“Now to Him is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power at work within us…” Ephesians 3:20
March 2020 I was the weekend custodian at Clovis Hills church. I worked full-time during the week welding heavy equipment for Caterpillar. My family was thriving. I was comfortable. Life was good. But it was March 2020…. I don’t know anyone whose life was good by the end of March 2020.
Covid destroyed my comfort and propelled me into what God had in store for me:
So Covid shuts the world down and churches everywhere are reeling. Nobody really knows what to do: stay open, close, mandatory masks, none? No matter what, somebody will be mad. Not a great time to be cutting teeth in ministry. But there I was, cutting my teeth in ministry. Being on staff as the janitor but working a path towards leadership, I had started a number of ministries at Clovis Hills. I was handing out free Narcan (life-saving opiate overdose spray for an overdosing person) and putting on large training events for churches and nonprofits to launch their own Narcan ministries in response to the fentanyl epidemic. I had started a Jesus-centered recovery podcast, as well as leading the parking team on Sundays.
Then it all came grinding to a halt in March 2020. When our church went completely online, there was really no need for a janitor anymore (no people, nothing to clean), so I left our staff. It was rough for me, even though I didn’t get “fired.” I actually volunteered to leave to help out the church. For a few weeks, I was disoriented and honestly a little bit lost… “but God,” … as always, when one chapter closes, a better one starts. Clovis Hills rehired me as the online campus pastor. I was in charge of building our online campus. Since this was relatively new (to us anyway), we were basically building the plane in the air. I’m not going to lie; this was no easy task. Being only online meant I was the campus pastor for our entire church, when I was a janitor just a few short weeks ago. But we got through it the best we could, as I’m sure every church did through this time.
Now, here’s where things get interesting.
In early 2021 my Pastor, Shawn Beaty, along with Pastor Scott Hinman, had a wild idea. There was a small church building sitting empty in west Fresno. The neighborhood this church sits in has the highest poverty rate in our city. Located one block away from the rescue mission (think the center of our homeless population), this facility has 3 major gang territories that all intersect literally where the church sits. To say the block was sketchy is an understatement. This was the Wild West of Fresno. Where other people see loss, brokenness, and despair, these guys saw an opportunity to advance the kingdom of God. Shawn went to our association and asked if he could sponsor a church plant in that building (which they graciously accepted).
In January of 2022, we planted our church with a core team of 12 people, a guitar, and the idea that the light of God can overcome even the darkest place through a group committed to love and service.
“The light shines in the darkness and darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1)
So, we started doing church, but we really are a Southern Baptist local missions center. Sunday church is the smallest part of what we do. Our motto is “pray, hustle, serve.” We intentionally built a culture of “you don’t come to church; you are the church – so GO and BE the Church.”
When we moved into the neighborhood, we did not want to bring our ideas and impose them, so we went to the neighbors, police, and school to ask how we can serve. We quickly learned that everyone was concerned about the kids. With the gang presence, kids were a top priority for everyone who lived in our new area. The police told us they make most of their juvenile arrests from 3-6pm. A lot of single-parent households and moms work until dinner, and there’s nothing for kids after school. When Lincoln elementary (who we quickly adopted and has been a source of most of our ministry) told us their after-school program was full, with 200 kids on a waiting list, the first thing we started was an after-school program. While developing this, we learned a startling fact: California builds prisons based on third grade reading scores. If a third grader is not reading at grade level, they assume that kid will drop out, join a gang, and go to prison. They project future prison beds based on today’s reading scores. Our church decided to take 1st-3rd graders who are falling behind their grade level into our program.
We pick students up from school every day and partner them with retired teachers and tutors to help get them back to grade level; all while keeping them somewhere safe until mom gets home from work. This program is honestly my favorite thing we do. Yes, our church is definitely a place for people who have come out of prison and drug addiction (an open acceptance core value, plus my own experience in life creates a culture perfect for this type of ministry), but loving a kid into avoiding the life mistakes I made is way better than helping someone put the pieces back together.
Additionally, we host an event called “Kicks for Kids,” where we give away 2,000 brand new pairs of shoes to kids for back to school. Our partnership with Lincoln elementary has us collecting brand new jackets for every student as fall hits, as well as a Christmas present that is hand delivered by Santa to every student. As a thank you for our partnership, the school allows us to share the gospel in each classroom.
I also started a non-profit called “Convicts for Christ,” plugging people coming out of the prison/drug lifestyle into accountability and discipleship, not to mention the homeless ministry, recovery, and a furniture ministry we have.
Please do not hear this as a list of my accomplishments, because it is not. This is a list of things God has accomplished using my life experiences. It is mind-blowing that any of this happened, because I am a high school dropout who earned a GED in Folsom State Prison. How does a drug addict, prison gang member, all-around low life, good for nothing go from almost committing suicide to being a person who matters and is making a difference in the community?
“But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things- and the things that are not to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.” (1 Corinthians 1)
You see, I am not smart enough or talented enough to accomplish anything that has been done at The Hills Tulare Street. The only explanation is God. So, every day we suit up and show up and believe that God can do ANYTHING. We pray, we hustle, and we serve. And God continues to show up and blow us away with His mighty power at work.