Calvary Chapel Rio Grande Valley, NM

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Family Fest: Sharing the Gospel with a Hurting Community

Story by Kathy Symborski
Photos courtesy of Calvary Chapel Rio Grande Valley, NM

The grounds of Calvary Chapel Rio Grande Valley in Belen, NM, buzzed with laughter, fun, and activities on a June evening. The Belen community gathered for live music, free food, and snow cones. They played games—Gladiator, ocotoball, and tomahawk throwing—and enjoyed the dunking and bubble foam booths. Inside, the church’s Grounded Coffee Shop handed out free hot and cold brew coffees. The evening concluded with spectacular fireworks.

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Senior Pastor Ray Jaramillo awaits another drop into the water at the dunking booth at Calvary Chapel Rio Grande Valley’s Family Fest in June. The Belen, NM, fellowship offers the fun, free event to share the hope of Jesus Christ with an often-hurting community.

But most importantly, evangelism was woven through the entire event. Fifteen teams of two people, including youths, trained in sharing the Gospel fanned out into the crowd to talk with people and hand out tracts with the #JLRGV (Jesus Loves Rio Grande Valley) message. Assistant Pastor Jason Peck explained, “There is a QR code to scan that takes them to the Gospel video presentation. This video was completely put together by our congregation with the intent to show the Rio Grande Valley that Jesus does indeed love them.”

Watch the video: "Jesus Loves the Rio Grande Valley"

Inside the sanctuary, live skits and puppet shows dramatized the good news of Jesus Christ. Prayer booths—set apart by a simple awning with a sign saying Prayer—were surprisingly busy. “It is amazing how many want prayer. So it’s a huge opportunity to pray and share the Gospel,” Jason noted.

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Guests, many of them young, pray at the festival. Besides the fun and food, evangelism from church members was woven throughout the popular event. Prayer tents attracted many in need of that ministry.

Naturally, the fireworks show is the attention grabber. Jason revealed, “We wanted to add something special to this event that would entreat people to get out of their houses. The COVID-19 restrictions have extremely limited group activities, and kids needed an excuse to have fun. We knew a firework presentation would allow families, who were worried about close contact, the ability to watch from their vehicles. The fireworks are donated by a family in our school.”

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Fireworks donated by a family at the church gives the evening a grand finale.

Because of the necessity to have a certain standoff distance between the crowd and the explosions, this was held on the 13 acres behind the church. Prior to the fireworks, everyone was directed out back to the stage; there Senior Pastor Ray Jaramillo delivered a full-blown presentation of the Gospel. Pastor Ray said, “We have the opportunity to share the Gospel as they wait to see the fireworks.”

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Before the fireworks begin, Pastor Ray shares the Gospel with the Belen-area community.

A Family Changed

Lindsey and Keenan came to Family Fest after seeing a banner in Los Lunas, a few miles from CC Rio Grande Valley. Although they had no idea who was putting on the event, it sounded like a great day of fun for their son, Nico. While there, Keenan ended up speaking with Pastor Ray. Invited to come to services, they attended the following Sunday.

Keenan, who had been backslidden in his faith, rededicated his life to Jesus. Lindsey initially was hesitant, but said they continued to come because they felt such love from the church. Sadly, Keenan recently passed from COVID-19 at the age of 41. He is now home with Jesus, and Lindsey and her family continue to grow in their faith, Ray gratefully shared.

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The bubble pit was a favorite among children at Family Fest. Other fun features included games, skits, puppet shows, live music, and hot and cold drinks from the church’s Grounded Coffee Shop.

Helping a Hurting Community

Then He [Jesus] said to His disciples, “The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.”  Matthew 9:37-38

“Our community [Valencia County, NM] is riddled with alcohol, drug, physical, and sexual abuse; it’s poverty stricken, and the schools are [considered among] the worst in the state and country. We want to show [the community] there is something beyond all that. Our purpose is to let them know God loves them and to share the Gospel,” Jason said. “The annual Family Fest was born out of an intent to declare, ‘Jesus Loves Rio Grande Valley.’ Although it’s our biggest outreach to the unsaved, it’s 100% free.”

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Youth from CC Rio Grande Valley dress up as Star Wars characters for a skit as one way to present the Gospel.

Pastor Ray noted, “Everyone at the church invites the community to attend Family Fest, so we provide small personal invitations to share with their neighbors and anyone else they come in contact with. We know there are many impoverished and struggling families who need to hear the Gospel and find hope! Because of how God has changed the lives of many from sin and destructiveness, our church family has a strong desire to reach others that are in the condition they once were in.”

“Therefore I [Jesus] say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little.”  Luke 7:47

Every year, the fruit of CC Rio Grande Valley’s labor results in 50 to 60 people giving their lives to the Lord, Jason shared. Someone prays with each of them; each receives a Bible and a new believer packet with a form to complete so they can be contacted later in the week. Ray added, “It is important that each new believer is taught the importance of reading the Word of God, prayer, and attending church regularly to grow in their Christian walk.”

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Overview of the large CC Rio Grande Valley property property during Family Fest. The church makes itself available to serve the community of Belen in many ways.

Planning & Serving

“This is the word of the LORD …: ‘Not by might or by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the LORD of hosts.” Zechariah 4:6b

Zechariah 4:6 was an important Scripture to Pastor Ray when the church was founded, and he still believes anything is possible if the Lord directs it. He explained, “Every year the pastors gather to seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit to show them the most effective ways to reach the Rio Grande Valley. In one of those meetings the idea of Family Fest was conceived.”

Prep work begins about a month prior to the festival, usually held in June, and is strategically planned around competing events in the community to garner the most interest. Ray reflected, “In the Gospel of Matthew Jesus gave us the Great Commission to reach the lost in our community, and that is what we hope to accomplish at Family Fest. The church family has the opportunity to use their spiritual gifts by serving and loving the community. There is a lot of preparation for each activity and it takes a lot of servants to get each booth ready and prepare the food. Around 120 servants participate on the day of the event, but many others participate through their giving.”

For the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edification of the body of Christ. Ephesians 4:12

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Ray teaches about the love of God before the fireworks.


Starting out in 1992 as a Bible study in the basement of Pastor Ray and his wife, Margarite, CC Rio Grande Valley’s congregation has grown to roughly 1,000 adults and 300 to 400 kids. “We usually have about 700 people between the two Sunday services. But every year, after the Family Fest, we see about 35 to 45 new families sign up for Kid’s Church,” Jason remarked.

Community is important to CC Rio Grande Valley, Ray stated. “It has always been our desire to be the center of the community by providing a place where people can experience the love of God. The Grounded Coffeeshop and bookstore were inspired as an opportunity for people to come for fellowship and be served fresh salads, sandwiches, and coffee. We serve the surrounding community daily with a quiet and quick place to have breakfast or lunch.”

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After Ray gives an altar call, people come forward to receive Jesus as their Lord and Savior.

Ray continued, “Because we have one of the largest seating capacities [in the community], we allow anyone to have their funeral here at no cost. We provide a reception area where our Bereavement Team serves the grieving families. Many times, we have provided a place to honor fallen law enforcement officers. Every year we allow local groups to hold graduations, meetings, and other activities. We have been blessed with a facility, and we are open to sharing it with the community. Every day that we are open, people can come in and receive a food box, biblical guidance, and prayer for their circumstances. We continue to pray for God to enlarge our reach."

In addition, Pastor Ray has a real burden for the youth in the Rio Grande Valley. To help them, he and other Christian businessmen in the community are praying and planning to build on the remaining 13 acres on church property. The facility, called The Citadel will be used as a place to minister to and mentor youth. “We want to provide classes that will allow them to enter the workforce with skills. This facility will also provide a sports facility where we can have more opportunities to share the love of Jesus daily,” Ray shared.

Watch "The Citadel—Vision and Flyover" in which Pastor Ray shares CC Rio Grande's plans for this property.


Click to learn more about Calvary Chapel Rio Grande Valley

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A little boy enjoys the giant slide at Family Fest.



All verses above are quoted from the New King James Version, unless otherwise noted.

© 2021 Calvary Chapel Magazine (CCM). All rights reserved. Articles or photographs may not be reproduced without the written permission of CCM. All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.® Used by permission.