Feature

Power in the House

By and

When most people hear the word “Watts,” they usually think of a hymn writer or a bulb lighter. But Watts, our south Los Angeles inner-city community, was etched in American history by the infamous riots of 1965 and the L.A. riots of 1992. During a total of nine days of violence, nearly 100 people were killed, 3,400 injured and 21,000 arrested. More than 180,000 local, state and national law enforcement troops were dispatched; nearly 11,000 buildings were burned—all within or just outside this one-square-mile neighborhood.

If we could use one word to describe what led to the collapse of this community it would be alienation —racial, cultural, social, familial and spiritual. And Watts has not yet recovered. Today, the community is characterized by depression, prostitution, drug trafficking, gang activity, broken homes, fatherlessness and other deeply rooted societal problems. The violent crime index places Watts at approximately 300% higher than the L.A. county average—which already far exceeds the national average. With little evangelical presence, the Watts mission field was in desperate need of a church. And God had already chosen a family to plant one— our family.

Go

We and our four children, Joshua, Josiah, Faith and Grace, moved to inner-city Los Angeles from a suburban neighborhood in Tucson, Arizona, where we had pastored a newly planted community church. Now we live right across from the Imperial Courts government housing projects in the heart of Watts, where we lead the Powerhouse Church, an Alliance congregation planted in 2005.

We first heard the call to go to Watts while attending an inner-city church-planting conference in 2003. Even though it made little sense for our blond-haired, blue-eyed family to establish a ministry in this 99 percent non-Anglo community, we knew we needed to plant a church here. God had already given us a deep love for this community, and planting a church would be the best way to introduce the hope and power that only Christ can offer to heal its festering wounds.

After three years, we have fully embraced the many blessings of inner-city life. We’ve learned new languages, tasted new foods, adopted new customs, made new friends of many different ethnicities and learned to see our world through many different lenses. Living in the same area where we planted the church has enabled us to experience a deeper sense of empathy and compassion for the daily struggles of city living. The helicopters and sirens keep everyone in the community awake at night, including our children. We hear the same gunshots our neighbors do. When the police search door to door for a suspect, our property is not exempt. When the street is blockaded by law enforcement, we cannot return to our home either. This incarnational living has earned us a platform to speak of God’s love to those around us. Because we face many of the same inner city adversities, we can freely and boldly share the hope we all have in Christ.

Demetrius

Demetrius attended a Powerhouse youth camp a few years ago. He was nearly sent home from the camp because of his outbursts of anger and misbehavior. At the time, he was in a west-side gang. About nine months ago, in agreement with his auntie, we had to give Demetrius a little time off from our youth group because of his language and anger issues. But, praise God, about six months ago, after a renewal of the commitment he made during his first trip to camp, Demetrius completely gave his life over to Christ and made a dramatic turnaround. He now helps lead worship, is involved in Gospel rap, and recently won “The Oaks of Righteousness” award at our senior high camp.

Veronica

Veronica first came to Powerhouse when she received a flyer on her gate about a new church starting in Watts. She was a believer but was looking for a church that was close enough to walk to and offered Bible classes for her four children. She attends church faithfully and is now the receptionist for our dental and health clinics, where she shares Christ with the patients. She invites friends and neighbors to church and has a heart for the women in our community to come to Christ. She says she enjoys Powerhouse because it is loving and friendly. She says the church has helped her, “in the way I think about people.” Veronica, who is Hispanic, explains, “I was raised in a place where there weren’t any black people, and I didn’t think very good things of them. But now, through Powerhouse. I’ve met them and they are good people. Now we’re all part of the same family.”

Willie

Willie’s drug use began at a young age as an escape from the harsh realities of life in one of the worst neighborhoods in the United States. As an adult, he sold drugs to pay his rent and support his habit.

After hanging out at Powerhouse for a few weeks, Willie started getting glimpses of the transforming power of Christ in the lives of others and, eventually, experienced it first-hand. He was baptized about a year ago and, with God’s help, has made radical changes in his life. Willie’s drug-dealing days are behind him. He is in church every week, attends the men’s Bible study and helps to cook on Sundays.

The difference the gospel has made in these three lives is a microcosm of the impact a church can make in its community. We are amazed at the doors God continues to open for Powerhouse. Today, our newly forming congregation averages about 100 people each Sunday morning. We’ve witnessed numerous baptisms and many changed lives. We have been blessed to serve this community by offering dental and health clinics, food distributions, literacy programs, ESL classes, an art institute, children’s Bible clubs, field trips, camps, concerts, car washes, youth ministries, adult Bible studies, mentoring—and the list keeps growing.

Watts was once the scariest and unlikeliest place in the world for us to think about raising our family. But now, despite the gunshots, helicopters and sirens, there is no place we would rather be. When God calls His people to seemingly insurmountable tasks, He equips us for every task in all circumstances. “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge if Him who called us by His own glory and goodness” (2 Peter: 1:3, emphasis added). And there’s power in the House.

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