Interview with Michael Mata: A Holistic View of The Church’s Mission
It is easy to see the problems that persist throughout LA, much like every other urban center in the U.S. What is lesser-known, however, are the key players working day in and day out to renew the city and address those problems head-on. Michael Mata, a Community Impact Strategist, is one such player who offers unique insights into the homelessness problem in LA.
Mata has been involved in urban planning, policy, and community development movements throughout LA for several decades and had a major hand in the restoration of Koreatown in the days following the LA riots. These days Mata is still deeply committed to community transformation, Los Angeles First Church of the Nazarene being his home base. The denomination found its start at this same church in 1895, out of a concern for the well-being of those on the margins of society. And in keeping with his heritage, Mata’s life work has been about the very same.
Fresh out of seminary, Mata began working with youth, but he would soon find his theological education hadn’t prepared him fully for what he would experience in Central LA.
“Young people didn’t see any value in the church,” Mata said. “We began to develop trusting relationships [with the youth in the neighborhood], engaging them and, I would say, making God real for them.”
Mata mentioned that while those youth were genuinely thankful for being introduced to a saving faith in Jesus, they also needed to address daily concerns like how to get jobs and keep them, how to overcome some of their backgrounds, and what to do about those with records.
“I didn’t have the prescription on my glasses to see that God was interested in their whole being, not just their soul,” said Mata.
He began to realize that he needed to think more broadly about what the mission of the Church should be.
“The majority of the world now lives in urban centers,” said Mata. However, there’s no Christian organization or educational institution that actually prepares people in developing inclusive, life-giving urban environments, and that affects us all.”
He sought to gain an interdisciplinary approach to problem-solving, so he accepted an invitation to study urban planning at Berkeley.
Because of Mata’s expertise and hands-on experience in community development, Mata has been invited to participate in several interfaith task forces. Currently, he serves on the Los Angeles Mayor’s Interfaith Collective, which focuses largely on jobs, homelessness, and immigration.