Places of worship

Victory Life Center is trying to make a difference in an impoverished Highway City neighborhood near Shaw Avenue and Highway 99.

But the church's pastor, the Rev. Ron Shirley, 74, says, "We've had some ups and down in the past year."

About 25 people left the congregation in May over "dissatisfaction with a few people," Shirley says without elaborating. Since then, the congregation has rebounded and concentrated on its ministries, including plans to build a gymnasium.

"The people we lost hurt," Shirley says. "But we're gaining ground again."

The Highway City and nearby Biola areas mean a lot to Shirley, whose mother, Alpha Shirley, was pastor of Biola Assemblies of God.

"I love the ministry here," he says.

Worshippers say Victory Life Center appeals to them because it's a small congregation and the teachings are Bible-based.

"You get to know everyone here and have a relationship with them," Kenneth Chacon says. "Everything you do matters so much. You feel closer to God."

The church's head greeter, John Marfia, says, "They give you the true word here. If you can't stand the truth, you don't want to be here."

Shirley based a recent sermon on the power of Jesus and prayer. After he finished, several worshippers asked for prayer at the altar.

Shirley's mother-in-law, Doris Siles, 95, says, "You feel the move of the spirit -- an active God."

Here are other notes from the visit:

What might you see here that you can't other places? A replica of Noah's Ark, crocheted by a church member, is sometimes on display in the foyer.

What is the congregation's biggest blessing? It's the Cantu family. Marin and Norma Cantu perform in the worship team with children Vanessa (singer), Josh (guitar) and Jose (drums). Marin Cantu is the church's Spanish pastor.

Who's a behind-the-scenes hero? The pastor played trumpet during the worship team's first song, "Love the Lord," on the recent day. Before the song ended, he put down the trumpet to play guitar.

The basics

* Location: 5303 N. Market St., Fresno

* Contacts: (559) 275-2506

* Services: 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. Sundays

* Child care: Available

* Pastor, years of service: The Rev. Ron Shirley, 50-plus years

* Congregation: 75

* History: Founded in 1987. Moved to current site in 1998.

* Religious association: Independent

* Key ministries: Children's church, Sunday school classes, Monday ladies' prayer meeting, Tuesday men's prayer group, Wednesday adult and youth Bible studies, Missionettes and Royal Rangers, food pantry, Samaritan's Purse.