BY IAN LAWLER
In response to Bishop Matt Thomas’s convicting and powerful talk on the principles of transformational churches (fall 2012 Southern California Pastoral Learning Community), Light and Life Goleta has started a ministry we like to call People’s Park Tacos (PPT).
PPT is our attempt to create a sustainable, repeatable and effective ministry in Isla Vista (IV) that ministers to the community as a whole. We want to use the tools of food and fellowship to reach our homeless, student, and immigrant neighbors in IV.
More importantly, we feel led and called by the Holy Spirit to be ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ to these people. Following the model set by Christ, who chose to reach into people’s lives through incarnating His love into flesh and building relationships with people, we are setting out to build relationships through service and love.
Isla Vista is a small and unique community on the coast of Santa Barbara, on the campus of the University of California, Santa Barbara. As you might expect of a community on one of the most infamous party campuses in the nation, IV is a hotbed of college parties and the destruction that accompanies that scene.
However, it is also home to a large and rather permanent homeless population. Many of the folks we have met in IV have been there for 10+ years and some for 30+. IV is also home to hundreds of immigrant families in search of affordable living and steady work at the university.
To say the least, IV is a diverse place. It is also technically considered a slum because of the population density (average U.S. population density = 88.08 people per square mile; IV = 12,376.4 people per square mile; according to the 2010 census, IV is the 22nd most densely populated unincorporated census-designated place in America).
In response to this huge mission field, our church decided to serve free tacos in the heart of downtown IV, choosing a popular local park as our base.
We partnered with various campus ministries to get an understanding of the community and insight on how to relate to the people of IV. We created a strategy that focused mainly on reaching the homeless and employing some students in the process. The results have shattered anything we could have imagined.
Our first week, one of our friends, Michael, who currently lives in the park, asked us, “Why are you guys doing this?” I responded confidently and (regrettably) with a note of finality, “Well, we go to church just down the street, and we want to love our neighbors and this community.” I felt I had really nailed the answer, but Michael persisted, “Yeah, but really, why are you out here?” I didn’t know what to say; I had already given my prepared answer and it wasn’t enough. I was toast! By the grace of God, my lovely fiancée, Nikki, was listening and chimed in, “We love Jesus and we choose to follow Him. And He fed people; He shared life with people no matter where they lived, so really we’re just trying to follow Him.” Now Michael was stoked, “Yes! That’s it! Finally someone got the right answer. I ask every group that comes out here to do stuff for us ‘Why?’ and they always have some real churchy answer about serving, but you finally said it. Because Jesus did it. That’s the real work of the church, man!”
We were blown away. Here we were thinking we were going to show the love of Jesus to people and He was already there waiting for us, ready to teach us and lead us deeper into relationship with Himself through the people in the park. This is just one example of how the people and conversations we encounter change and shape us as a church and as followers of Christ.
We would love to share in this experience with you! We are doing this ministry with a very limited budget and a great deal of spiritual and temporal opposition.
As we all know, prayer is the most powerful and effective instrument we have in the band. We ask you to pray with us for IV, the people living there in the park, the students caught up in the lies of the enemy, the Christians in the community who feel outnumbered and pursued on all sides by the enemy, and for our little church Light and Life Goleta. Praise God!