Feature

Risky Business

Crossing the line in Watts

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Crossing neighborhood boundaries in Watts is risky business. In the Los Angeles suburb notorious for the 1965 riots that left 34 dead and thousands injured, simmering hostilities need little excuse to explode. A decades-long feud among gangs from the city’s four government housing projects has left a generation afraid to venture outdoors, where invisible boundaries mark rival territories. But during the past few years, The Alliance is on the front lines of a concerted effort by community agencies and law enforcement to revoke the area’s violent legacy.

Alliance church planters Todd and Jennifer Grant are working to eliminate the culture of fear as they shine Jesus’ light into Watts. For the Grants, life in Watts is an exciting adventure in faith. Five years ago, the couple moved to a home near Imperial Courts, one of the embattled housing projects. In partnership with World Impact, a mission organization dedicated to planting churches among America’s urban poor, the Grants established Powerhouse, a church that offers a variety of services to the community.

“It’s been amazing,” says Jennifer. “We started with just a Bible study, and now we are busy with outreaches almost every day.”

Believing that the next generation is the key to lasting peace in the community, Powerhouse offers many youth activities in Imperial Courts, including a weekly discipleship group Jennifer leads for adolescent girls. “It’s a challenge for them,” she says. About 25–30 girls attend, and each is linked with a mentor, a woman with whom she can connect at least once a week beyond the discipleship meeting.

Most of the girls are being raised by a single parent, grandparent or other caregiver and have not encountered a husband and wife relationship. “They ask me about my boyfriend, Todd,” Jennifer laughs, “and I have to remind them that he’s my husband.”

Powerhouse’s impact on the youth has been noticed by long-time residents of the community. “This is crazy,” one woman told Jennifer. “I can tell a difference since Powerhouse came to Imperial Courts. The kids who go to Sunday school and Bible clubs aren’t cussing and fighting like they used to. There’s a difference on the playgrounds, too.”

An Unexpected Welcome

Recently, Powerhouse took the first step to remove barriers between the housing projects. “The gangs associated with each of these projects have been at odds for years,” says Todd. “A lot of blood has been spilled on the streets of Watts because of these deeply rooted rivalries.”

The Powerhouse vision is to plant a church adjacent to each of the housing projects. Instead of trying to bring people from other neighborhoods into Imperial Courts, Powerhouse introduced the church into another housing village, Nickerson Gardens. An outreach event in the village’s common area included bounce houses, face painting, games and refreshments.

The Powerhouse team was assisted by Sam Boone, director for South Pacific District youth ministries, and students from the district’s churches, as well as Pastor Jesse Taylor and his youth group from Crossroads Bible Church in Los Alamos, New Mexico.

“Nickerson Gardens is known as a neighborhood much rougher than Imperial Courts,” Sam observes. “Yet our students were well-received as they interacted with a ton of kids and their parents. The men, especially, were excited about the prospect of a church on Nickerson grounds, eager for a positive influence for their children.”

“We put together an incredible event in Nickerson, telling the people of our desire to establish a church there,” says Todd. “The response was more than amazing; people were asking when we are going to start. I’ve never seen people more ripe for the harvest.”

Since then, Todd and Powerhouse members from Imperial Courts have made several trips into Nickerson Gardens, prayer walking around the neighborhood and praying with residents, who are eager to attend the first service.

“Believers from Imperial Courts have crossed the line,” says Jennifer. “A foundation is being established.” As soon as logistical details of technical equipment are cleared, a worship service will be held.

“God is clearly calling us to establish another Powerhouse site there,” says Todd. “It is our hope and prayer that through these churches, we will bring people into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ and then bring them together in worship. It is only His love working in hearts that will help people to forgive each other and come together as brothers and sisters in Christ—united as one in Him!”

Paying It Forward

“I was addicted to meth. I lived on the streets, sleeping in fields or empty garages,” says Virginia Moss, a member of the Powerhouse Church. “I got my food and drugs by panhandling.”

A weekly medical outreach at the church provides treatment and referrals, and a mobile unit from the Simi Valley Pregnancy Care Center (PCC) offers free pregnancy testing and ultrasounds—opening doors to share God’s plan of salvation with clients. The medical professionals are volunteers from the Los Angeles Mission, which recently celebrated 75 years of community service to the urban poor.

Virginia and her husband, Keith, were walking by the medical clinic one day and decided to go in because Keith has diabetes. “At the time, we were living in a motel, with no jobs, and no real future,” says Virginia. “My family would not associate with me because of my addiction and lifestyle. We met Pastor Todd, and he invited us to church. I could see that Todd and Jennifer had something we wanted—happiness and joy. They accepted us as we were and gave us the opportunity to change, keeping us busy around the church.”

Virginia and Keith dedicated their lives to Jesus, but when they talked to Pastor Todd about baptism, “he challenged us,” recalls Virginia. “We were living together but weren’t married.” Nine days later, Todd united the couple in marriage at the church’s first wedding ceremony.

Today, Virginia and Keith play major roles in the World Impact and Powerhouse ministry, not only giving back but also sharing the hope of Jesus with the people they encounter. Virginia has been drug-free for more than three years. “And I have my whole family back,” she says. “When you have Jesus and the love and support of people who genuinely care, you can do it.”

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