Tag Archives: discipleship

What Does the Kingdom of God look like (in real life)? Part 5: It Starts Small

2015 spring retreat

our church spring retreat in 2015

Part 5 of 7 in an ongoing series to attempt to answer the question, from my own experience and witness, “What does the Kingdom of God look like (in real life)?.”    

5 (of 7). It Starts Small

Like a mustard seed, the kingdom of God starts small but becomes great.  

I’ve had the privilege to join in on the Kingdom that is unfolding through the story of our church.  

It all started in late 2004, or more likely before that in a lot of other unseen ways, when Chris and his wife Maggie decided to move into an apartment in the working class neighborhood of Lincoln Heights.  God had given them a dream to see a thriving church in LA’s urban Eastside for and made-up of the working class community.  

Those early years were really rough as it was difficult to build trust with neighbors who were suspicious of these outsiders. Many small bible studies started and folded.  Chris was physically assaulted and struggled with depression.  Other outsiders from the community joined them as a team for periods at a time, praying with them for the community and spending time with people of the community.  

In the summer of 2006 a game of catch football started in the back alley of Chris’ apartment complex and it soon gave them and their team connection to a group of youth.  A youth group began with the leadership of another team member that came in, Ryan.  The vision for a community non-profit, In the City, was also born around this time, which is currently directed by an original team member, Jenny, who has been here the longest along with Chris and Maggie.  In the beginning of 2007 Chris was released by his supporting church to be full-time in the neighborhood for a church plant in the neighborhood.  The church started by meeting in the apartment carport with about 20 people.  

In the fall of 2007, Chris went to a Lincoln High School football game and encountered a woman from the community who was serving the hungry players dinner from her own paycheck.  This woman turned out to be Lucy, a key person of peace of the neighborhood.  She soon received Jesus and immediately started reaching out to the people in her life.  The church grew to nearly 40 people.  In the fall of 2009 two JV football players from Lincoln High, across the street from the apartment complex, joined the youth group and then invited two more friends.  Together these high schoolers grew in Jesus and in leadership, bringing vital energy to the youth group.  By the beginning of 2010 this church had to begin renting space from a local elementary school.  

In the fall of 2010 Chris met Isabel and Gus.  Isabel had been crying out for someone to explain the bible to her.  Gus wanted nothing to do with the church.  But nevertheless they eventually went and were transformed and grew into sobriety from substance abuse.  They reached out to their network of friends about the Kingdom of God.  By 2011 the church had grown to nearly 70 people and moved to meeting at a local middle school.  

In 2013, Chris’ family returned from a year long sabbatical in which they experienced a breakthrough in healing ministry in Mexico.  Healings started to break forth in greater ways in the church.  By the end of 2013 the church moved into a new building that is on the main thoroughfare of the community on Broadway.  

In 2014 an East LA church plant was commissioned out from our church and the elder team of our church had its first locally raised leadership.  Now in 2017, our church has more local leaders now than “relocator” leaders.  And these local leaders are now discipling others.  The average Sunday attendance is 80 people and at least 120 are weekly connected to the life of the church. We are more connected to community organizing in the neighborhood than ever before, weighing in on affordable housing and community peace coalitions.  There are so many more unnamed people and untold stories that have made up this larger story.  

Sometimes the works of the Kingdom of God seem small, fruitless, hard, long, and not worth all the pain.  But without those small and seemingly insignificant encounters, decisions, and sacrifices we would not be where we are now.  We know God is far from finished with the dreams He has for this community and its impact well beyond its borders.  

In the midst of the labor, let us bear in mind that the Kingdom of God may start small but it always becomes greater.  


to my dear asian american brothers and sisters (an open letter)

i am writing to you as a fellow asian american.  i am writing to you as a fellow believer in Jesus through whom i also believe we share a special bond and understanding.  

i’ve been meaning to write this letter for some time.  i know it is not common in our custom to address issues head on but i am compelled by the model of our prophets and our master, Jesus, to call things out in our community, in us, in me before we find it is too late.  i believe we as a people have developed a blind spot in our faith: we are ignoring Jesus in ignoring the least of these.  

yes, i know i am speaking in generalizations.  there are certainly exceptions.  there are those fellow asian american brothers and sisters who are suffering in poverty and isolation as perpetual foreigners in america.  there are those of our asian american brothers and sisters who are laying down their lives to love the least, the last, the lost.  however, please, let us not be so quick to make ourselves (myself included) the exception.  let us take the time to fully consider the ramifications that we as a race in america are the most educated and most wealthy of all.  and from the ones much has been given much will be required.

why, am i saying that we are ignoring Jesus? i’ve pretty much grown up in the asian american church and have been cared for so well by my family in Christ.  however, in the past four years through my study of scripture, I have become convinced, that loving those in need is ESSENTIAL to being a follower of Jesus and is a fruit of true salvation.  by those in need i don’t simply mean those within our family, friends, and race (who even non-believers know to love) who may periodically be in such a place but rather those beyond our family, friends, and race (the people we don’t consider our “neighbors”) who may persistently be in such a place.  sadly, this kind of love has not been the tenor of what i was taught from the pulpit or modeled in the lives of my asian american brothers and sisters in the fellowships that i’ve been a part of.  

what does loving those in need, those that are different from us, have to do with ignoring Jesus? there is a terrifying passage found in matthew 25:31-46 that captures much of what i am addressing.  Jesus says that we will be in for a rude awakening when we see Him on that day to discover that in ignoring the hungry, the thirsty, the foreigner, the naked, the sick, and the prisoner we have ignored Jesus.  He says “Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.”  so closely does Jesus identify with the least in society that to disregard them is tantamount to insulting Jesus himself.  

we, as asian americans, work so hard to not find ourselves in such situations of need (which is a great thing) that we get as far away as we can from those who still find themselves in such situations of need (which is NOT the mission of Jesus).  i believe we as asian american believers have been so careful not to commit sins of commission (doing bad) that we have fallen into the sins of omission (neglecting good).  Unfortunately, the consequence for such neglect is not just a slap in the face to Jesus, it is eternal damnation!  again, i must clarify that i don’t believe Jesus is saying we must do good works to be saved but rather that we are saved to do good works.  good works is not the root of our salvation but it is the fruit of our salvation.  if we claim to know Jesus, we must know the heart of Jesus.  

i am saying this just as much to myself as i share this with you.  

i am grieved.  

yet, i am hopeful.  i am amazed by the way our people care for our own families.  the sacrifices our parents make to see we are provided for.  i am a recipient of such love and hope to love my children in such a manner. I believe God has put that into our culture.  

but what if we obeyed Jesus and loved our neighbors in need like our own families?  what if we loved our neighbor’s children as we did our own?

then the kingdom of God has come upon us.  

let us not ignore the cries of the least of these.  let us not ignore Jesus.

how lives are transformed

it’s been two weeks since i’ve gotten back from GUTS (global urban training school) in a squatter community in the philippines.  there is so much i witnessed and experienced there is not enough time to share it all.  if you are interested in hearing more please feel free to get in touch with me and i’d love to share with you.

if i were to pick the main thing that stuck out to me of how i saw God moving in the slum community in the philippines, it was the rapid leadership development that is happening there.  since this was my second time in the community i had the privilege of getting to witness the transformation God was able to do in the 2 years since i was last there.

2 years ago one of the young men of the youth group in the community had just come to Jesus through his friend, who was a notorious gangster in the neighborhood who himself had recently come to Jesus.  this young man was known for always joking around and would come only sporadically to bible studies.  now, this young man is one of the key leaders in the church.  he leads a weekly men’s bible study and he is the one who led me through the community on a prayer walk.

2 years ago one of the young ladies of the youth group was in high school and, like many her age, was caught up in her looks and getting attention from boys.  she barely went to class.  her mom basically told her she should find a guy and have a baby as there was no point in her graduating high school, since they wouldn’t be able to pay for college anyway.  now, she leads the church’s prayer meetings.  she was one of the key people in a number of panel discussions with our team of missionaries.  she graduated from high school and is now in her first year of college.

what accounts for this rapid transformation?  what made the difference for these young people?      

it’s not because they were rich.  it’s not because their families were healthy.  it’s not because they were smart in school.  as i got to know them i saw one key theme that has set them apart:  they were discipled in the way of Jesus.  both this young man and young lady have someone that invests into their lives in a focused way.  now this is not just a once a week formal meeting of passing down knowledge, which did happen.  this was a Christ-centered person who intentionally shared their life in dozens of informal interactions throughout the week: this meant living in the community of the young person, checking in briefly on the basketball court or at the local shop, opening up one’s home, going on little trips together, asking for help with chores, sharing food, sharing stories, sharing laughs, sharing tears, listening to heartache, and praying for the person in need.   this is where trust was built and hearts began to change.

God is the same God in the philippines as he is in our community.   there are just as many challenges if not more in the philippines.  God has so much more for us than we have imagined for ourselves (Eph 2:10).   how can we spend more time with people who inspire and sharpen us?  how can we share our lives more with people who want more out of life?

botocan kids
some young local leaders in the community showing the way to some of our missionary kids.

Like a seed planted in the ground…

I wasn’t certain if or when the answer would come.  Now, I’m starting to see some light break through.   The past couple summer months of reaching out to youth in the neighborhood has been tough.  There’s a battle going on for the souls of the young people of our community and it felt like we were losing ground.

But God is faithful.  One of the youth that had been drawing back from not only me but even opening up to anyone about his life, has slowly been letting people in.  After some group prayer of the youth ministers near the beginning of the summer, he spoke with his father.  Midsummer we started small talking again.  This past month he’s been sharing a little with another youth leader and about a week ago he started contributing again to small group at church.  It’s slow going but I have been encouraged.  Gosh, some people pray for years without seeing fruit and I was getting discouraged from just a couple months…I’m such weak sauce.

This comes around the time I have been getting much helpful perspective from others.  First and foremost has been God’s word to me from Galatians 6:9 in which he reminded me – “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”  This horticultural analogy has been a breath of fresh air.  Like planting a seed, I am brought back to the truth that I cannot control the time for when a seed will break ground and bear fruit.  No matter how much I desire it to show itself…it will not come forth with me just desiring it.  So it is when you pour out your life and heart into another.   All I can do is to keep on doing what I know is good.

Our caring shepherd over the youth ministry also reminded me that there are seasons of life for our young people…seasons that seem to change so drastically.  For teenagers in general any given circumstance can feel like the end of the world (hehe I remember it felt like that for me in those times).  These relatively volatile responses seem exacerbated with inner city youth, since much of the people and environments they are living around are already unstable as it is.   There are seasons in which a young person seems to turn away from life and there are seasons when they come back to life…I’ve seen it this summer.  My role is to let them know that the door is always open when they’re ready…and that I will keep praying for them regardless.

Seasons change, His faithfulness does not.

**no joke about 30min after writing this post  I was driving out to youth group, praying for a couple guys I hadn’t seen in a while, and as I was stopped at a red light I saw two of them walking across the street directly in front of me.  I drove back to where they were and caught up with them.  They ended up coming out to youth group tonight and they were encouraged.  I am so encouraged.  Thank you God, for reminding me it’s worth it to persevere in prayer…even when I didn’t see anything happening.

mentoring anew

Through working with the youth at Epicentre community church, I’ve had the privilege of mentoring two young men, Sergio and Aaron.

I met Sergio on his first visit to youth meeting after his football practice.  He was a big gentle giant of a freshman who was very quiet.  Through the love of the church community he has really opened up and he is such an earnest learner, so tender and open to the Lord’s voice in His life.

Sergio and I at church

Aaron is a quiet punk rocker with a generous heart and is diligent with his passions.  He came to church through his recently saved parents and he too has transformed so much.

Aaron rocking out

I started meeting up with them early in the morning to teach them how to have face time with the Lord…and they have responded to the challenge so well.  They’ve been excited to learn how to meet with the Lord.  After coming up against so many walls in my disciple-making experiences, I see God’s gracious redemptive work as I am reaping the benefit of witnessing the growth of these young men, for whom I did no sowing work.   Sergio is so willing to obey what God speaks to him, even standing up in class for his faith.  Aaron is so enthused that he shares what he learns with others, even spurring on his own parents.  We pray together and witness answers to prayer together.

Although full time ministry with the church is not yet, God has opened a door for me to work part-time with, IntheCity, the non-profit liason between the church, the school, and the larger community.  IntheCity currently focuses on reaching out to the youth through sports teams at the local high school, integrating team-building, academic assistance, and parent outreach.  It’s through these opportunities that relationships have been built with young people like Sergio and Aaron, growing them closer to our Heavenly Father.

Please join me in praying that they grow into spiritual leaders in their community and where ever the Lord takes them!  I’m so excited for what God is doing here in Lincoln Heights and beyond!!  If you are interested in supporting me and the work happening in East Los Angeles, leave me a message and I will get in contact with you!!!