Four years ago, I planted RefugeLA in the heart of my hood, North Hollywood. I am a Los Angeles thoroughbred, but not the Los Angeles portrayed in the tabloids.
To understand my Los Angeles, it would do you better to watch Boys in the Hood. Gangster rap was the soundtrack of my childhood. In my city, even the skateboarders were thugs. Joining a gang is the natural progression of troubled youth in Los Angeles.
So at the age of 14, I got jumped in.
Over the next five years, things got progressively worse. I spent three years incarcerated, was stabbed, and got shot. It became a regular occurrence to lose friends to gang violence or a life sentence in prison. In retrospect, it’s not shocking that I experienced any of this.
When you get jumped into a gang, you know what you’re signing up for. It wasn’t until my friends betrayed me that I questioned anything. I believed in the lifestyle. It provided worth and value. It was a family. However, gangs are built on a foundation of sand.
Gangs are driven by the need to be noticed. I’m not speaking of the need for importance so much as I am the need for purpose. Being a member of a gang means that you matter and belong. It also protects you from feeling vulnerable. It’s terrifying to be exposed when you’ve been neglected or exploited.
Gangs are often made up of individuals whom family or society has failed. Joining a gang is appealing when it appears you don’t matter and seems as if no one will protect you.
What gangs cannot do, however, is protect you from pain. Every gang will eventually collapse. Like society, gangs are made up of sinful humans, and sin is a cancer that infects and destroys all things.
But it’s not only gang members who crave purpose. The American Dream sells all its converts down the river. It boasts that success, money, and power will protect us; but it doesn’t deliver.
Young actors and musicians move to North Hollywood in pursuit of fame and fortune, and many sell their souls to get there. Within a few years, they return home to rural America with less dignity and nightmares of compromise.
Immigrants from Latin America come here first. They cross through tunnels, hide in car trunks, and pack five families into a studio apartment. They work three jobs and cut the lawns of suburban professionals while their kids run the streets.
All the while, within a few miles, major production studios are setting the next trend in popular culture. Countless churches become enamored, perhaps without even knowing it. Meanwhile, my friends are getting shot, and young girls are having sex with producers to get the next gig.
I planted a church in North Hollywood because of a deep burden to see Jesus glorified in my city. I never imagined I’d be a pastor. In fact, I’ve had many people visit my church just to see if it was true.
I’m the first Christian in my family, I didn’t grow up in the faith, and I have a high-school diploma from a juvenile hall. It’s only by God’s mercy I’m still alive. I’ve escaped death far more times than I deserve. Yet when God calls you, there is no telling the places he will take you to glorify his name. When you arrive, however, glorifying his name is your chief responsibility.
I planted a church because God gave me purpose. He took a child of dope fiends, a gang member, a street thug, and chose to use me for his glory. My story was set in concrete: I was going to prison or getting murdered. Yet I was reading from the wrong script. There was another narrative, one of which I was not yet aware.
I did not plant a church; God planted a church. I mess everything up; I say ridiculous things; I cannot even believe I get to do this work. I joined God in planting a church by saying, “Yes, I will go.” What I did not say yes to was a growth model or to strategic evangelism. I said yes to Jesus! I agreed to say whatever he asks me to whomever he asks me to say it. It wasn’t even my idea to plant a church; it was the idea of my wife, led by the Holy Spirit.
When God founds your ministry, you don’t carry the burden of sustaining it. North Hollywood possesses catalytic potential. It is one of the most influential communities in the world. We are anguished for this city, and we pray diligently for revival. I planted a church in my hood because I believe God is calling us to revive dead bones and train an army of missionaries for Jesus. For some ridiculous reason, he saw fit to send me.
This Sunday, a heroin addict got on his knees and begged Jesus to heal him. On the other side of the altar was an aspiring actor praying for courage to follow Jesus. But it’s not all rosy. I recently did a funeral for a gang member from my hood.
If I matter to God, so do they. If God called me, why not them? How might he enlist them for his glory, too?
Article originally published at TheGospelCoalition.org. Watch Kris Brossett’s testimony.