Never opened a Bible till my 40s

Drunk driver changes Lutheran minister's life

Rigoberto Gonzalez: "People go to hell by not accepting God’s grace."
  • Rigoberto Gonzalez: "People go to hell by not accepting God’s grace."

Peace Lutheran Church

6749 Tait St., Linda Vista

Membership: 25

Pastor: Rigoberto Gonzalez

Age: 55

Born: Sonora, Mexico

Formation: Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, MO

Years Ordained: 6

San Diego Reader: How long do you spend writing your sermon?

Pastor Rigoberto Gonzalez: I’d say about ten hours altogether — writing and research. The sermons are a little of both exegetical and topical. I do a lot of research and studying. Peace Lutheran Church called me to serve in part because I’m bilingual; I do two sermons — one in English and one in Spanish. At times, I use the same sermon for both, but not necessarily all the time. The Spanish group is just starting and the English group has been in the church most of their lives. It’s a challenge but a good challenge to connect to both cultures. The group I have in Spanish, about ten of them, I met about two months ago. I spend a lot of time on Sundays listening to them. It’s a pleasant way to do two different cultures and languages.

SDR: Why did you become a minister?

PG: I did not know God’s word until I was in my early 40s. I never opened a Bible before that. In 2001, a devastating event in my life happened — the car I was driving was hit by a drunk driver, head-on, and the result was that my wife of 28 years died in the accident, and I was put in the hospital for a lot of months. I couldn’t return to my work as a transportation worker with the film industry here in San Diego and it took me close to a year to get back to walking because so many things happened to me physically. So I started attending church because I had more time. I kept volunteering for different things and before I knew it, I ended up in the seminary.

SDR: What is the mission of your church?

PG: We want to go into the community and share the love of Jesus. Our mission statement is “To share with our community the love and forgiveness of Christ through God’s word.”

SDR: Where is the strangest place you found God?

PG: Even in the midst of when my wife died, and in my confusion and anger and everything I was going through, God was with me. He put so many people in my life. The church I was going to had helped me so much. Now I see my life and everything I had done, and I know God has always been with me in everything I’ve done.

SDR: Where do you go when you die?

PG: We call it heaven, but it’s the presence of God — God’s love. When my wife died I had a lot of questions and I would ask pastors, “Okay, my wife just died. Where is she?” What has comforted me is where God’s word says nothing can separate me from the love of God. There is also a hell — and that’s a separation from God. We have the opportunity to say, “Well, I don’t believe in heaven.” But God’s still with us, and when you die and go to hell, that will be complete separation from God. I don’t think we can experience that here because God still provides for our basic needs — food and rain for crops and that kind of thing. People go to hell by not accepting God’s grace.

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