A new work of God in San Diego's East Village

Living Water Church of the Nazarene Update #8, 7.21.16

Thank you for your continued support of Living Water Church of the Nazarene!

It feels like the work of planting this church has reached a new stage.  Having gotten through the initial challenge of organizing services, we are faced with the tough work of real ministry in a difficult location.  In a few short months, we have had plenty of moments of deep heartbreak.

Most recently, on Sunday evening, one of our most consistent parishioners left our service and walked a block down to the park where we used to meet.  There he found two young women getting into a fight.  He tried to step in to break it up when a local gang of about twenty young people brutally attacked him, reportedly punching and kicking him on the ground for several minutes while a park full of people watched.  This gang then wandered up the block where they encountered another gang of young people wandering from the other direction, and a brawl broke out in the street in front of our building.  We stood with dozens of peaceful folks in front of their tents on the sidewalk, watching as these two gangs fought before slowly parting ways with threats to come back with weapons and “mow down the whole block.”  The police never came.  I don’t know if anybody ever called them.  The folks sleeping on the sidewalk only stand to lose in a situation like this, at risk of being blamed and displaced by the police despite being helpless onlookers.  As we tended to our friend, the fire department showed up to treat a woman a block away who had been badly beaten by one of the gangs.  We hadn’t even noticed her in all of the chaos.

We’ve seen the stress level rise on the streets downtown as a serial killer roamed free for several weeks assaulting people in their sleep, sometimes setting them on fire.  He murdered three of his victims and put others in the hospital.  Folks sleeping on the streets tried to stay together to keep an eye on one another, but almost daily “sweeps” by the police representing the city’s attempt to force the homeless out of Downtown San Diego in preparation for its busiest tourist month ever (including the MLB All-Star Game and Comic-Con) left people scattered, afraid, stressed, and somehow even more home-less than before.  To make matters worse, the city reportedly threatened to ticket or arrest volunteers providing meals for the homeless during the month of July.

We’ve heard heartbreaking stories from both regular church attendees and visitors.  We met a woman with children fleeing domestic violence, sleeping on the street because her 16-year-old daughter was being targeted by older men at a local shelter (registered sex-offenders) who were sneaking her alcohol.  We have journeyed with an older woman with developmental disabilities, sleeping on the sidewalk every night for months as she waits her turn for local services, staying away from shelters and hotels because some services move faster for people on the street.  We have had several people wander into worship services or small groups, ask if they are welcome among us despite their addiction, say they don’t feel right staying “right now” because they are too “loaded”, and promise to come back when they are sober (so far none of them have).  Before our Sunday service, one of our somewhat-regular visitors told me that “yesterday” he found $20 on his chest when he woke up, saw it as a gift from God that was absolutely not to be used on drugs, ultimately couldn’t resist heading down to Mexico to buy drugs, met up with a friend, and used all he could get his hands on for the night.  He told me this story after spending 10 minutes throwing up in our bathroom.

Thank God, in the midst of these difficulties, we’ve seen the Spirit working.  One man who, a couple of months ago, drunkenly wandered into our service at the park, interrupted my sermon, then took of his shirt and did pushups behind me for the remainder of the service (without me knowing it), has since become one of our most consistent and passionate church attenders.  He still struggles with alcohol, but he comes sober (usually), brings friends, participates in our services and small groups, and is growing in discipleship.  We’ve seen folks on our church plant team step into new and challenging roles.  Vincent, a 20-year-old who grew up at our mother church, had never led worship before joining our plant team.  He and his ukulele lead us almost every other week now, and he does a great job.  Mark, one of our church plant team members who lives in a local shelter, has stepped into leading a small group, which is a new challenge for him.

We now have three weekly small groups that are well-attended.  During this 6-week series, we are using the Psalms as a training ground for prayer, learning the depth and breadth of the prayers that are part of our holy scriptures.  We’ve challenged our small group participants to pray at least a Psalm a day for the six weeks of our study.

We are excited that a local musician and homeless advocate has approached us about partnering to start a choir for those experiencing homelessness.  She is hoping to find a piano to donate to the church, and in two weeks, she and a partner will begin organizing both an adult and children’s choir at our facility on Monday afternoons.

The needs of the community in East Village are overwhelming, but we are learning to trust God as the ultimate source of hope and life, and we are confident that the God who called us to establish a church in East Village will be faithful to maintain it.  We are witnessing a light shining in the darkness, and we are seeing that the darkness cannot overcome it.

Please continue to support the work that we are doing.  As we expected, almost all of the folks who have joined us so far have little to no financial resources, and many of them struggle with addiction and/or behavioral health issues.  While we see God beginning to move in people’s lives, we are finding more needs than we can fill.  We need prayer support.  We need financial support.  Perhaps more than anything, we need workers to join us in discipleship and ministry.  We believe that God is moving in our midst in East Village – please consider being a part of that movement somehow!

Grace and Peace,

Pastor Chris

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