MCFARLAND, Calif. (KGET) — A California is defending himself after he encouraged hundreds of congregants to attend weekly church services despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

Luis Bustillo has been the pastor of La Mision de Jesus Church in McFlarland for 31 years. Typically, 400 people fill the church’s sanctuary for sunday services. Bustillo held services in the church as recently as the sunday after the governor issued a directive calling for people to stay home, and in a Facebook post the next week, he again called for congregants to attend.

But that did not happen after the McFarland Police Department told Bustillo to stop in-person services. Even so, the pastor says he is not giving up. When asked if he is putting lives at risk, Bustillo told 17’s Eytan Wallace,” No I don”t. I don’t believe that. I believe people, more than ever, need to congregate, need to come together to be supportive of one another in this pandemic of fear because that’s exactly what it is.”

Bustillo added he is of the opinion COVID-19 is not what it’s made out to be.

“I don’t believe coronavirus is what they say it is,” he said. “To me it’s just fear, to me it’s just control Maybe some people — conspiracy theorists — say it’s population control. We don’t know exactly what’s going on, what people have in mind with all of this…If you do exercise, if you keep your immune system up, it’s like any cold, you sequester yourself, you take your hot tea with lemon because there is no cure for these things.”

Eytan: “But what about some of the nation’s top medical experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci [and those with] the Kern County Public Health Department who say this is much worse than the common cold. What’s your response?

Bustillo: “Well on the other side of the fence, there’s a lot of doctors who say this is just like any cold,” Bustillo said, noting he closely follows doctors in Cuba, the country from where he immigrated.

“You take care of yourself physically, you do exercise, you build up your immune system, and that’s how you take care of the coronavirus.”

Authorities tehnically cannot force Bustillo to close, so he says he’s turning to God to determine whether he should re-open.

“God’s word says we are not to fear; we are to be fearless and believe god. Now, more than ever, our churches need to be opened. I’m praying about it, but I would not be surprised if I opened the church soon.”

Bustillo said he’ll make a final decision in the coming days.

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