My life is a story of God’s redemption, even out of the worst of circumstances. Born and raised in Los Angeles, I was in a gang and incarcerated for the first time as an 11-year-old. After engaging in a gang fight in 2003 that left me with a gunshot wound, I landed in jail yet again. This time was different, though; this time I met Jesus.
After a gang fight that left me with a gunshot wound, I landed in jail again. This time was different; I met Jesus.
Life didn’t get immediately easy after getting out of jail, but God was faithful. I met my wife, Jennifer and we were married in 2005. Then God opened doors for me to enter into ministry leading small groups, becoming an elder, and eventually preaching at the church we attended – a church who later sent us out to plant.
In 2013, my wife and I began to hear the Lord calling us to plant a church in the same neighborhood where I grew up – North Hollywood. Refuge LA Church launched in May of 2013 with seven people meeting together.
Refuge Church meets in the center of North Hollywood, an urban, multi-cultural landing spot for people from all over the world. Partially due to the gentrification of the area, you can find rich, poor, gang members, immigrants, actors, musicians, business people and more – all within a few blocks of the church. This makes for a rich, diverse church community, but has come with challenges as well. Early on, we saw unsaved, unchurched, de-churched or new Christians coming through the doors often. Our leadership team realized we did not have the necessary discipleship processes in place to meet the needs of their spiritual growth. We also began to understand the complexities of urban ministry, poverty, diversity, and the reality of how these variables further complicate ministry. During this season, we began to develop a deep understanding of reconciliation as the means to restoration in our community. So we began to plan for the holistic approach required to address these challenges. This included installing an executive pastor, a pastor over spiritual formation, teaching more directly about discipleship and holiness on Sunday mornings, enhancing our small group structure and adding a classroom style discipleship course to the mix. As of the fall of 2016, 30 people had gone through that course.
We began to understand the complexities of urban ministry, poverty, diversity, & how they impact ministry.
A recent testimony tells of some of the ways we are seeing fruit from our efforts. Kaila was de-churched and jaded. She grew up in the church, but while in a social work graduate program, saw her whole worldview turned upside down and her faith shaken. Kaila struggled, feeling like the church was separate from the cries of humanity, and was surrounded by non-Christian classmates that she felt were more willing to get their hands dirty in solving social and justice issues of the world than the churches in which she grew up. She became calloused and gave up on church. God then brought her to Refuge, where Kaila found a people willing to dive into the mess of the world and do their part to help bring about change. She discovered a church that wasn’t an exclusive club for the cleaned-up believer, but a place that welcomed anyone, never shying away from speaking the truth of the Gospel. Her calloused heart softened, she was encouraged to dive into the Word instead of pulling away, and the Lord drew her back to himself. Every week, Kaila gets to worship alongside some of the same people who are victims of social injustices. Reconciliation is happening.
Kaila saw what we hope others see in Refuge. We are passionately focused on faithfulness to the Gospel, coupled with strategic engagement in the community. We are looking to help address the cultural and socio-economic needs of the surrounding areas, including things like racial reconciliation, poverty, and youth abandonment. In fact, we believe the Gospel is the only answer to these issues. The fact that I, and others involved with Refuge, grew up in the area means we have a good grasp of what is going on in the surrounding culture and are not afraid to be honest about those systemic issues and discuss them as a church. We are also deeply passionate and committed to seeing change happen.
The inner city is in desperate need of healthy churches led by healthy leaders.
Currently, we are investing time and energy to train and multiply leaders. The inner city is in desperate need of healthy churches led by healthy leaders. We are currently developing leadership residencies for church planters and urban ministry leaders. Our residents must start a local initiative, like an after-school program for at-risk kids, or a ministry that contributes to the health of the local church. They will be expected to create the program, but also train up other leaders to make it something lasting and sustainable, which is important for a community that has seen church plants and social initiatives come and go over the years. We will use this experience as one part of the residency to help train and educate participants in leadership, multiplying and leading sustainable initiatives, fundraising, and networking, all while doing something meaningful for the local community and, in some cases, being trained to one day plant a healthy church using some of the same skills. Our residents will grow in emotional health, self-awareness, and have the opportunity to build a healthy and strong team – all of which are essential for urban church planting.
I believe that what our community needs more than anything is the Gospel. Refuge Church wants to be a part of God’s work, both by being a healthy church, but also by training others to go out and plant healthy churches that proclaim the Gospel to our lost and hurting community. Please pray for us as we continue to navigate the tumultuous journey of church planting, training leaders, and multiplying ourselves, to the glory of God.