It may have seemed like a daunting task to figure out what’s broken in Los Angeles then offer a simple solution.
PART ONE – MICHAEL MATA
But that’s not what four Christian leaders from various parts of L.A. set out to do during a panel discussion at Philosopher’s Cafe (Thursdays at Metropolis) in Santa Monica on a recent June evening. Co-hosted by Together LA, the panel — Broken City – Is there hope for Los Angeles? — began with moderator Steve Snook of Metro Church giving a heads up to the direction the discussion will go.
“I’m going to tell you right now, there’s hope all the way across this panel,” said Snook, a longtime pastor in Santa Monica. “You’re going to hear us being really honest about the brokenness that we see, but not spending much time on the brokenness without getting to a place where we talk about some of what we see happening even now and what is coming based upon the hope that is within us.”
Together LA: Passion for a unified Koreatown
Prior to the panel discussion, an upstairs meeting and video taping by TLA (One Ten Pictures) led to some fascinating revelations about Los Angeles, a city that’s often associated with big dreams, both fulfilled and broken.
Michael Mata, director of the transformational urban leadership program at Azusa Pacific Seminary and a Together LA speaker, is an experienced urban planner and pastor. He has spent over 30 years in leading and equipping others in urban transformation through the creation of community and church-based programs. His work has focused on community transformation, youth leadership development, public health, intercultural outreach, and multiethnic ministry. Mata serves as community transformation specialist for Compassion Creates Change, Inc., and was the director of Tools for Transformation for World Vision’s U.S. programs.
Mata lives in and loves his neighborhood — Koreatown.
“Even though it’s called Koreatown, 70 percent of the people are not Asian,” Mata told TLA. “Even with this great vitality of humanity it’s broken in that we don’t have the interaction as we should.
“We live in close proximity to each other, almost 200,000 people within two-and-a-half square miles, and we bump into each other and we eat in the same places and we hear each other’s music but we’re not necessarily connected. Rarely do we actually know the name of our neighbors — actually I do, but many people don’t.
“[Residents] live in high rises, in homes they’ve invested in, they live with multiple families or extended families, and they are struggling to survive because even though there’s a sense of great economic energy there, the per capita is one of the lowest in L.A. County.”
Immigrants and young professionals consumed with ‘making it’
“So, you have a population that’s come to the United States who are contributing and being very productive but it seems their lives are consumed with ‘making it,’ maybe not so much becoming affluent, but certainly surviving,” Mata explained. “In that regard, we need spaces, we need a way to come together. Certainly in 1992, when our community was the second flashpoint in the riots, our community did come together.”
Churches in the area and various religious institutions gathered together, he said, and asked “How are we going to rebuild together?”
Within less than a year, Koreatown did rebuild, he said.
The infusion of energy and “new life and looking for the future” gave way to a retreat of sorts.
“We all went back to our regular spaces of work, relationships, and of cultural identity,” Mata said. “So those spaces or that bridge are sorely lacking and that’s where I think the faith community can come in.
“We have great historic sanctuaries in K-town. Beautiful French-Gothic structures, some of them thousands of square feet, but on Sunday mornings they are pretty empty because the populations that once populated the pews are no longer living in the area. We have a new influx of not just immigrant people but young professionals and some churches are being more successful at that.
“But that’s the space where God calls us to be reconcilers,” he adds. “We need to step up as a faith community to be that person, or that facility, or that body that brings people together and helps us to know one another even though we may not have the same beliefs or traditions. Nonetheless, we are living in the same space so why not move beyond just residing to becoming members or members of a community becoming neighbors to one another.”
What does Jesus ask of us?
“I think that’s what Christ asks of us — to find our identity in knowing that we are created in the image of God — that the other person across the street may speak a different language, may be more permanently tan than me, eats exotic foods that I might enjoy, but beyond that, knowing that God really has something more in store for them then just survival. That God sent his only beloved Son that we may have life more abundantly that we can flourish and thrive. I think we have that opportunity and K-town can demonstrate to the world that we can come together. That the faith community, the Christian community can be the vehicle by which we, [and] the relationships [we are in] create a vital tapestry of God’s kingdom here in Koreatown.”
This article is the first in a four-part series about the panel discussion hosted by Philosopher’s Cafe and TogetherLA.net on June 15, 2017. The full panel discussion can be viewed on Facebook by clicking on Part 1 and Part 2.
Video and photos by One Ten Pictures.