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Husband, wife pastors grow church in Crossroads

By Jennifer Lee Preyss
Sept. 21, 2012 at 4:21 a.m.

The Rev. Bobby Rivera speaks to his congregation at Covenant Life Center in Victoria. Rivera told visitors that Covenant was a "modern one-stop church."

IF YOU GO

• WHAT: Covenant Life Center Church

• WHERE: 108 Cozzi Circle

• WHEN: 8:30 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. Sunday

• MORE INFO: 361-648-4673, covenantlifecentervictoria.com

Outside Covenant Life Center - a startup church hidden among industrial buildings on Cozzi Circle - the sun's light beams through narrow commercial-grade doors.

A quick glance at Covenant's exterior narrowly suggests that inside the building, a vibrant Christian body meets weekly to praise Jesus.

But that's exactly why the Rev. Bobby Rivera picked the building - it suggests "doing church" at Covenant may also be unexpected.

"People like what they feel here. They feel liberty, but it's not offensive or strange," said Rivera, 38, who launched the church four years ago in his living room with nine people. "Our main emphasis is that we love God, and we love people. Our dress code here is to make sure you have your praise and worship on."

With his high school sweetheart wife, the Rev. Dawn Rivera, who also leads the Sunday sunrise service, Rivera has spent the last few years building a church staff committed to Covenant's philosophy of loving God and loving people.

"We've been focusing on that core group for the past few years. Jesus had 12, and the rest came around for fishes and loaves," Rivera said. "We used to focus on the thousands, and now, we focus on the one."

Using that principle of slow and steady growth, the Riveras have seen Covenant's congregation expand from nine to nearly 400 without any attempt to advertise or promote the church.

"We bought a billboard a few years ago because it was on sale, but we've never advertised our church. People come through word of mouth, because God leads them here," Rivera said. "We've actually never officially launched, but I think we're in a good place to do that now."

Perhaps the Riveras take a unique position on growing their church because they themselves are in consistent growth with the Lord.

It wasn't so long ago when the couple first started dating at Victoria High School when their lives were defined by partying and selfish living.

"We definitely weren't living a Christian life at that point," said Dawn Rivera, 39. "We didn't know a thing about the Bible or the grace of God."

The Riveras' journey to leading others to Christ has been a slow and nurtured process - one that started years after they married.

Even though Rivera was raised Catholic, he said he never participated in his faith, he said.

Dawn, too, said she went to church growing up, but the message of Christ never resonated.

Looking back on their own spiritual transformation, they're able to clearly understand and reconcile the process of divine change, and know that sometimes God's plan may look different than one's own.

"I'm the first in my family to become a preacher out a long line of entrepreneurs. I went to school for instrumentation not knowing I'd be called to the ministry," Rivera said. "I was going to carry on the family business. I wanted to own a restaurant . I had no plans to become a pastor."

The couple married after high school and spent several years pursuing Rivera's plans for entrepreneurship.

But when Rivera's older brother Rick Rivera fell ill with cancer, he started encouraging his younger brother to consider his relationship with Christ.

"My brother's sickness was a turning point for the entire family and the family business," Rivera said. "It took me about a year . but Rick was with me when I gave my life to Christ."

At that time, Dawn said she started noticing positive changes in her husband, which then influenced her to want to know Jesus and learn of God's love.

"I was doing a lot of soul searching at that time, asking God for answers, so I felt like all of that was God's way of answering what I'd been asking," Dawn said. "I'm so thankful we chose the path we did."

And when the pair decided to submit their lives to Christ, they began re-evaluating every plan they'd made for their future.

"It was surreal. I became sober in my thinking and I felt like I had a different purpose, like I was climbing the wrong ladder of success," Rivera said. "I didn't know I had a calling in me."

Rivera's brother eventually lost his battle with cancer and died, but the Riveras picked up his torch and carried it forward for God's kingdom.

It was while they were still new in their faith when the idea of starting their own church was brought to the table. More than a decade later, Covenant Life Center was born.

"I think he'd be proud of what we've accomplished and how far we've come in our faith," Rivera said about his brother. "The whole family is different now, they all know Christ, and our children are all committed to the church."

Covenant Life Center, the church that started in a living room, moved to a hotel conference room, then settled in a warehouse on Cozzi Circle, is a reflection of the covenant the Riveras made with the Lord more than a decade ago.

Together, they're continuing to grow a body of believers, and they hope to continue growing with God and spend their lives planting churches around the Crossroads.

"When you stand outside of this church, it doesn't look like much. But when you come inside, you realize this is a church committed to serving Christ," Rivera said. "If you lead people, they will follow you . we've come a long way from our living room - and singing on a borrowed keyboard."

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