church? 

Pulgarín: Our church, Zona Cero (Ground Zero), was born in the heart of God. We are a church for those who do not go to church. We started in the warmth of a home that opened its doors for us. The purpose was to pray and study the Bible, but a few weeks later, we had to find another location because the group grew rapidly. The informal format and simplicity of the gathering was attractive to many.

After prayer and seeking counsel, God gave us this name: Zona Cero. What does Zona Cero mean? It is the starting point of our spiritual pilgrimage with Christ. The Bible says, “ Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Our services started December 2011, and in January 2012, we officially started meeting under the Zona Cero name.

We went from 12 to forty people very quickly. Six months later, at the end of May 2012, we had an attendance of 60, and we celebrated our first baptisms. Eight people descended the cold baptismal waters in a Canadian lake. While we sang “I have decided to follow Jesus,” we saw the hand of God in our church.

In our second year, our congregation reached more than 80 people. And after the fourth year, it increased to 100 people. In our church, 10 countries are represented, and although they differ slightly in culture and race, one language unites us all: Spanish.

God is restoring families and is transforming lives. All of God’s works have happened in an informal environment distinct from legal and religious traces. People have learned the church is us, not the building. We have shared the love of God in this context, where it is more of a hospital than a social club. This is what has made the difference.

We build bridges with the community with a practical Christianity that helps the needy, that walks the streets and becomes a family for new immigrants. People from all backgrounds come to Zona Cero, some with bad religious experiences, others that stopped going to church and many who do not know Jesus at all. Our church becomes their meeting point with the grace and mercy of God.

Send Network: Your church recently baptized six people. Who did you baptize?

Pulgarín: Our church has baptized 60 new believers since celebrating our first baptisms in May 2012. Most recently in July 2020 — in the middle of the pandemic — we baptized six people. Every time we celebrate baptisms, it turns into a party by the lake that allows us to bear witness to the power of God.

On July 19, in the midst of the pandemic restrictions and while following safety protocols, six people from Colombia, Mexico, Chile and Honduras were submerged under the baptismal waters of nearby Buntzen Lake in the province of British Columbia. Within this group of people were two married couples.

Juan and Silvana are a young, Colombian couple that had to leave behind their professions and families to flee violence. Their arrival to this part of Canada made a strong impact on them both, but one day they were invited to Zona Cero. Their first service was a refreshment to their hearts. The preaching and the friendliness of people touched their lives. Several months later, during our 8th anniversary, they accepted Jesus as their Savior and were subsequently discipled and baptized.

Another man of the baptized was Alan. He is a young man from Mexico who arrived in Canada looking for hope. He came to our Sunday Party (what we call our Sunday service) anguished by various family tragedies. Dark thoughts would run through his mind until the light of Christ shined in his life. After receiving Jesus, his life was completely different. By the hand of God, he is now changed and is happy and optimistic.

Send Network: What’s your favorite part about getting to baptize new Christians?

Pulgarín: What I love most about baptizing new believers is watching the change God works in them and the transformation in their lives by the power of the gospel. As a pastor, I am filled with emotion seeing their smiles, full of hope and trust in the God who saved them. 

Send Network: How have you encouraged your congregation to share the gospel?

Pulgarín: Our church is one big family of 100 members that supports each other in the joys and sorrows, a family that understands we are all members of the body of Christ with different functions and that the grace of God is manifested in that body — the church. Therefore, our work is not just Sunday or Friday when we meet, but our work extends to every day of the week at home, on the street and at work.

We emphasize to the Zona Cero family that everything we do, we should do from the heart, for the Lord and not for men (Colossians 3:23). We understand our main purpose is for others to have a personal encounter with Christ, and so we give importance to the social component of the gospel, which is the bridge to that encounter.

Every event in our church is focused on reaching others. Whether it is our vacation bible school, our annual mission trip, our Christmas and Thanksgiving celebrations or when serving food to the community, the point is for new people to be exposed to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Send Network: How has your church continued to live on mission, even in the COVID-19 pandemic?

Pulgarín: The church has not been held back during the pandemic. In the first few months, we amped up our social media presence, and this has allowed us to reach more people in their homes. Our virtual discipleship classes and small group Bible studies have given us great results. We have used creativity and ingenuity for our online Sunday School, along with the support and supervision of parents. We recently returned to the building with 40% of the congregation in assistance, and we have maintained our internet presence.

God has better plans than ours. Our annual mission trip that was scheduled for March was not canceled by the pandemic; on the contrary, we multiplied resources at a time when the need was most pressing. “Operation Amazonia,” the name of the missionary trip to Ecuador, was made from Canada with the support of a local group in Ecuador. Although our team could not travel, we used our resources from here and a church in Ecuador did the work on the field during a time when COVID-19 was strongly affecting the country.

There is no doubt “from everlasting to everlasting you are God.” With the hand of God and the Holy Spirit’s guidance, crises turn into opportunities. We are doing what God has called us to do: to be a church for those who do not go to church.

Published October 2, 2020