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Interview with Juan L. Rios

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The Rev. Juan L. Rios, pastor of the Latin American Gospel Mission on St. Paul's West Side, was born in Texas in 1922 and moved to St. Paul in 1960 to serve as minister for a Pentecostal congregation. SUBJECTS DISCUSSED: Early life in Texas and Michigan - reasons for entering the Assembly of God ministry - establishment of the Latin American Gospel Mission - and the Spanish Speaking Pentecostal Congregation in St. Paul.

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TRANSCRIPT OF AN ORAL HISTORY INTERVIEW WITH
~

REVEREND JUAN L. RIOS June 21, 1975 ,

INTERVIEWER:

GRANT A. MOOSBRUGGER

This interview was conducted as part of a series on the Mexican American in Minnesota.
~he

Reverend Juan L. Rios outlines for us the personal history of his calling

to the ministry, his various assignments in different locales, and how he came to St. Paul, Minnesota in response to a group of citizens who felt a need for a congregation and a minister. Reverend Rios shares with us the accounts of

difficulties and set backs he personally and his church have suffered but overcome. He shares, also, his hopes and plans for the future in attending to the

spiritual needs of his congregation. This is a transcript of a tape-recorded interview, edited to aid in clarity' and ease of comprehension for the reader. The original tape recording is

available in the Audio-Visual Library of the Minnesota Historical Society.

-1-

INTERVIEW WITH JUAN L. RIOS June 21, 1975 INTERVIEWER: MOOSBRUGGER: GRANT A. MOOSBRUGGER

This is Grant Moosbrugger interviewing Rev. Juan L. Rios for the Mexican American History Project, under the auspices of the Minnesota Historical Society. in the state of Minnesota? Reverend Rios, how long have you been

RIOS: MOOSBRUGGER:

For fifteen years. Then you came here in 1960. St. Paul? What church are you a pastor of in

RIOS: MOOSBRUGGER: RIOS: MOOSBRUGGER:

The Latin American Gospel Mission. Is that here on St. Paul's West Side? Yes. Can you start out by telling us your history as a minister? were you born and raised? Where

RIOS:

I was born in Kalin, Texas, Locality 19, County 2. farmer and I was raised on the farm. father decided to move to Michigan in

t\:lkH1;

My dad was a My

In 1935, my mother died.
1939~

We worked the sugar

beets for the Michigan Sugar Company, which is one- hundred miles north of Detroit, Michigan, in a little town named Sundusky. dad died in 1941. My

I had four sisters and a brother, and there was
Det~oit.

our aunt, my father's sister, who lived in

When my father

died, I was in the service, or you:'_could say I was working for the government in the CC Camps. wasn't up until July.
De~roit,

My dad died in April and my time

So my aunt took my little sisters into When my time was

Michigan with her until my time was up.

up, I went to Detroit, Michigan. MOOSBRUGGER: This would have brought you to the year 1940?

-2RIOS: MOOSBRUGGER: 1941. No doubt your experience in working in the fields with other workers, made you feel the need to enter the ministry? RIOS: MOOSBRUGGER: RIOS: MOOSBRUGGER: RIOS: No, I dido', t' .have any; idea I'd be going into the ministry. Up until that time? No. When did you start to feel the calling to the ministry of Christ? After we went to Detroit. Where my sisters and I were living, there One time

was a mission just about one-hundred yards from our door.

they were having a "revival" meeting and they had a loud speaker. They had a minister by
th~name

of Rev. Schwartz speaking and I

listened to the wora of God.

At that time I had a great need As I listened to the minister

and I didn't know how to solve it.

preaching, I thought that what I was hearing was a good practice. Of course, a long time before that, I used to go to Sunday School. I remember the Sunday School teacher used to tell me, "John, you can talk to God just like you would to your brother or your father or some good friend. feel Him." You aren't going to see Him, you are going to'

When I had that need, I remember, I had tried all kinds What the

of sources to solve the problem and didn't get any place.

minister was preaching through the loud speaker brought back what the Sunday School teacher used to tell me; ed to feel something. all of a sudden I startI used to start

I was a changed person.

work at midnight and get off at 8;00 a.m.

The reason I had this

shift was that I was living aione with my sisters and my little brother and they were going to school. know if they went to school or not. MOOSBRUGgER: RIOS: Where was your first congregation? My first church was in Detroit. If I worked days, I wouldn't

-3MOOSBRUGGER: RIOS: MOOSBRUGGER: What year would that have been? It was in 1949. Then you had a parish in the state of Michigan between 1949 and when you came to St. Paul in 19607 RIOS: I had one in Toledo with the mission there, and one in Ambus City, Michigan. I also had a parish in Saginaw, Michigan, Alma, Michigan,

and Fort Wayne, Indiana. MOOSBRUGGER: I see. Were you sent here to Minnesota? Were you assigned to Minne-

sota by the church? RIOS: MOOSBRUGGER: Well, not exactly. I came voluntarily. What denomination are you

There was a need here in St. Paul. affiliated with?

RIOS: MOOSBRUGGER:

It's Pentecostal.

Through the Assembly of God.

When you came to Minnesota, did you have any idea where you would be able to establish your church? facility? Whether it would be a feasible

RIOS:

No.

I just had a letter.

A letter from i:a lady by the name of

Carlota Verdeja. MOOSBRUGGER:

She was living at 125 East Indiana.

She let the church know that they had a need for a church and a minister.

RIOS:

I was in Fort Wayne,'Indiana at the time. giving Day.

I remember it was ThanksWe cook-

The place where I work had given us a turkey.

ed the turkey and ate it on the way here. MOOSBRUGGER: RIOS: MOOSBRUGGER: It sounds like a fond memory. Yes.
'-- --

When you got here, were Senora Verdeja and some of the other members of the congregation able to help you? find a feasible place? Were they able to help you

RIDS:

Yes.

When I got here I was surprised, they had been praying for

-4RIOS: someone to come. When they saw me and my family, they really felt They

with all their hearts that God had answered their prayers. rejoiced and they ditln't want to let me go back. MOOSBRUGGER: Great." tIt's been fifteen years. stay. RIOS: We are happy for that.

So it looks like you are here to

A small group, Eusebio Montez, his wife Cuca Montez, she has since passed away, Carlota Verdeja, she also passed away a few months ago. Then there was another couple named Gonzales, Tomas Gonzales and his wife, and:several others. They all rejoiced. I was working

in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and I had to go back there and quit my job. They said, "You don't have to go back, we'll take care of you here." I said, "I must go back." So I went back New Year's Day in 1960.

I quit my job over there,:and I came here. MOOSBRUGGER: About how many parishioners would you say there were at that time, fifteen or twenty? RIOS': MOOSBRUGGER: RIOS:
Yes~

something like that.

How many parishioners do you have today, in 1975? About the same. We are not all together again yet. A couple of

years ago I got sick and I was in the hospital for a couple of months. I thought my health was never going to be restored again.

I told them that they'd better look for a place where they could worship God, because I didn't think I would be able to get back to work for them. energy. MOOSBRUGGER: RIOS: MOOSBRUGGER: RIOS: That's wonderful! Then our church was torn down ••• Was the church reclaimed bytthe Urban Renewal Project? Yes, the Housing Authority. Instead of buying a church building, Then last February We asked the minister Now, about a year ago, I started'getting back my

we decided to buy a house where I can live. we started again together at this church.

-5RIOS: if I could use it on the days that they don't use it. it was alright. He said

I told him that I would be able to pay rent, but So we gather offerings, and whatever They were

he said it wasn't necessary.

we get, we give to him to help them with the expenses. very happy about it and we are too. MOOSBRUGGER: RIOS:

Does your congregation today consist mostly of Latin Americans? Spanish Americans, Spanish speaking people. That's why we named

it the Latin American Gospel Mission, in orner to make it more centrica1. I work with Puerto Ricans, Cubans, and all Spanish speakMost of them are Mexican people.

ing people. MOOSBRUGGER:

Most of your services are conducted in Spanish, so perhaps you fulfill the special needs that the Mexican American or other Latin American people have.

RIOS:

Yes.

I take it by experience, what happens to me •. A lot of people

say, "Do you help these people with clothes, or do you have a SQUP line?" I say, "No, we do distribute clothes and shoes. Some

stores give us shoes, like the Kenny's Shoe Store, they are brand new shoes, but they are out of style. MOOSBRUGGER: RIOS: I don':t see any difference."

No, they just change the styles arbitrarily. We aistribute them all. members in. that family. I met a family that there are twentyeone

You can imagine how hard it must be to feed and clothe They work out in the field and really have a hard

time getting along on whattbh!!!y-,:make. Many times we meet large families, we asktbhem to send their children to Sunday School so that we can teach them the Word of God. don't have shoes or clothes." we have shoes for them," MOOSBRUGGER: They'll say, "Well, they

We say, " Don't worry about that,

and that's the way we work.

Then the vast portion of your ministry is doing social work and giving social help?

-6RIOS:

'" >P-'

As I said, I believe in'. giving a person a pair of shoes, or some shirts, but when he wears them out, he is ready for another one. However, if I put something inside,he looks more to the As the story says, "You give a fish to a Japanese and

future.

he will eat one day, but you teach him how to fish, and he will be able to eat all his life." MOOSBRUGGER: Right. things. So it's best to give both lasting and
non~lasting

) Rev. Rios, perhaps we can sum up this interview by

your telling us at what point your ministry, your church, and your congregation are now. hopes for the future? RIOS: Well, we are gathering here at 145 East Congress Street. TemporWhat are your activities and your

arily, it's called the Riverview Westland Methodist Church. We are going to build a bigger building that is better equipped. I know it's costly, so we want to gather enough down payment so the payments later won't be so high. ourselves as much as possible. religious radio program. all I need is the money. MOOSBRUGGER: You would like to have a Spanish radio program, in other for Sunday School teaching? RIOS: Yes, teaching and sermons. It will cover quite an area. I've had
word~,

Our hope is to extend

I'm planning on having a Spanish

I have the radio station all lined up,

this in mind for a long time and now it looks like it will become a reality. MOOSBRUGGER: It is really in my heart.

Now it looks like it's a possibility, a clear possibility, to establish a radio program.

RIOS:

Christian radio stations have cjoffered me tfi.me:' before, lbut somehow or another I just didn't feel like going on. I couldn't continue. I felt that

-7MOOSBRUGGER: RIOS: You weren't ready to take it on? That's one thing with me, I don't like to start something and then stop. MOOSBRUGGER: You want to start something only if you can carry it through. That's reasonable. Well, thank you very much, Rev. Rios. We

will be looking forward to putting your records and photographs and other realia into the colleciton of the Mexican American History Project. Thank you very much.