There was a buzz in the courtyard that inched its way into the arena as nearly 6,000 men, women and children gathered to celebrate a Los Angeles milestone that was merely a dream 30 years ago.
Friends smiled and hugged as they spotted one another at the Anaheim Convention Center – some even locating faces from whom time and miles had separated. Yet, all connected to the nexus known as the Los Angeles International Church of Christ, and the August event was an anniversary not to be missed.
“It was one of the best nights of my life,” said Reese Neyland, an evangelist in the Lifeway Region. “It was an astonishing demonstration of how God can and did surpass the dreams we had for our group of 50 disciples who planted this church. My heart soared and my eyes were full of tears of joy.”
Neyland and his wife Mary Kay were among the 50 men and women sent from the Boston, San Diego, and San Francisco churches as a mission team to Los Angeles in 1989 to plant the church.
“We were a large church planting and I believe that the Boston Church provided all of our financial support, so we owe them a tremendous debt of gratitude,” said Reese, who was baptized in 1978 at the Crossroads Church of Christ in Gainesville, Florida.
Those early days in the Southern California metropolis were described as adventurous, with services held in hotels on Wilshire, Midtown Hilton, Beverly Hills High School, and the Wiltern Theater, recounted Jerry Sugarman. Jerry is an elder in the church’s North Region who attended the church in 1989 with his wife Erlyn before the pair were baptized in 1990.
“We were leading a church in the Antelope Valley,” said Jerry. “After we moved to LA and were baptized, we became Bible talk leaders and not too long after that we also became Kingdom Kids Coordinators for the whole church.”
The first order of business was acclimating to the vast city and finding gainful employment.
“Very few people had a job or a place to live when they got to Los Angeles so that was a big deal,” said Reese. “Also, we didn’t know how to get around so people were constantly getting lost on the freeways and streets of LA. Too bad we didn’t have GPS on our phones then!”
“The first Sunday service was on June 4, 1989. Probably only about half the team had arrived by then,” he said. “We were soon having midweeks at the same Holiday Inn and then at Fairmont Elementary School in West LA.”
Jerry and his wife traveled 75 miles one way into the city from their North County home to take part in the movement because he said there was “the excitement of evangelizing LA. We were all on fire for the Lord!”
The dream that year was to lead the Los Angeles area to know the real Jesus and to convert hundreds of people, said Reese.
Since the original 50-member mission team, thousands have proclaimed Christ as Lord and Savior over the past three decades. Today, the Los Angeles Church financially and spiritually supports missions in Central America, Mexico, Baltic and Nordic countries, Russia, Ukraine, and the Middle East.
“These contributions remind us of the ongoing mission of Jesus to make disciple of all nations, said Reese. “Most of us are Christians because others sacrificed financially to plant a church in the place where we were baptized.”
“We were involved in preparing the Moscow Church planting and we have visited the church several times, amazed (by) how God has worked,” said Jerry.
As the church looks to its future, it faces new challenges, said Dr. Doug Webber, an elder in the Metro LA Region of the Los Angeles Church. “The new dream for the church I believe needs to be to continue to grow the church through baptisms and restorations in a different way for an aging church…Most denominational churches throughout our communities have not figured (that) out and many are closing their doors. Therefore, there is an opportunity for us to reach those who still are out there seeking to find God’s church.”
Church leaders said this opportunity will require a boldness and vision to see the city differently – and who better to garner ideas from than today’s youth.
“I think the challenge is to be a church that reaches outsiders, not a church for church people,” said Reese. “Los Angeles is very different now than it was when we started 30 years ago. We have to learn how to reach the multitudes of people now who do not believe in God, Jesus, or the Bible. We are going to need our young people to raise up in order to do that.”
As the church celebrated its 30 year history there were lots of memories shared through video presentations, the Neyland’s leading communion and an inspiring dance presentation that represented our victories and challenges throughout those years. The worship was uplifting and empowering as we were led in singing by gifted musicians and singers all backed up by a high energy choir. The Word of God was preached powerfully by Ruben DeAnda, Cesar Lopez and Ameer Burton. We closed out the service with 6000 people saying thank you to the Boston Church of Christ via video for their sacrifice and support. The fellowship was rich as we enjoyed the amazing relationships that we have built over the years. We believe that God will perform even greater miracles in the next 30 years and beyond.