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‘Call on His Name’

Posted on Wednesday, November 22, 2023 at 9:10 am


When Yram Lopez would walk into a burning building as a fireman serving in Anchorage, Alaska, he would call on the name of the Lord, praying for protection over himself and his colleagues.

It was dangerous, life-threatening work. But his faith sustained him.

“Before we would go in to a mix of smoke and flame, I would always put my hand on my partner’s shoulder and call Jesus’ Name. Then go in with him,” said Lopez. “I would just call His Name and there would be peace.”

But Lopez says leading a ministry has been far more challenging.

Lopez on Command Staff in 2014 (submitted photo).

“Walking into a burning building is so much easier,” he joked.

Rev. Lopez is the senior pastor at Shelbyville United Pentecostal Church. He and his wife, Ladana, have been leading the church for about nine years.

But Lopez jokes what people can’t seem to understand is how a Mexican, who was born in California and raised in Alaska, came to be in Shelbyville.

The simple answer: following the Lord’s calling.

Lopez was born in King City, California. His father was in the military in the 1960s and was stationed in Anchorage. His family decided to make Alaska’s biggest city their permanent home (and where they still live today).

“It’s surrounded on three sides by water and one side by mountains. All the big city stuff, it’s got —the good and the bad,” said Lopez.

One to rather play football or hockey than go hunting, Lopez developed an early understanding of working in a team.

Growing up, Lopez knew several firemen at his church. After meeting them, he knew firefighting was what he wanted to do.

So he got involved with the local explorer program and eventually went to Long Beach, California, to get his degree in fire science.

Coming back to Anchorage, he worked on the Alaska oil pipeline doing fire training until being hired on to the department.

“There was a lot of learning, but my love for it, it didn’t feel like it. I knew it was hard work, but it didn’t feel like hard work. I loved every minute of it,” he recalled.

He fought all kinds of fires from structure fires to commercial fires to wild land and port fires.

“My very first fire as a captain was at the port and it was a 10 million gallon tank fire,” he recalled, saying it was thankfully mostly empty and only a few thousand gallons.

But while he was fighting fire, Lopez was also serving as an associate minister beginning around 2000 at his church in Anchorage where he helped preach and support the pastor.

The church in Anchorage was also where he met his wife, Ladana, who was visiting her sister at the time.

Originally from Tullahoma, Ladana grew up in a pastor’s household as her father was Rev. Philip Swinford.

She and her husband joke that they promised never to go into ministry full time. But as the saying goes, “Never say never.”

“It’s not an easy life, but it is a very blessed life,” she said. “Once you’re in you realize that.”

“To see lives changed, that we’ve been able to see and be a part of, that really makes the hard not seem so bad. Just watch God do what He does. It’s humbling,” Lopez said.

Despite the challenges of going into ministry full-time, Yram and Ladana have been married for 25 years.

Rev. Yram and Sis Ladana Lopez (submitted photo).

“I couldn’t imagine doing this without her,” said Lopez.

In addition to following Biblical principles, they advise for a good marriage that “I’m sorry” needs to flow freely between couples.

“But more than that ‘I forgive you’ needs to flow more so,” said Lopez. “Having grace and mercy towards each other and patience, those are Biblical principles.”

This is something he teaches from the pulpit as well.

He understands the love of God. Lopez had received the Holy Ghost at age five and baptized at age thirteen, but spent many years not living for God.

“Everything’s got to start with that: developing a relationship with the Lord. It doesn’t feel like a chore when you have a relationship,” said Lopez. “It’s not about the checklist. Throughout the scripture the theme is obedience. But it doesn’t feel that way when you’re in love. We try to build that love for Him. Love is stronger than the law.”

Shelbyville United Pentecostal Church is located at 1701 Green Lane. But they weren’t always at this current location. In fact, they used to meet at a Piggly-Wiggly with just under 40 congregants.

The Lopezes decided to move to Tennessee and help Rev. Swinford, who retired from ministry in 2010 but was starting Shelbyville United Pentecostal Church, which was meeting in a one-room building off Madison Street.

It was no easy decision; rather, it was four previous years of fasting, praying, and asking for God’s direction.

But by January of 2014, it was decided, and by that June, they had made the move to fully take over the church by that August.

“I had reached the pinnacle of where I wanted in my career as Battalion Chief. We had a great church. My family lived there. My kids were involved. But I guess I was more fearful of not heeding His Call than I was to skipping out,” said Lopez.

His colleagues at work were puzzled.

“I felt this, but I was going to remain submitted.”

After about a year preaching at the Piggly-Wiggly, through what they call a “miracle,” they acquired their current location around Thanksgiving 2015.

Though Shelbyville may not have mountains and wild land and ocean shores, something that he has carried over from Anchorage to here is diversity.

“[Anchorage] is a very different culture. It’s a melting pot there. Everybody from around the world comes there,” he said.

Today, they aspire to make their church resemble that of the Kingdom of Heaven and a place where everyone is welcome to come hear God’s Word. They bring in around 80 to 100 people each weekend.

“My goal is for people to know that everybody is welcome. There’s not just one demographic,” he said. “That’s what heaven’s going to be like. I understand culture, but Kingdom culture is greater than ancestral culture.

“We’re all different. But at the end of the day, we’re all His.”

They also offer a variety of ministries, such as their Children’s Ministry, Vision Student Ministry, Discipleship Training, Small Groups, and the Prison Ministry where they have a team visit the Bedford County Jail once a week.

The Lopezes said this wouldn’t be possible without their church team and the community.

“The Lord has really blessed us with a tremendous team because this is not me and her. God has just really equipped us with an incredible team that has bought into the vision, that are all in. So we’ve grown,” said Lopez. “We love our city.”

Lopez also serves as Fire Chaplain with the Shelbyville Fire Department as well as working part time when needed.

But when not preaching, he also enjoys traveling and being with Ladana and their two grown children, riding his Harley, and playing golf.