“Community” in the Community
By Benji Bruneel
My earliest memories of faith formation all center on the church of my youth. This large, suburban congregation was—and still is—known for the excellence of its programming, centripetal approach to outreach, and its impressive buildings. In those buildings and among those people, I heard the gospel faithfully preached week in and week out, saw it lived out in the lives of children’s and youth leaders, and felt the urgency of the call to follow Christ. In innumerable ways, my faith is indebted to that church community.
Yet, perhaps unintentionally, in that environment I also received this clear message about the nature of ministry: the work of the church is best left to the professionals, a group clearly defined as the church staff, comprised as it was of a number of older, wiser, typically white, almost exclusively male leaders that we all referred to as “Pastor,” like an alternative first name. I learned a great deal from these men and received a deposit of faith and instruction that God has graciously caused to bear fruit in my life. I also, however, concluded that they alone were qualified to do “ministry,” defined primarily as the things that took place on the church campus. The perceived distinction between minister and “layperson” held ground in my heart and head even as I began my own pastoral ministry career and pursued theological training in seminary.
In 2007, Greta and I first began to hang around SBCC and, perhaps for the first time, encountered a different understanding of the term “minister.” In this church family, among these people, the dividing lines between ministers and members seemed less definitive, with all people reminded regularly of their giftedness and calling to “Every Member Ministry.” Here, the pastors seemed more accessible (and not at all excited about being referred to as “Pastor”) and the church family seemed more like co-owners than customers. Perhaps most noticeably, because SBCC had no church campus to call its own, ministry wasn’t spoken of in centripetal terms, but most often referred to the ways that God was working through his people scattered during the week. In short, SBCC strove to live out Paul’s words to the church in Ephesus, when he tells them that God gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry (Ephesians 4:11-12). Suffice it to say, this approach to ministry simultaneously challenged my categories and excited my imagination.
Now, as one of the pastoral leaders of SBCC, I find such great joy in seeing the ways that God’s people take seriously their empowerment by the Spirit for ministry in the surrounding world. Some feed and befriend the homeless, others courageously and intentionally bring the gospel to their neighbors, and still others dive into challenging issues like mental health, and this is just a small slice of how the people of SBCC are dedicated to living out their own ministerial callings in the places God has placed them.
In his recent book, Faithful Presence, pastor and theologian David Fitch writes, Today, as North American Christendom wanes, with fewer and fewer Christians to be kept happy, with churches shrinking and the injustices of the world pressing on us, it has never been more urgent for the church to be faithfully present in the world around us. In this edition of the Community News, we have assembled some stories from members of our church family who are seeking to be faithfully present and redemptively engaged in the world around them. As you read these stories of “Community in the community,” I am praying that we will all continue to have our hearts stirred, our imaginations fired, and our hands engaged in the good work that God has laid out before us as we seek to live into our calling as Spirit-empowered ministers of the gospel of grace.
By Bryan Cox
When Benji asked me to share a few words about my ministry in the community, I was excited to sit down and spend some time reflecting on how God has been at work. Jenna and I are 8 months into parenting our first, Warren, and 1.5 years into parenting Theo, our 90 lb. golden retriever. Needless to say, I don’t sit still much these days.
When I was in Junior High, I used to pray for God to make me like Billy Graham. The idea of that now makes me laugh, but I’d like to think my heart was in the right place. My mom often reminds me that I spent more time telling my 70s guitar teacher why God loved him instead of learning Blackbird (he hated when I’d ask to learn the latest Third Day song).
I wouldn’t say that talking about Jesus is my “spiritual gift.” It’s been more of an ebb and flow than a constant for me. Sometimes I’m faithful and other times I’m not. While my early memories of sharing my faith are comical in hindsight, it’s been a common theme for me to talk about Jesus with those that I’m doing daily life with.
The last 6 years of my life have been spent downtown at a tech startup in the midst of a pretty secular culture. My co-workers have become my close friends. After all, we spend 2,000 hours together every year! Our conversation commonly spills into life outside of work and they are quick to fill me in on the details of their life. Early on, I didn’t want to project my Jesus-details onto their life and they really didn’t want that either; they still don’t.
So, my style changed and I began asking more questions (sometimes over email, sometimes on our company chat, sometimes in person over lunch, sometimes I asked to read a book so I didn’t have to talk) and most of all, I listened to their answers. Commonly the same questions would come back and we’d dialogue about life and faith, often ending with more questions than we started with and solving very few of them.
Fast forward to present day and all of my co-workers have become Christians. Well, although that would be cool, that’s not my reality. I’ve struggled with that; why aren’t they coming to know and love the Jesus that I do? I’ve taken comfort in some wise words that my call is to be faithful, just to talk about Jesus (“some sow, some reap” Mark 4.). God is responsible for the hard work of salvation (not me! … that was hard to figure out) and I need to be responsive when he nudges me.
My hope is that you would be encouraged by the same principle, to ask questions and most of all, to listen to the answers. Don’t be surprised when the questions come back and God starts doing the talking.
By Emily Ecklund
Operation Grace consists of a small group of faith-based women who have a heart for women working in the sex industry. There are two main leaders who have been doing outreach for over 2 years and then I started about 1 year ago. We have been trained by Harmony Dust, founder of “Treasures,” a faith-based, survivor-led outreach and support group to women in the sex industry and victims of sex trafficking; and Strip Church Network, a partner ministry of XXX Church.
I personally was trained in how to begin and sustain a strip club outreach in Chicago in June of 2015 by Strip Church Network. As part of my training I was also being mentored through a strip club ministry, Divine, in Orange County through Mariners Church, including driving down monthly to attend outreach. After returning to Valencia, CA at the time I began a ministry called Blameless to do outreach in the LA area. When moving back to Santa Barbara I then looked to see if there was an established ministry—that is when I found Operation Grace.
We visit strip clubs and adult stores in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties on the first Friday of every month, bringing a simple gift to each woman, with the hope of bringing one simple message: “You are loved, you are valued, you have purpose.” In each bag is a small card with “Operation Grace” on it and a Google Voice phone number they can text or call at any time for support or to talk with us. We know that the sex industry can be an isolating place and our desire is to be a support these women in any way possible. This ministry leads me to pray and pray more. For the first time that I can remember; this ministry and going on outreach has led me to ask Jesus to return quickly.
If you are interested in hearing more from a survivor perspective or ex-industry woman I highly recommend reading Fallen by Annie Lobert, Dancing for the Devil by Anny Donewald and Scars and Stilettos by Harmony Dust.
By Paul McLean
Soccer has been a passion of mine for forty years. While it is beautiful to play and watch, I love that it creates intersections with people I may not have the privilege to know in other settings. I started coaching when our boys were young and enjoyed getting to know their friends and the parents in our community. Coaching was an easy way for me to show the love of Jesus to the boys and their parents.
This year, I have taken on a new coaching role as the Head Coach at San Marcos High School and I have been able to recruit a few friends to coach that you may recognize; like Caleb Bagdanov, Casey Roberts, Kevin Kwizera and Dave Peterson. Not only do these men love Jesus and our church, they love students and soccer…in that order. It is such a privilege to look out across the soccer field and see 65 high school boys surrounded by men who joyfully model what it is to live for Christ on and off the field. I watch these coaches meet players for breakfast, invite them to Young Life Club and counsel them through personal problems. We challenge the boys to become ferocious competitors and young men of character by leveraging the lessons they learn on the field. Injustice, discipline, grace, friendship, perseverance are all themes that sport brings to the surface and we are fortunate to be right next to them as they experience these life lessons.
High Schools are dark places in many ways. It brings me great joy to see those of us who know Jesus demonstrating our hope in Him amidst that darkness. Soccer is just the vehicle to show our hope in Him and communicate the Gospel of Jesus.
Querencia Eastside Ministry
By Patti Hunter
I met Raquel at Querencia’s Kids Club when she was in sixth grade and her brother Jorge and his friend Giselle were in second. Then, as now, Kids Club met every Thursday after school at Ruben and Holly Gil’s house. Our group of twenty or thirty kids and a dozen leaders played a big group game on the playground across the street from the house, then returned to the Gils’ backyard and gathered on blankets to share pizza and some conversation about the “thorns and roses” (highs and lows) of our day. After pizza, we sang some songs together, maybe practiced a memory verse, and heard a story from the Bible. Through all these activities, we wanted the kids to know that we loved them and to hear the message that God loves them.
Some of the friendships that began at Kids Club grew into mentoring relationships as these students moved to junior high and high school. We took them to Young Life, invited them to dinner in our homes, read the Bible with them, and created the Querencia Youth Leadership Council (QYLC) as a place where they could deepen their understanding of the gospel and start giving back to their community by serving as leaders at Kids Club.
Last spring, after four years as a high school leader in Kids Club, Jorge graduated from Santa Barbara High and started at City College. He’s still coming to Kids Club. Raquel just graduated from Berkeley and started a job at Westmont, hoping to explore a career as a librarian. Giselle, also a Kids Club leader through high school, is a first-year student at Westmont. She’s helping other Westmont students catch the vision for sharing Jesus with kids on the East Side. We plant the seeds at Kids Club, and each week and over the years, we water them. God is certainly the one making those seeds grow, and we get the joy of seeing the flowers bloom and the fruit appear.
Ministry at The Samarkand
By Greg O’Brien
After owning a restaurant here is Santa Barbara for over 30 years. I started my “second career” about five years ago working in a retirement community. I have always been drawn to the wisdom our senior population has to offer but did not know how God was going to use this transition in my life as a ministry opportunity as well as a job.
Each day, as I care for and serve the residents of the community, God blesses me with the chance to show His love to others. As I spend time with these people I try to make it a priority to take the time to really listen. I am so thankful for all I have learned from these interactions. It is a privilege to get to know them whether they are still living an active lifestyle or days away from the end of their lives.
On occasion I have been provided the opportunity to share about my own faith and to be a part of God revealing himself to people for the first time. Once I was asked by a resident who did not know the Lord, “How do I get what you have? I observe you thinking of others, having joy in what you do and many people in this community feel you are a treasure.” I shared my story with her and told her about a book I had been reading and she became a believer. She finished her last two years of life volunteering and going to chapel every Sunday. Praise the Lord.
Through this ministry opportunity, God has taught me how to deepen my compassion for others, how to notice the needs of others no matter how small, and guided me as I pray for the people He puts in my path each day.
Hope School Classroom
By Ralph Smith
When I retired in 2010, I asked God what I should do now that I was retired. Within less than a second, the words “mentor children” entered my head. It was not an audible voice, but it was definitely not something I would have thought of. I had no idea how this would play out but I just let it settle and figured God would lead. Also, my wife Francine and I had begun attending SBCC and in August of 2010 we made the decision to make this our home church.
Shortly before the new school year began, Krista Beard put a notice in the announcement sheet looking for more people to join her in the Goleta Homework club that she had established. This was an after-school program ministering to kids living in Goleta by developing relationships and helping them with their homework. When the announcement was made, my wife jabbed me in the ribs and encouraged me to look into it. I went to an orientation meeting and came away scared to death. I mentioned my fears to Krista and she told me I didn’t have to do it. But I told her I had to at least try and if I was not good at it she could tell me and I would find something else to do. Well, I did go forward with it and I loved it!
Some months later, after the session was over, a woman came into Krista’s backyard looking for help for her son. He was in 2nd grade and we were not working with children that young, so I worked out a day to work with him at his home. Now normally I would not have been there when she arrived because I usually left right after the session was over. However, that day a couple of women who were doing a similar ministry on the west side were there observing what we were doing and I felt lead to stay a bit longer to chat with them. Delaying my departure allowed me to interact with this mother. This was definitely a God thing.
I worked with this boy through the school year and also was able to help his mother who was studying to be a CNA and needed help with the English language. The following school year they asked me if I would be willing to help some of his friends. Of course, I said “yes” and that led me into my relationship with Hope School. When Hope School started an after-school homework club, I was one of the first to volunteer and I have been a part of that outreach to these children for 7 years. This year I reached out to our own Isao Sugano and have been assisting him in his classroom 3 days a week.
Space does not permit me to share the many blessings I have received from following God’s leading to share my life with these children. But the smiles and hugs I have received from so many children have convinced me that I am exactly where God wants me.
The lesson I have learned from this experience is that when God nudges us to give of ourselves to serve our church or others, both in our church and our community, we need to yield to that leading. Even if we don’t have a clear picture of how to accomplish the task, trust that God will provide the direction and skills needed. I truly believe you will be blessed if you do.
Summer Vacation Bible School
By Will Mundell
This past summer Emily Steidl and I had the pleasure of running a Vacation Bible School (VBS) for some of the younger kids at our church. Our VBS was started many years ago by Hannah Hislop and has been passed down ever since she graduated. When I was younger, I remember going to this same VBS and coming home every day singing some silly Jesus song and yelling over my sisters to tell my parents about all the cool high schoolers I had spent the morning with.
To me, VBS was the beginning of my experience with Jesus. It was a shining light in the monotony of weekly Sunday School (no offense Paige, Claire, and Donna; we love you dearly). It was something I looked forward to every summer and it showed me that God was the God of fun and loud and messy; not just the God of the church.
As Freshmen, Emily and I were counselors for VBS, and it was still a major highlight of my summer. Not only has our journey as counselors and leaders for VBS been fun and exciting, but it has also been extremely rewarding for both of us. It has taught us to be patient, to be empathetic, and to listen because kids have a wonderful ability to teach you things when you least expect it. The way your children see Jesus is inspiring and induces hope in all of us involved.
Believe it or not, the blessing of leading VBS does not end with the kids. It is also extremely effective at uniting members of our high school youth group. Because it falls in the weeks following our trip to summer camp, it acts as a way to continue our bonding and results in a more fulfilling and inclusive summer youth group series. To start our summers off with VBS challenges us to consider the fundamentals of our faith, pursue God with childlike wonder and curiosity, and reminds us that God is a God of the fun times.
The growth that we witness in ourselves and in our campers during our week together makes it hard to deny God’s presence and influence at our camp. It has been an enormous blessing to serve your children and be served by them, we thank you for your continued support, and we ask that you keep us in your prayers. God knows we need it when we open a bag of marshmallows around your kids.