- The Washington Times - Monday, May 14, 2001

NEW YORK — Jesus is their lord, and the sidewalk is their church. For an hour and a half on this cold night in the Bronx, Moises Cabrerra and 14 members of his congregation give testimony on a dimly lit street corner. They belt out window-rattling hymns and lay hands on drunks or curious passers-by.
Its a true revival.
"Father, save those lives that are listening," Mr. Cabrerra yells in Spanish, his amplified voice at a fever pitch. "I understand that they are held captive by the chains of the devil. But I believe you will write their names in the book of life."
These services are a visible — and audible — part of a nationwide boom in Pentecostalism. Already entrenched in Latin America, Pentecostalism in the United States has grown dramatically along with Hispanic immigration in the past 20 years, according to religious scholars and church estimates. Nowhere is the growth as evident as in Los Angeles, Texas, New York and Florida, where census data show Hispanics are the fastest-growing segment of the population.
Religious scholars say that several million Hispanics attend services at the thousands of unaffiliated Pentecostal churches nationwide, but one of the largest mainline Pentecostal churches, the Assemblies of God, estimates that among its 2.5 million members nationally, 300,000 are Hispanic.
Harvey Cox, a professor at Harvard Divinity School who has written about the worldwide growth of Pentecostalism, said that the total number of practitioners might be impossible to determine, but that the religions appeal was undeniable.
Pentecostals describe their church services "in terms of experience," he said. "Theres a lot of bodily movement, theres singing, theres music, theres touching, healing. Its a sensuous, direct appeal." He said the church also provides a social network for Hispanic immigrants.
"There are some sociologists who claim that this is almost like the reconstitution of a small Latin American village," Mr. Cox said. "They call each other brother and sister, and it is like a family."
The Pentecostal movement was founded in 1900 in a Topeka, Kan., prayer meeting and further publicized through a 1906 "Azusa street revival" in Los Angeles. William Seymour, a black preacher inspired by the Topeka events, kept the Los Angeles meetings going for several years.
"Its a marathon," said Jesse Miranda, a professor of urban studies at Vanguard University, a Pentecostal university in Costa Mesa, Calif. "One group after the other." Referring to frequent services in MacArthur Park in Los Angeles, he added, "Intentional, aggressive evangelism is really what is at the core of Pentecostalism. We go out to you and tell you about liberation."
"The Hispanic character, personality and history correlates well with Pentecostalisms emphasis on the Spirit, informality and emotion," said Eldin Villafane, a professor at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary in Boston. "Its a less-structured, more free-flowing service."
Tessie DeVore, publisher of Vida Cristiana, a Spanish-language Pentecostal magazine based in Lake Mary, Fla., added that Pentecostalism has been prominent among Hispanics, especially throughout Latin America, for decades.
Pentecostalism swept through the country, highlighted by healing ceremonies, in tent revivals during the 1910s and 1920s. Tent revivals still occur, but evangelism today is more visible on sidewalks and in public squares.
One practitioner on the Bronx street corner with Mr. Cabrerra said he was near suicide when a Christian girl gave him a pamphlet on God. "I had no reason to be alive," said Sigfrido Arias, 28, of the South Bronx. "I said, 'No. I heard a voice. Something nice. Something heavenly. I said, 'Im going to accept you as my savior." Now Mr. Arias sees his duty as recounting his story to others.
Juan Burgos, a Dominican immigrant who runs a hardware store near Mr. Cabrerras church, said he was not a practitioner but could appreciate the groups loud street services. "This is normal in my country," he said.
But not everyone welcomes the public services. As Mr. Cabrerra preached on the street, some passers-by covered their ears and yelled at him to be quiet. One night, someone threw a bottle at him as he spoke. But Mr. Cabrerra said he is used to such adversity. "They threw water on us, and once they showered us with eggs," he said. "But we never stopped."


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