Profile: Church of the Open Ark

A border town church attracts newcomers with unique architecture.

The Mexican border town of Ciudad Juarez is well known as a drug-infested region filled with gang violence, human trafficking and murder.

It’s within this backdrop that a dedicated evangelical pastor has built an ark—literally—as a beacon of hope and symbol of change within this city of 1.5 million residents.

Last winter, Pastor David Cano of Iglesia Palabra de Vida launched his “Visionary Ark Project,” the first phase of which was to remake the façade of his small church into a replica of Noah’s Ark.

Launched with a $20 budget and handful of volunteers, the effort gained support among members of the church, which averages 150 people on weekends.

They gave what they could, amassing a coffer of $2,300 to complete the ark, Cano says. Today the three-dimensional, wood structure stands at 30 feet tall and 130 feet wide.

“We have many people with minimum salary,” he says. “It was a miracle. Everybody was very excited.”

The church hopes to bring the project to a close by creating life-size animals and establishing a mini-museum of sorts for local schoolchildren, with information about Genesis and the Noah’s Ark story.

Cano says on the surface, the ark aims to attract newcomers to the 12-year-old Palabra de Vida, located in an older, less traversed part of the city with no parking. Underscoring that, the ark serves as an “icon” to the area’s unchurched, to get them in the door and learn a new way to experience God’s love, he says.

“In Mexico, we have a lot of religion, but not a relationship with God,” Cano says. “That’s a problem.”

The 1-year-old ark has attracted some new members, he adds. It got people talking, generated a buzz, brought in some new faces.

Once inside, visitors were exposed to Sunday sermons focused on grace and a message to “restore the heart, heal the family and change your present,” Cano says.

“The figure of the ark is to say to everybody in the city that there is a different way to live,” he says. “The ark is an example of a new beginning.”