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Rochelle Nieman, co-founder of Abundant Living Faith Center, considered El Paso's first mega-church, died Sunday, the church announced.

Nieman, 61, died of an undisclosed illness, church spokeswoman Elena Delman said.

Saturday was Nieman's birthday.

The church has had a big impact on both El Paso and churches and ministries throughout the world, its members said.

Nieman, a native of Raton, N.M., founded Abundant Living with her husband Charles in 1977.

It started as a bible study in a home with just a handful of people, moved to a railroad union hall and has steadily grown over the years. It now has an estimated 25,000 members.

"She loved life," Delman said. "You never saw her down, no matter what was going on. She just enjoyed every single day. She was a very spiritual person but at the same time, she was just a regular down-to-earth, loving, fun person."

Both husband Charles Nieman and son Jared Nieman tweeted their thoughts.

"It's w/sadness that I inform u that my beautiful wife Rochelle went to be w/the Lord this morning. Thank you for your prayers. God Bless," tweeted Charles Nieman.

Jared Nieman followed with a similar message.


"My beautiful mom went to be with The Lord this morning. Our family truly appreciates your love & support. God Bless You!" he tweeted.

Rochelle Nieman grew up in northern New Mexico and attended the University of Texas at El Paso, where she met her husband.

She served as co-pastor of the church. According to the church website, she directed the church administration, led the women's ministry, acted as superintendent for the fully accredited Faith Christian Academy and regularly taught the church congregation in their weekly service.

"She was also a great innovator for other churches," Delman said. "She was such a believer in women being able to pastor churches. She helped so many other churches in our city and other cities."

Four years ago, the Niemans built a new building on the longtime church property at 1000 Valley Crest in the Lower Valley. It has a main auditorium that can seat more 3,500 people. It also has separate children's and youth facilities and auditoriums.

Brian Kessel has been a church member since 1986 and a volunteer ministry director since 1992.

"There were so many aspects to who Rochelle was," Kessel said. "The trait I'd point out: She was steadfast. She knew what she believed and acted on it at all times. She was unwavering in a good way. She was not going to be deterred from what God wanted her to do, which was reach out to and make a difference in people's lives."

The Niemans have had a huge impact in El Paso and with ministries all over the world, Kessel said.

"The Niemans are known all over the world for their ministry, their teaching," he said. "There are a lot of pastors all over the world who look to Charles and Rochelle as their mentors."

An example of their spirit was the recent Christmas for Kids event which was held at the El Paso County Coliseum about a week before Christmas, Kessel said.

About 20,000 toys were given out to 10,000 children.

The church had been doing the event for years, but had it at the Coliseum for the first time to reach more kids, Kessel said.

"The Niemans had a vision to have a bigger impact and bring Christmas to more kids," he said.

Rochelle and Charles Nieman had been married for 42 years. They have two children, Shannon Nieman Elias and Jared Nieman. They also have two grandchildren, Caleb and Emory Rochelle.

Services will be at 7 p.m. Friday at the church. Services are open to the public.

David Burge may be reached at; 546-6126. Follow him on Twitter @dburge1962