(Photo: Reuters/Scott Iskowitz)
Yankees star relief pitcher Mariano Rivera will close out his 20-year career at the end of the current baseball season with plans to begin a new church in New Rochelle, N.Y.
Rivera's wife, Clara, will be the pastor of the Pentecostal congregation, Refugio de Esperanza, or Refuge of Hope church, which is still under construction and is expected to be completed later this year. Clara was acquainted with the Gospel at an early age, but her personal encounter with God occurred at 25 and she has served in churches ever since. Her favorite phrase, according to the church's website, is: "I believe God and my desire is to always please Him."
According to its website, Refugio de Esperanza is a church committed to the revitalization of its community and its aim is to do so through projects and special programs delivered with a genuine demonstration of God's love. The church will provide food, clothing and resources to those in need and is currently developing a learning center for New Rochelle's children and teens that will offer educational help, sports programs and after school activities. "The youth is our power for the next generation," said Clara Rivera in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. "And if no one takes care of them, we're going to lose them. I want to do my part. That's my new career."
While the Riveras await the completion of their new church, their congregation is already growing. Since 2009, a small group of individuals has been meeting for a time of prayer and sharing at their home, but it wasn't until they experienced rapid growth that they realized they needed to organize a local church. "My house is kind of small," said Mariano Rivera, who was awarded the 1999 World Series MVP Award, to New York Magazine earlier this year . "We only fit like 50 people, 60 people tops. Forty, average. We have whites, we have blacks, we have Hispanics. We'll have all kinds. It don't matter. As long as you love Christ, we in it. And if you don't love him, we will work with you so we put you on the right path," he adds.
The couple met during their younger years in their native Panama and their faith has always been at the forefront of their life. When the youngest of their three sons was born in 2003, Clara experienced a traumatizing labor. With extreme hemorrhaging right after giving birth, Rivera gained strength through God, and thus decided to name their son Jaziel, which means ''the strength of God." A decade later, it's that same faith that the Riveras hope will sustain them in their new endeavor to start a church.
While Rivera will be remembered as a fan favorite among many New York baseball fans, he'll leave his career behind at the end of the season to focus on church planting – and not just in New York. He plans to continue funding more church start-ups, as he's already done in Mexico, the Dominican Republic, California, Florida and now New York. In 2011, he purchased the abandoned historic North Avenue Presbyterian Church from the city and is currently investing over $3 million to renovate it. "It's my way of serving the Lord and giving back to this community," he told the New York Magazine. "New Rochelle is where I first came after moving here from Panama and I fell in love with it."