A jalapeno eating contest may not seem like a typical church outreach event, but for members of City Church in Pueblo, Colorado, it is a perfect way to engage with their city.
Pueblo puts on an annual Chile and Frijoles Festival each September to “promote Pueblo’s rich agriculture,” according to the festival’s website. The city is known for its particular variety of green chiles.
The three-day event, which features live entertainment, street vendors, hot air balloons and cooking competitions, more than doubles Pueblo’s population of a little over 110,000 people.
City Church pastor Mario Trujillo says that the festival is just one of many opportunities the church takes to meet people, build relationships and engage in gospel conversations.
“We look at it as a rhythm of the city that we participate in, in order to engage the community with the gospel,” Trujillo says. “Jesus, in every aspect, met people where they were at.”
City Church was planted in 2017, and Mario and his wife, Stephanie, have been leading the church since the following year. They are both natives of Pueblo, a blue-collar community known as the “Steel City.”
“The city is pretty blanketed with religiosity, but also the crime is pretty high,” Trujillo says. “I was born and raised here, so I’ve seen the beauty of the city; I’ve also participated and been part of the brokenness of the city, and I just see its need for the gospel.”
The church is located in downtown Pueblo where the festival is held. Volunteers from the church take shifts manning a tent outside the building which gives them an opportunity to talk to festival goers walking by and invite them to participate in jalapeno eating contests held throughout the day. Participants are challenged to eat seven varieties of jalapeno peppers from least to most spicy to win gift cards of up to $300.
“We try to do it very generously,” Trujillo says.
Trujillo emphasizes the church’s desire to be active in the community and make connections with locals, as he sees many people in the city longing for a sense of community. Even if the connections made during the festival begin on a surface level, they are still extremely valuable because building trust is paramount.
“You have to earn their trust; they don’t start to participate with anything unless they trust you and you’re for the city,” says Trujillo. “There have been conversations that have gone deeper, and we’ve been able to share the gospel with people that have walked by, and also pray for people.”
City Church’s efforts to build rapport in Pueblo reach beyond their activities during the Chile and Frijoles Festival. They use the building’s downtown location to serve the city in a variety of ways, allowing the space to be used for school fundraisers, outdoor concerts, food truck vendors and for partnering with local small businesses.
Trujillo says these activities “equip the church to be able to engage and live on mission with Jesus.”
“That’s basically the heart behind it—to have the church engage the city as opposed to just being here on a Sunday,” he says. “These are opportunities we have to love our city well.”
Jessica Vix Allen is a freelance writer living in Blue Springs, Missouri. She and her husband, Joel, are both graduates of Tabor College. The couple has three children.