Thousands of people around the world are now grieving after Orlando Rivera, a beloved pastor, professor and father of 10 who once served at the multi-campus Northland Church in Florida, was killed Monday morning in a wrong-way crash in downtown Orlando. He was 52.
Police told Spectrum News 13 that Rivera was on the eastbound side of I-4 in downtown Orlando at about 3 a.m. Monday when 31-year-old Nelson-Enrique Molina, who was driving a black Mercedes, struck Rivera's vehicle.
Since the accident, news of Rivera's death has been echoing around the world as his family and those who knew him heap praise on him for the exemplary life he lived.
"He preached here. He was our mission's pastor. An incredible man, he and Nancy are dear, dear people and have several children, adopted many children, and they have a house full. So I want to just acknowledge how difficult this is for us, and our community," Kevin Urichko, Northland Church's executive pastor, told Spectrum News 13 Monday night.
Rivera's Linkedin page said he was pastor at the Mount Vernon Alliance Church and adjunct instructor in pastoral ministry and department chair in pastoral ministry at Nyack College in New York.
"Orlando Rivera was a creative, high-energy agent of change who was deeply passionate about developing leaders for the Kingdom of God. This passion motivated him to be both very tough with his coursework and very generous with his time and with the opportunities he created for students to serve. He challenged students because he believed in them and he mobilized them to become what he knew they could become. His life will continue to impact the Kingdom for generations," Nyack College and Alliance Theological Seminary President Michael G. Scales, said in a statement to The Christian Post Tuesday.
The college said Rivera joined the faculty as an adjunct lecturer in the School of Bible and Pastoral Ministries in 2008 and he went on to become a full-time assistant professor in pastoral ministries in 2009. From 2013 to 2015, he also served as adjunct professor in Nyack's Master of Business Administration and Master of Science in Organizational Leadership programs. He concluded his Nyack employment in 2016.
Staff at Reformed Theological Seminary where Rivera attended school and taught reacted in shock to the news of his passing.
"He was a student here and has also taught for us on a couple of occasions, so we are all saddened and shocked by the news that we learned today," a staff member who asked not to be identified told CP.
In a summary about Rivera posted on the school's website, officials noted: "Rivera's passion is summed up in the words of the Apostle Paul: So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. This verse gets to the heart of the way he views life, that is, all activities and professions are vehicles to glorify God in the world. Professor Rivera endeavors to awaken his students to the sacredness of all human enterprises as an opportunity to make the Kingdom of God visible on Earth as it is in Heaven."
Chris Winkler, who started a GoFundMe campaign to raise $100,000 to help Rivera's family, explained that when the pastor and his wife of 28 years first tried having children biologically and could not, they went out and adopted seven children. After raising their adopted children for several years, the couple was blessed with three biologicals sons. Their youngest is 5 years old.
"Few people have had the worldwide impact for Christ that Orlando and Nancy Rivera have had. As a pastor, speaker, teacher, entrepreneur, leader, mentor, community organizer and developer, and family member, Orlando and Nancy have personally poured their hearts and souls into people from Egypt to Costa Rica to Nigeria to urban centers across the United States," family friend Chris Winkler wrote in the campaign. "They longed to see people groups and individuals come to know Jesus Christ — and many have because of their ministry."
"Usually on Memorial Day we honor those veterans and soldiers who have served and are serving our country today. Well today we render our honors to a soldier of Christ, my father Orlando Rivera. I always knew one day the call was coming. I just could never prepare myself for how I would feel in this situation it's so hard for me to type right now and I can't stop crying," he wrote.
"Growing up I thought you were indestructible and no one could ever hurt you. I just spoke to you two days ago on the phone and everything was good and I was just telling you how I was coming home at the end of the month to spend time with you. You gave me nothing but wisdom knowledge and understanding throughout my whole life. You were always proud of me for what I'm doing for my country and my family. You supported me in everything I ever did since playing soccer for the YMCA. I wish I could see you one last time but I can't question why I couldn't. I love you dad," he ended.