EAST COUNTY — Monica Thomas isn’t new to public speaking.
But, this weekend, the Lakewood Ranch resident threw herself whole-heartedly into a new venture — one that combined her Hispanic heritage, background in business and love for God.
Thomas led the first Spanish service for The Source Church Easter Sunday, March 31. Monica, who is bilingual, will deliver the sermon each Sunday with the support of her husband, Rick, and her church family.
“I’m really trusting God and letting him direct our steps for sure,” she said with a smile.
Ralph Hoehne, lead pastor at The Source, said he and his wife, Joanne, became burdened while thinking of the Hispanic community more than two years ago.
“I really felt God leading us that we were going to start a Spanish church,” he said. “We give a lot of food away (each week), and probably half of the crowd (doesn’t attend church) and are Hispanic. I really sensed this year was going to be the year to do it.”
Hoehne announced the idea to the congregation at The Source earlier this year, hoping to find out how many families would be able to help carry the idea forward. The reaction was overwhelming, and Hoehne knew it was time to push forward.
Familiar with Monica Thomas’s background in business and public speaking, as well as her Hispanic heritage, Hoehne had approached Thomas, a pastor at The Source, about leading a Spanish service before. This time, however, Thomas was ready.
“For the first time, I felt it,” said Thomas, who owned a cosmetics company that targeted Latino women when she lived in New York. “I was so involved in the Latin community before I came to Florida. I took a break from it. But, we’ve jumped in. We’re excited. We felt it was a great time to start. Easter is a big family holiday, as well.”
Hoehne said the Spanish service, which is being held at 4 p.m. Sundays, at least for now, will have its own culture and flavor. Although the Hoehnes will lend their support and encouragement to the new congregation, they plan to let Thomas and her husband, Rick, the church’s middle-school pastor, lead the new venture.
“I believe God is going to use (Monica) in a big way,” Hoehne said. “I’m thrilled and honored she agreed to do this. It’s a huge undertaking.”
Thomas said she’s excited about the opportunity, as well.
“A big part of our vision has lined up,” Thomas said. “The heart of the pastors has always been to help the community. There’s no strings attached. It’s really to see our community get to a different place. They have a big heart for the community, and we do, too.”
Thomas will lead the family-style service, with children in service with the adults, entirely in Spanish each week. A time of worship with music will be led by video, at least to start.
Thomas said she also hopes to add classes in the future, but will make changes little by little.
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A first-generation American, Monica Thomas grew up in New York, where she learned English in school but remained immersed in the Latin culture at home.
“My entire family, pretty much, is in South America,” she said.
As an adult, Thomas made a name for herself in the business world, launching a cosmetic company that targeted Hispanic women. Her endeavors made headlines in People magazine and other publications.
“I used to travel a lot,” Thomas said. “My sister (Paty Pereyra) and her family live here. I visited and decided not to go back.”
Thomas closed her business and moved eight years ago to Florida. She began attending church with her sister.
“I knew that’s what was missing in my life,” Thomas said. “I never looked back.
“I always felt the world defines success as having material things,” she said. “In business, success would be a title. I feel I accomplished that, and I still felt completely empty.”
Thomas and her husband, Rick, started as members of The Source Church at its inception and have served as middle school pastors for the church for more than three years.
Rick Thomas will continue to serve as middle school pastor.
The couple has a 5-year-old daughter, Gabby.