The West Side building at the corner of Massachusetts Avenue and Chenango Street sits in the middle of a residential neighborhood that's seen better days. And for years, the failed commercial property was part of the reason.
The boarded-up building was once a Wilson Farms convenience store with a large corner parking lot. When the store went out of business several years ago, the brick structure stayed vacant, and its parking lot eventually became a dumping ground for everything from garbage to car transmissions.
But those days are gone. The parking lot is clean, and glass block windows with the outline of a cross fill the space where boarded-up convenience store windows once were.
Next Saturday, the building that once sold junk food and lottery tickets will reopen as a house of worship called the Refuge Temple of Christ-West Side.
"We know this is not a great area, but we're not afraid of that," said Daniel Pizarro, the church pastor who first opened a storefront ministry on the Lower West Side in 1999 and now has a congregation of 43 regular members including blacks, whites and Hispanics.
This is a community that needs God, he said.
The Refuge Temple of Christ is an Apostolic Pentecostal church affiliated with the thriving Greater Refuge Temple of Christ on Jefferson Avenue on the East Side. The new church is expected to be more racially diverse than its sister branches in Lockport and Niagara Falls, which have congregations that are predominantly African-American.
Much has yet to be done before the church's dedication ceremony at 4 p.m. next Saturday. The building still needs carpeting, painting, glass and door installations and a significant amount of furniture.
But the heaviest work is largely completed. Pizarro and other church members hauled out the leftover refrigerator shelving and freezer bins, completed most of the wiring and sectioned off space for an office, Sunday school classrooms and a nursery.
The ceiling also boasts seven small chandeliers that will replace the bright florescent lights that now hang overhead.
Outside, church members spent several days last summer cleaning out the parking lot. They hauled out 75 bags of trash from the lot alone, Pizarro said.
Pizarro said he bought the West Side building with $26,000 in cash from church and private donations and expects to remain invested in the neighborhood for some time to come. He and his wife also hope to expand the small church's ongoing ministries catering to youth and women.
Doreen Hooks, one of the active congregation members, said, "We're hoping to reach out to more people and be able to provide for the different needs of the community."
Though Pizarro works as an electrician by trade, he said, he and his wife have earned Bible Institute certificates through various Pentecostal training programs. Eventually, Pizarro said, he hopes to phase out his job with Ferguson Electric and do ministry work full time.
He and his wife, Valerie, say they've seen enough lives transformed in the short time they've been preaching to know the value of their work.
Their goal now, he said, is to "bring some dignity and some hope, even to a dilapidated area where there is drugs and crime -- to be a safe haven where folks can come in time of their troubles."