Network: North America

The Crenshaw Area of South Central Los Angeles has a rich and multi-faceted community. If you drive or walk down Crenshaw Blvd, near the historic Baldwin Hills/Crenshaw Plaza, you will experience all sorts of economic dynamics. While you will see African American professionals driving expensive cars, you will also encounter the gang and poverty dynamics that have gained Crenshaw it’s “hood” reputation. Being 70-80% Black, it would be difficult to see that Crenshaw was once a community where leaders such as Mayor Tom Bradley sought to help develop a truly integrated community. In the midst of this effort, the underlying racial tensions were too strong for this dream and many non-Black communities fled the area. The greater Crenshaw community is now a hub for a rich expression of the Black cultural experience.

As gentrification is infiltrating Los Angeles, it is pressing in upon the Crenshaw community. What has been a primarily Black community is now experiencing an influx of White, Asian American, Hispanic, and Latino communities moving in. This presents numerous opportunities and also points of tension. And so we are planting Epiphany Fellowship Los Angeles in this area to see a diverse community of people pursuing Christ’s purpose, in our city, for the good of all people.

After doing some prayer walks in the area last year, we were welcomed into the Crenshaw Family YMCA. This first year has been a big year of learning our community, gathering an initial launch team together, casting vision, and doing some outreaches to gauge the spiritual dynamics of our community. Our launch team, a diverse group made up of people of all walks of life and cultural backgrounds, has experienced a lot of pruning and sanctification over this last year, but we are learning to get the missional rhythms of our community.

While I am the only Pastor for now, we have recently brought on a part-time ministry implementation coordinator who is helping with administration. There are also a few others that are in leadership development and act as a sounding board as we think through the process of the plant.

There are a number of significant challenges in our context that have lead me to explore how different missionaries overseas have contextualized Gospel engagement. The Crenshaw area is home to many who are culturally churched which has left a large portion of our community deeply frustrated and with a bad taste in their mouths. Many 18-40 year olds are de-churched, and have no trust in the church or its relevance to everyday life. Most have heard about Jesus and the Gospel, but have not seen it practically played out. This has radically shifted our understanding of gathering and planting in Crenshaw. Since many don’t see the church as a trusted or relevant place for spiritual and identity questions, we’re empowering our team to live this out in our neighborhoods and in corporate outreaches, while we gather on Sundays and Wednesdays to worship and get in the Word together.

Total Life Camp Group Picture

A group photo of those who participated in the “VBS remix” sports/dance camp hosted by Epiphany LA.

As result of this dynamic, we are using homes and apartments of those on our team as places to host twice monthly cookouts this summer to grow together, but more importantly, to offer a place into which we can invite people we are meeting. We also host block parties in area neighborhoods. This summer we worked with coaches in our community to host a VBS remix where we had sports and dance clinics, and parenting classes laced with the Gospel. The prayer with this has been to not only engage our neighbors, but to collaborate with our community to meet practical needs while putting the Gospel on display (Matt. 5:14-16, Titus 2:14, 3:14).

Given the lack of trust for the church in our community, we are prayerfully planning a “doubt night” where we will use the arts, music, and comedy (which has been a huge cultural dynamic of Crenshaw) to frame questions and give an opportunity for people to ask questions and express what is on their heart. Our team will be there to provide ears to listen and panels to engage the questions.

About 2 months after our move, the Crenshaw YMCA experienced a staffing upheaval and closed down for some time. For the next 5-6 months we met in our home and in a small tutoring facility. The Lord then answered our prayer for the YMCA by bringing a new director and teen director who opened the door for us to meet in the location, which was conducive for our kids to have a safe, separate, meeting room. The teen director is the YMCA’s connection point to the community in many ways, and has embraced us fully. This has opened up the door for us to both be a part of building the mentoring program for the Y, but also provide coaches for the Jr. Clippers league, allowing us to build relationships with parents.

Caitlin is one of our launch team members who is helping coach two Jr. Clippers teams where she is able to connect with more kids and their parents. Pray that the relationships like this we are forming will lead to great Gospel impact.

About a year ago, some of our team members, the Hunjas, had a birthday party for their daughter and invited some friends they knew from their years in South Africa. Different people from the launch team met them at the party as well. Many months after the party, the Hunjas received a call from the family and mentioned they want to check out the church plant. After meeting with them, we found out that they hadn’t been around the church or walking with Jesus for 15 years because of some very bad experiences. Kristin, the wife even expressed an interest in learning more about baptism. We are presently working with them in their growth on this journey of getting back into growing in Christ.

We’d appreciate you joining us in praying for the following:

  • Pray that as our team lives out the rhythms of discipleship, the Lord will open up doors for the Gospel to be clearly communicated and understood (Col. 4:2-6).
  • Pray that those who have started to check out Epiphany LA will be served in the Gospel well and catch the vision.
  • Pray for great favor with our outreaches this summer and fall.
  • Pray for healthy relationships to be formed and developed among the team and among the families in the plant. We seem to have a number of young married couples who have some areas of need in their marital growth and oneness.
  • Pray for some rest and refreshment for our family in the midst of this gathering season of learning our community more each day, gathering people, equipping, and shepherding people through different dynamics.

Each year, Acts 29 US West has the joy of funding a number of church plants. Epiphany Fellowship LA is one of 17 church plants we’re funding in 2017. You can read about more of these church plants on our blog!

Tommy Forester
Written by: Tommy Forester on September 4, 2017

Tommy is the lead planter and pastor at Epiphany Fellowship Los Angeles. He and his wife Fatimah have been married for seven years and have three children. He enjoys golfing, watching movies, and going to the park with his kids.