From light to darkness and back again

Eliel Díaz junto a su esposa, Sharon, y sus dos hijos. Foto compartida

Pastor’s personal struggles redeemed by God, used to open new ministry doors in community ‘hungry’ for the gospel

E

liel Diaz remembers clearly one of the lowest points of his life. 

In 2016, following months of debilitating panic attacks that seemed to strike out of nowhere shortly after he was ordained as a pastor, Diaz checked himself in at a mental health treatment center. While there, the Lord used a counselor—armed with the words of Jeremiah 29:11—to remind Diaz that, although he found himself in a difficult situation, he should remember who he is in Christ and not stop fulfilling his calling. 

It was a big challenge for Diaz: telling others about a God he was struggling to sense and a hope he wasn’t feeling. 

“I’ll do what you are asking me to do, even though I don’t want to,” Diaz recalls telling God.

So Diaz began talking to people at the facility about Jesus and sharing the plan of salvation with them. After sharing the gospel with a man there, the man told Diaz, “I need that Jesus.” Later, Diaz approached a woman who looked troubled and told her about Jesus as well. Her response was almost exactly the same: “I need this Jesus.”

Their separate responses to the gospel message impacted Diaz greatly and served as a turning point. It reminded him that hope in Jesus is still real and that He is able to deliver people even from their darkest feelings. After that encounter, three days after he arrived at the facility, Diaz knew his time there was over and that a season of personal healing had begun.

Diaz, now the pastor of United City Church en Español in Humble, uses that dark time in his life—which he describes as his wilderness—as a springboard for ministry in one of the fastest-growing regions in Texas. 

“I grew up in church, I served the Lord for many years, but I needed my wilderness, because even though we don’t understand [these times], they are necessary,” Diaz said. 

United City Church en Español is building community through small groups, fellowship, and meeting needs in the community. SUBMITTED PHOTO

From light to darkness

Originally from Cayey, Puerto Rico, Diaz came to Houston in August 2012. He made the move with his wife, Sharon, after friends invited them to explore new opportunities in North America. Diaz and his wife made the move sensing the Lord was at work, but not knowing how.

Through his academic preparation at the Conservatory of Music of Puerto Rico in jazz and Afro-Caribbean music, God opened doors for Diaz to become an instructor and Bible teacher at a music ministry training institute in Houston. As they continued their journey, they lost a baby and decided to find a church where they would be able to “sit and heal,” Diaz said. That church was the Conroe campus of Champion Forest Baptist Church, where they found healing, fellowship, and a place to serve. In 2015, the church called Diaz to serve as its part-time worship pastor while he continued his duties at the music institute.

The next year proved to be bittersweet. In June 2016, Diaz was ordained as a pastor. At the same time, he said his mental health began to decline. He was at home one day sitting on his couch when suddenly he began to feel short of breath. The episode was so bad, he was rushed to the emergency room.

“I couldn’t speak, my hands were twisting, and I started experiencing panic attacks,” Diaz said. 

The panic attacks progressed over the next six months. At first, they happened weekly … then daily … and then they began happening several times a day. Finally, around Christmas, he consulted with his pastor, Esteban Vazquez, and ultimately decided to admit himself into the mental health treatment center. He said he did not understand what was happening to him, nor could he see how God was going to use the outcome for good.

But as Diaz learned through his gospel encounter with the woman at the mental health facility, God was just beginning.

“All of this is a miracle that only God can do. Northeast Houston was waiting for something in Spanish. They were thirsty."

From darkness to light

After leaving the facility, Diaz began to rebuild his mental health by making a commitment to surrender his life completely to God. In January 2018, after recovering from his personal struggles, Diaz was approached by Ramon Medina, pastor of Champion Forest en Español, and Stephen Trammell, campus pastor of Champion Forest’s North Klein campus. The men told Diaz the North Klein campus was preparing to start a Spanish ministry and invited Diaz to serve as its pastor. Diaz accepted.

Diaz and his wife started the Spanish ministry at the North Klein campus with only a few family members and close friends. Their first service was held in August 2018, and for four years, the Lord blessed them with a thriving ministry. During this vibrant time, Diaz—now with a family of four—began to feel that a new season of ministry was coming. 

One day, Medina was telling Diaz about all the ways God was moving on the North Klein campus. During that conversation, Medina mentioned that United City Church in Humble was looking for a pastor to lead a Spanish ministry it was starting. Though it was only a brief part of that conversation, Diaz couldn’t stop thinking about United City from that point on. Before the conversation ended, Diaz shared that he was sensing a new season of ministry on the horizon and asked Medina to be in prayer with him.

Some time later, after researching United City and praying about the opportunity, Diaz went back to Medina and asked him if he felt like he would be a good fit to lead the Humble church’s new Spanish ministry. The pastor said he did, and Diaz eventually connected with United City’s leadership. One of the things Diaz was excited about was that the church was located near the area where his family had lived when they first came to Texas from Puerto Rico. At that time, there were no Hispanic Southern Baptist churches in the area. 

“God allowed us to live in that area and get to know the people, then come back to start a Spanish ministry,” Diaz said.

United City Church en Español officially launched in January 2023, shortly after Diaz was commissioned to lead the effort by Chris Kouba, United City’s lead pastor. 

United City Church en Español has been intentional in building a community of leaders through small groups, fellowship, and meeting their needs.

“All of this is a miracle that only God can do,” Diaz said. “Northeast Houston was waiting for something in Spanish. They were thirsty. … We want to see lives saved and build a church of imperfect people serving a perfect God—a church that embraces the community as it is so that it can be transformed by the gospel of Jesus.”

Correspondent
Arlene Sanabria
Southern Baptist Texan
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