A metal fence divides the east and west sides of the Mirasol Homes public housing complex located just west of downtown San Antonio. It’s familiar territory to Edward Beltran, pastor of Genesis Baptist Church, who was raised by his grandmother in public housing nearby.
“I grew up on government cheese, government butter, and powdered milk … in the epicenter of the projects,” Beltran said of his childhood in the Villa Veramendi apartments.
Beltran’s story showcases God’s provision that led him to plant Genesis, which successfully merged with the historic Hot Wells Baptist Church in 2008.
In December 2021, Genesis partnered with Cibolo’s Everyday Christian Fellowship and its children’s minister, Jimmy Turner, in an outreach begun by ECF the previous July to evangelize the Mirasol housing complex.
Every other Saturday, the group offered lunch, games, and gospel activities. Residents from the complex’s west side attended.
To reach the east side, the Mirasol Block Party was born.
In April, with help from the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, the party kicked off, featuring Christian illusionist Edgardo Ferrer and artist Rik Moore, who “presented creative and entertaining gospel messages,” said Bruno Molina, SBTC language and interfaith evangelism associate. A petting zoo drew kids and a free meal attracted folks of all ages.
“It’s South Texas,” Beltran said. “We had to have kielbasa!” He added his appreciation for the SBTC’s offsetting the expenses of food, honorariums, and travel for the event.
Two Criswell College students participated in the block party as part of the F.I.R.E. (Forging Integrated Relationships through Evangelism) initiative promoting the engagement of professors and students in missional ministries through local churches. Some 60–70 Mirasol residents came, including three families from the east side. Eight people, seven children and one adult, professed faith in Christ that day.
Since then, Genesis and ECF have followed up biweekly with residents, Beltran said.
In English, Mirasol is translated, “see the sun.” At the Mirasol Block Party, residents of a San Antonio barrio were invited instead to “see the Son.” And they did.
Beltran’s life journey has been one of seeking the Son, also.
Beltran understands life in Mirasol.
His grandmother raised him after his mother, lost in substance abuse, could no longer care for him.
“By God’s grace, my grandmother took me in,” Beltran recalled.
Beltran’s mother’s story doesn’t end in tragedy, thankfully.
Through connections with Victory Outreach, a ministry connected to Adult & Teen Challenge USA, she was saved in 1980 and became a ministry leader.
She spent 27 years with Victory Outreach in San Antonio, Houston and Laredo, eventually remarrying. When she led the female side of a rehab house in Houston, Beltran spent summers there, sleeping in the men’s section. He stayed with his grandmother in San Antonio during the school year.
“I spent my summers observing,” he said. “I listened to ex-cons and drug addicts share their testimonies.”
Beltran’s experiences with street ministry in the impoverished wards of Houston led to his becoming a Christ-follower.
At age 31, in March 2003, he was ordained. He launched a church plant in 2007.
Despite a longtime desire to attend Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Beltran realized his calling was to the inner city. He started attending seminary-level classes through a SWBTS program at Village Parkway Baptist Church in San Antonio until Steve Branson, Village Parkway pastor, advised him to complete his undergraduate degree first.
In college, Beltran learned he loved writing, government, politics, even math. Perhaps he could become a teacher, he thought.
“I love it all,” he said.
Beltran earned an associate degree in science from Northwest Vista College, a bachelor of business administration from the University of the Incarnate Word, and a master’s of business administration from Texas A&M San Antonio, with assistance from his corporate employer. He now works as a trainer with that same multinational food corporation.
A miraculous merger
A short time after Beltran launched Genesis 15 years ago, he was approached by Pastor George Harrivale of the historic Hot Wells Baptist Church.
Beltran gave Harrivale a tour of the Genesis facility, a home converted into a church, which took “about 3 minutes,” he said with a chuckle. Beltran was astonished when Harrivale suggested a merger between Genesis and Hot Wells.
“We were a church plant. They had just celebrated 75 years of being in the community,” Beltran said.
Hot Wells was formerly a fashionable area with a historic hotel which once hosted comedian Charlie Chaplain and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The church was started on Avondale Street in 1932 before moving to a spacious campus on Hot Wells Boulevard.
Beltran’s mentors counseled caution, since mergers often do not work. Robbie Partain assisted in getting church planting assistance from the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. Genesis joined the Bluebonnet Baptist Association and the merger proceeded in 2008, when Hot Wells Baptist officially deeded its property to the association that, in turn, made it available to Genesis.
“I was like a kid in a candy store,” Beltran exclaimed. “We suddenly had a sanctuary to seat over 200, an education building with a library, an administration building, a fellowship hall.”
And unlike some church mergers, this one stuck.
“They were faithful and hung on and preserved the property until the Lord brought us into the area,” said Beltran, likening the generous actions of the people of Hot Wells to “gifting the deed of your house to someone.”
“It was their church, their children’s church, families were married there,” Beltran said.
Today, Genesis Church facilitates short-term missions projects in the inner city, partnering with other churches in San Antonio and across the state.
While numbers are not up to pre-COVID levels, attendance runs about 65-75, making it a small church with a big impact.