It was good to catch up with my friend Sam after being out of touch for a few years. His story of those years is an incredible example of what I recently posted in Out of the Miry Bog.
Sam pastors The Harbor, a small church in Ventura, CA. He had done quite well for himself as an executive in high-tech firms, but he set that aside to become a bi-vocational pastor supporting himself with some consulting work. For a number of years, The Harbor had an amazing ministry to homeless people that defied the capabilities expected of a small church.
But a shift came in Ventura city government’s stance on homelessness. Several homeless ministries were pushed out of business, causing demand for The Harbor’s services to swell. The City decided that The Harbor’s activities were not “religious activities” and violated their conditional use permit. As the legal battles continue through the court system (completely draining the church and Sam of all financial resources), today the City only allows The Harbor to be open on Wednesdays and Sundays for services.
That’s what I call a miry bog. But the story doesn’t end there.
As Sam wrestled with whether God wanted him to return to the business world full-time to meet his family’s needs, God opened a new door. When feeding the homeless became an illegal activity for The Harbor, the infrastructure they had built to collect food continued to function. Food was piling up at the church.
A Mexican man and his wife started attending The Harbor. One day, he mentioned that his sister lived in a trailer park in Oxnard where a neighbor had recently died of starvation. Would it be possible to take this food to the trailer park? So they loaded up a trailer with no clue of what God had in mind.
That trailer park is one of hundreds of similar sites occupied by migrant farm workers. They’re way off the beaten track where most people don’t even know they exist. Residents rarely leave the park (except to work) out of fear of deportation. Through their Embrace Ministries, The Harbor is now feeding and bringing church to three parks like this with a vision to expand to 300 sites.
Word is spreading among the owners of these trailer parks that when Sam’s ministry comes in, crime goes down and rent starts being paid on time. And so far 125 people have professed faith in Christ since this ministry started.
So instead of finding a paying job, Sam and his wife Toni are now all-in pastoring at the Harbor and planting mobile churches in migrant farm worker camps. God has set their feet on solid rock and is making their steps secure. He’s put a song in their mouth and many are hearing of it and putting their trust in the Lord. They’re not done with the miry bog, but they’ve found the rock to stand on in the midst of it.