“It’s funny now remembering what the pastor’s wife used to tell us even before we went to Bible college,” Pastor Mike Alvarado smiles. “She would say, ‘You guys know you’re the next pastors of this church.’ And we would look at her and say, ‘You are one crazy woman.’” Mike laughs — not because he still believes she was crazy, but because he’s living the truth of her words.
Moses Lake, WA
The city and lake share a name as they share the landscape. Water weaves through the town, wrapping its arms around businesses and homes as though it’s reaching for a hug. Mike Alvarado has felt that embrace all his life. “I love Moses Lake,” he smiles. “Born and raised here.” Mike and his wife Mary grew up attending a local Hispanic church called Sendero de la Cruz. “We were both saved in this church, both baptized in this church, and were married in this church,” he says. So, when the 24-year-old newlyweds, then youth pastors for Sendero, felt God leading them to Arizona for Bible school, they were hesitant. “I felt God wanted us to go,” Mary explains, “but I just kept it to myself.” Mike chuckles in response, “And I kept it to myself.” But in time, Mike and Mary shared their convictions and eventually found themselves driving a U-Haul south.
Mike understood that God had called them to Phoenix, but he also believed adamantly that he knew the reason why. “The goal was to just get a two-year ministerial studies degree, come back, and help with the youth,” he says. “I never wanted to be a full-time pastor.” So, he kept his head down, studied, and served.
Four months later, on the morning of his 25th birthday, Mike stepped outside to go to school only to find his car has been towed away. Pastor John Garcia, now an employee at Church Extension Plan, had befriended the Alvarados in Phoenix and drove them to the tow yard that morning. But as soon as they arrived, the problems continued. “My credit card kept getting declined!” Mike explains. “I was so angry that I said, ‘I quit, I’m done!’” As he grit his teeth and felt his face grow hot, Pastor John began to laugh. “I was so angry at him for laughing,” Mike says, “but he knew what God was doing. He knew God was breaking me.”
Pastor John paid to repossess the car, and the Alvarados returned home, silent and stressed. “I just remember sitting in the dark, crying, and hearing God say…” Pastor Mike breathes deeply before continuing, “‘Are you ready to grow up?’” As Mike looks back on his 25-year-old self, he considers that young man a “spoiled Christian.” But on that day in Phoenix, God began to lead the Alvarados to discover His calling on their lives — a calling that was waiting for them back in Moses Lake. “We just came home different people, not knowing all along that God was preparing us to pastor the church.”
A Dead Church
A couple weeks before Mike and Mary’s graduation in 2001, their pastor in Moses Lake announced his resignation. “He’s moving to California to take another church,” a former student shared. “What are you guys going to do?” After a 1,300-mile drive home, Mike and Mary were no nearer to an answer and quickly discovered the rest of the congregation felt just as lost. “We came home to a dead church,” Pastor Mike says. Then one Sunday, a deacon in the church asked Mike if he would consider being the interim pastor for a year. Mike could barely speak Spanish and had recently reenrolled in school to become a teacher. But, he also sensed God’s guidance. “We still didn’t have a clue that God was calling us to lead the church. I just remember feeling like it was the right thing to do,” he said. “And, we figured it was just for a year.”
It took some time for the Alvarados to settle in as the pastors of their childhood church. “We were pastoring people that knew us as Mikey and little Mary!” Mike laughs. But over time, the congregation adjusted to a new normal, and when Christmas came they began to see “Mikey and little Mary” as more than a couple of 26-year-olds, fresh out of Bible college. “We decided we were going to give a gift to every kid that came to our Christmas outreach,” he says. They partnered with a local food bank to get 300 gifts for the children, wrapped the toys, and welcomed a wave of guests into the sanctuary. “The church was full of more than 400 people in a building that could only seat 150,” says Mike. “It was there that the people of our church saw the possibilities for growth for the first time, and they were shocked.”
“You’re my Ezra”
The following month, Mary heard the Lord speak while in prayer, telling her Mike would be an “Ezra to the church.” Ezra led captives out of Babylon back into Jerusalem, where they rebuilt the temple and where Ezra reintroduced God’s Word. When Mary shared the Lord’s message with Mike, he immediately opened his Bible to the book of Ezra. “I read it and said, ‘Alright, Lord. What do you want me to know?’” Mike heard a whispered response, “You’re my Ezra for this church. You’re going to reintroduce my word to this church, lay a new foundation, and build the temple.” After the service, Pastor Mike found one of the deacons, a close friend, and asked him to read the book of Ezra and then share what the Lord imparted. “The next day, the deacon comes with tears in his eyes and says, ‘You are our Ezra.’”
Over the next couple months, God continued to reveal His will to the Alvarados, then the superintendent, and eventually the congregation. “By that time, I had accepted what God wanted us to do. I had begun to fall in love with the church and with the calling.” In April of 2002, the church held an election to determine their new pastor. Mike and Mary not only won, but the congregation insisted that they be elected indefinitely.
A Place of Refuge
After the Alvarados became lead pastors, they began to implement new processes and ideas to encourage growth. They launched an English service in 2005 with 25 people, a service that reaches 400 today. They introduced new outreach programs, including some from their Bible school days like a bus ministry and “adopt-a-block,” where church members choose a neighborhood to clean up. And in 2012, the leadership team of Sendero de la Cruz decided to change the name of the church. “We renamed it Sendero Life Center to keep ‘Sendero’ as kind of our foundation, but ‘Life Center’ is more our mission.”
The Alvarados and their leadership team have worked tirelessly to propel this growth. But as they reflect on their history, they see that the church’s success ultimately stems from their persistent belief that every child of God has a unique purpose. Their job as pastors is to unveil that calling. “Our motto is ‘healing and restoring the call of God in people’s lives,’” says Pastor Mike. “Our church is a place of refuge where people become what God has called them to be.” When Mike and Mary think on their own past, they recognize this is exactly what the church has done for them. Through the election that made them pastors. Through the book of Ezra. Even through their original pastor’s wife, who was “crazy” to think they’d one day lead the church. “I remember God telling me just before we left for Bible college,” says Mary, “‘When you get back, you’re going to minister to more than just youth.’” Today, Pastor Mike preaches to more than 600 people, each of whom carries a unique calling from God, just waiting to be discovered.
Pray for SLC
- “Help managing growth — finances, more volunteers, etc.”
- “That God would increase our leadership capacity”
- “For wisdom in how to minister to the millennial generation”
–Pastor Mike Alvarado
CEP and SLC
In 2010, Church Extension Plan and Sendero Life Center (then called Sendero de la Cruz) partnered together to build a multipurpose facility to house the church’s growing services and outreach ministries. Today, the ministries continue to discuss future building options to address continued growth. “CEP has been a blessing to us,” says Pastor Mike. “The patience, the professionalism. It’s just outstanding.”