When Bishop Armando Figueroa started preaching in 1997 in Williamsport, only two people were listening.
Today, there are about 120 people in Figueroa’s congregation and he said he is excited about the church he is building for them in the former Davids Furniture & Interiors store at 117 Summit Ave.
Figueroa said when he started preaching in the area, there were not as many Hispanic people in the community.
Today, his Spanish-speaking Fuego Fresco del Espiritu Santo church delivers sermons to Hispanics from the Hagerstown area, and to others from as far as Lancaster, Pa., Vienna, Va., and Bethesda, Md.
In 2009, Davids President Michael Martin and Chief Executive Officer David Martin decided to close the store — which formerly was Maidstone Interiors — and the building was put up for auction in March 2009. But only two people showed up for the auction and neither would bid at least $575,000, the minimum price.
One of the two bidders joked at the time that the building might make a good church.
Now, Figueroa said, his church is buying the building.
Work on transforming the building into a church has been ongoing for seven months. A large sanctuary with 22 pews is in the center of it on the ground floor.
There are more rooms upstairs for child care and offices for staff.
Some churches donated items, including one in West Virginia that provided the pews, Figueroa said.
“He feels very overwhelmed in the blessings he has received,” said Maria Vera, an interpreter for Figueroa.
“I promise, God is here,” Figueroa said.
Speaking through Vera, Figueroa said he has been a minister for about 32 years, was born in Mexico City and has lived in Hagerstown for 14 years. His wife, Silvia, has been a minister for 29 years.
In his first years of preaching in the area, Figueroa leased church buildings. His sermons over the years have been broadcast on the radio and now all his 6 p.m. Saturday sermons and 10:30 a.m. Sunday sermons are streamed live on his church’s website, www.fuegofresco.com.
Figueroa said people listen to the webcasts in countries like Argentina, Peru, Italy, Mexico and the Dominican Republic. There is a place in the Dominican Republic where the sermons are viewed one Saturday a month on a large screen.
Interpreters at the Summit Avenue church translate the sermons into English for English-speaking people in the congregation, Figueroa said.
Figueroa described his religion as Pentecostal that is “real Christianism” and “Bible-based.”
Fuego Fresco in the church’s name translates into “fresh fire” in English, he said. In Figueroa’s vision, the holy spirit is fire and to receive God, members of the congregration must figuratively build a fire every day.
The church also offers a food bank and counseling, helping members of the congregation with personal and marital issues.