Interview with Michael Mata: Practical discipleship and the one thing he would tell young people in the Church
Michael Mata has designed and administered community and faith-based programs for nearly thirty years, particularly in the areas of transformational community development, congregational redevelopment, intercultural programs, organizational and leadership development, ministry/nonprofit management and community youth development.
He is the Community Transformation Specialist with Compassion Creates Change, Inc. and an affiliated faculty member at Fuller Theological Seminary. Previously, he was the Urban Development Director for World Vision U.S. Program where he was responsible for guiding the department’s implementation of its Signature Programs Model (community transformation focused on community youth development).
In my interview with Michael, he reveals:
- How his incredible journey into ministry started
- What motivates him day to day
- What L.A.’s greatest need is
- How he sees the Church succeeding
- Which areas the Church needs to focus on
- The one thing he would tell young people in the church
- His unconventional approach to sharing the gospel
- What we may be missing in our own neighborhood
- What discipleship practically looks like in his life
Carson Leith: Michael, thanks for giving you time to be with me. What is your life like right now?
Michael Mata: I have different hats right now, but I am fairly independent, so to speak. I teach some at Fuller and then I do a lot of coaching, organizational coaching, community strategy, and engaging both from the public and private sector engaging faith communities as well has how does a faith community become more engaged with its community. So it’s kind of working both ways. There are some projects that I have been helping facilitate as a part of a team. Some of them have been the role of churches in terms of health issues and health disparities. I sit on a couple of foundations, boards that really invest in pictures of health and justice.
Those things are really dealing with the marginalized communities primarily and specifically with young people. I’m doing a lot of that these days. Helping people to rethink how they work with so-called marginal communities. How they can engage young people more actively in bringing about change instead of just being beneficiaries or objects of a lot of good will and good efforts, which still tends to objectify populations of people in particular. I’m kind of the guy that comes in on purpose to help stir things up, or else they bring me in to really help in that capacity.
CL: So you’re helping people understand how to engage with marginalized communities?
MM: Yeah. Too often, with a lot of church work—working with marginal communities, whether that be homeless, foster kids, children in juvenile systems, people living in impoverished conditions, immigrants, whatever label they are given because of their status or ethnicity or whatever—the churches tend to say, “OK, we are going to go help and make things right.” Well, that tends to objectify them. And you will always be seeing them as someone to try and fix or help. The point is that we, forgive my language, but we pimp the poverty. That has been what people have been doing unintentionally with good will, but at the end of the day that tends to just exacerbate the problem. Certainly individuals and families have benefited from that help, from churches and ministries and public sector programs, but it hasn’t really transformed the community itself.
And so when you are looking at an individual basis, and you think that in terms of aggregate changed lives of people, they’re changing community. It’s not an either or, it’s a both and, part and parcel. Churches have to look at how they begin to engage the process of transformation. It needs to begin as intentionally seeing the other as really subject, not object. That changes the whole paradigm in terms of the organizational structure, your program outcome, how you fund it, how you build, how do you grow to zero. That should always be the goal: that you aren’t there to continue to offer services, you’re there to transform the community, where the community itself can thrive. Most benefits just help people survive. So now you’re getting into my spiel; that’s what I do.
CL: You have such a long list of experience in community development. What was God doing in your life to move you towards community development in urban areas? How did it all start for you?
MM: Well, actually I have always been an urban person. I grew up in a preacher’s home, and I tell people, “The issues I dealt with and saw my father dealing with really impressed upon me what the gospel is about.” And so, I kind of joke, when he went off to the Projects, I would say “where is Pop, where is Dad?” “Well he is at the projects.” I just assumed that was the name of the apartment complex, I didn’t have any conception that that was public housing. Or when someone would knock on the door—we lived near the railroad tracks, at that time we would call them “hobos”—I am dating myself right now—but my mom, I would see her rush to the kitchen, and make a little taquito and give them some food. So I just assumed that those elements of doing good were part and parcel of what the faith was about. So I saw it there, I internalized a lot of it, I didn’t have the vocabulary or understanding for what was going on.
But by the time I got to college, I went to a Christian college, I was kind of struck that the discussion there wasn’t relevant to the conditions in which I was living and saw a lot of people live. The aspect of marginalization, poverty, economic disadvantage. I definitely experienced discrimination. Well I go, “Why aren’t we speaking about those issues that have real importance and relevance to the people themselves, rather than talking about—now its not a big issue, but at that time it was “Oh, now we are going to go out for drinks” and I go “What!?” and people would discuss that theologically, I thought that was just a waste of time. That wasn’t even an issue. It wasn’t on my radar, it didn’t even seem relevant to the people that were talking, and I saw alcoholism and the dangers of that. So I had this interest in how we live out our faith in a different way that really does relate to what I experienced as a young boy.
I traveled internationally right after college and went down to spend the summer in Central America, Guatemala specifically. And I was struck once again: here we are sharing the good news, but how is it that we can say, “God loves you” when people are hungry, people are surviving and not thriving? But really, even though I am Latino—Mexican American—I felt really American. I felt like, “Wow, what is it? Why me? And I could have been born somewhere else, some other country.” Those questions really pressed upon me.
I got back and did a degree program on religion, I didn’t know what else to do. My dad said, “Education is not gonna hurt you.” So while studying theology, I came across a book that a faculty member gave me. Even though I had been in his classes before, I think he thought I was an international student. Cause he gave me this book, he says, “Here is a compatriot.” And I’m going “OK, that was Gustavo Gutiérrez. That was a theology of liberation.” And finally the language really helped me define realities that I had experienced personally and I saw in my travels to Central America and Latin American. That aspect of dehumanization, oppression, structural systemic problems that exacerbate people’s condition. So when I finally went to seminary and graduated and was called to the Mother church of all places, people were kind of surprised because I kept saying that we need to do something about the situations of people who are not living the image of God, and are not reflecting all of what God promises us.
So at that time I had a lot of influence, from afar, by people like Ron Sider and John Perkins. So John Perkin’s call to Incarnational ministry resonated with what I had read with the Theology of Liberation that is Incarnational accompaniment. Of course Roman Catholicism has an incredible social thought, developed over a couple thousand years of thinking, more or less. So that helped me—that was the approach. I said, “When I came to L.A.,” I told the pastor, “I’m gonna argue the content of liberation theology, but the approach of coming alongside and moving in. And I moved into the neighborhood, And thirty some years later, I’m still in the neighborhood. I did what John Perkins did, you know. I created a safe place. I did everything by the book that everybody else is doing now; safe place, education, played sports, self esteem, sex education, keep people in school, stop having babies and then the big one, this changed it all.
The big change was when, three of the guys, sociologists said, “You know what, Michael, you’re doing alternative gangs, you’re developing an alternative gang. That seems to be what’s happening here, when you reach out to the youth in the community and bring them to your church.” But the youth came to me and said, “Michael we appreciate what you’ve done.” I mean, I was shocked when I arrived, cause at fifteen they were telling me, “We’re not expecting to live more than five more years, so you’re wasting your time with us, Michael. We’re gonna be dead, so you know, maybe you should go help somebody else. ‘Cause you know that’s our lifespan here.” They didn’t have a horizon; they didn’t even experience anything beyond their immediate neighborhood. So we challenged, we raised their horizon. Once we raised their horizon, then we could bring other opportunities to them and show them alternatives. I had to change my paradigm, I had to flip it from, “I want to get them saved,” to, “I want to make sure they are productive citizens and contributing members of their community.”
So salvation was like icing on the cake, so I flipped it and said if I spend more time, I have a better chance of impacting more young people, because not all of them, even if I share the gospel, and I did share it, will accept the gospel at that point. But, all of them are wanting something different than what they were experiencing. That’s what happened when these three guys came in: Spider, Hiro and Dulah, said, “Michael we appreciate what you’ve done for us, we saw the value of staying in school, waiting to become parents,” and on and on. “But we got one big issue, we got to work. We know how to get money, but now you’ve challenged us. We are tired of looking over our shoulders, we want to earn it. But no one is hiring us, so what are you going to do? If you can’t help us, then we got to do what we got to do.”
And that was a biblical point of really searching, even though I had read everything, I have a degree in biblical literature, studied in Koine Greek, and Hebrew, I had degrees in religion and theology, but I didn’t have the lenses to see this other dimension of the gospel, that certainly liberationists had and they were kind of taking off the dust of my lens, but it wasn’t until that moment that I realized if I have to deal with this economic inequity, this disparity, because yes, in our society for better or for worse, it’s really driven by economics. And these young people are smart, they know how to get money, it’s not like they are dumb or stupid, they know how to do that, but they also realize that if they are going to become productive, being productive citizens of society they have to find legitimate jobs. So that drove me back to school. So that’s a long answer to a very important question of “How did it all start?” That was one reason, there were two other ones, but that was the one that shifted, so I went back and got a degree in Urban planning, which was one of the best decisions of my life.
CL: Urban planning you said?
MM: Yes, the definition of Urban planning when I read it was: it is a interdisciplinary approach to problem solving. So when I went to Berkley I exploited that place. I did my core in Urban planning, but I took classes in social welfare, I went to the graduate school of Public Policy, took classes there, I went to the school of business and took non-profit management, I did my internship in Haight Ashbury, my masters thesis project, this is back in the 80’s. So I brought all those skills back, to teach and develop within the ministry I was in for 17 years.
CL: I really liked your description of what it was like to not only share the gospel, but lead them into more productive lives, because you’re right—not everybody does accept the gospel, sometimes it divides or offends people. But you’re right, everybody does want to live better lives, even if it’s not the kind of life driven by the gospel. Was sharing the gospel for you always like that? So many people hear about, “Okay, let’s go impact L.A. Let’s go learn how to love our city better.” Does that mean going out on the streets until someone converts or do you have a different vision of that, of what it means to love Los Angeles?
MM: I love L.A. and there is a lot to love here. I’ve traveled the world. I went to Istanbul, which was one of the most beautiful experiences. One of my favorite cities is the cultural capitol of Europe. I have been in Brazil, so I know São Paulo. I know Rio…you know, we’ve been places. But L.A. is fabulous. It’s never boring.
CL: Were you born in L.A.?
MM: No, I’m not I’m not, I’m a refugee from Texas. I grew up in Southern California but it wasn’t until after seminary that I was put in L.A. to live. So coming back to L.A. I thought, everything I need in the world, it’s gonna happen here, or its gonna hit us sooner than later.
So loving L.A. for me is really becoming part of L.A., not seeing L.A. as an object once again but really something here to fall in love with and to be part of, to support and to encourage and to really help it become what all cities should be: a place of hope, a place of opportunity, a place where people’s dignity is acknowledged and respected. Where people feel like they own the pond. And then more importantly, people of faith, that we can help be stewards of the ponds, resources and networks and opportunities that exist here for many people, but I understand that there are many, many, many barriers. So loving L.A. is breaking down those barriers, it’s really about helping change the system and structures and policies such that everyone can truly benefit from what’s really here. That’s loving LA.
Part of the sustainability of transformation is a spirituality to nurture and cultivate it. Cause I know that other faiths have salvation as paramount for their faith, and so my young people, when I was interim youth director, last year, they asked me, “So what’s unique about Christianity?” and that was a really legitimate question. You know, we say we are the way, so why are we the way?” Cause they were talking about their classmates, Muslims, Hindus, and Nones now, you know: non-affiliated, but still religious, still spiritual. So that’s what it would mean for me, to define it.
I was in college and got all hyped up around the four spiritual laws, went out there, did that, and then I realized that it isn’t enough to get people saved. When I lead people to Christ, I’d think, “Who’s gonna nurture them, who’s gonna disciple them?” You know, my friends weren’t there cause they are gonna go back to classes, they are gonna go back to their churches, they weren’t gonna be with this person. They gave them a card and said “Here, come to this church,” and expected things to happen. Well, I don’t think that’s liable. On a case-by-case basis, certainly people have been impacted, and their lives have been transformed, forever changed in many ways.
You can’t love L.A. as a city, you get to love L.A. as communities. It’s a conglomerate of communities. So how you would do it here in Korea town would be very different than in south L.A., which would be different than west L.A., which would be very different than the Valley. Long Beach as you know is a microcosm of L.A., one of the most diverse cities, but you still have economic disparities there. If you really want to love L.A., come be part of L.A.
CL: And with discipleship, they need someone along there with them. How practical is it to take on, I mean, how many people can one person realistically take on, and what does that look like? Is everyone taking on just a couple people, or are we saying hey, just get plugged into the church and then we will take it from there, or are you inviting people into your home every week?
MM: I think too often, coming to a spiritual encounter with God, has sometimes been interpreted as, “This is the silver pill that will solve your problem.” And I think we are getting beyond that, but still the hidden message is: everything will become better once you become a follower of Christ. Well, in many ways your perspective may change, but it doesn’t radically change everything in your life, and you may still have struggles with addiction, you may still have debts, on and on and on.
But the beauty of the Body is that you’re not alone. Discipleship, for me, is not about how to make that person a better church-going person, or even a follower of Christ per say, and that sounds radical. It’s really about living out the kingdom of God here, and then that’s what’s transformative. It’s not about how well they know scripture. I mean, Jews know…the Jewish men spend their lives learning the scripture and they are still waiting for the Messiah. So it’s not about how well they know scripture, or even how often they’re in worship, it’s really about learning to live the kingdom on a daily basis in a practical way. To be Shalom makers, builders…how do you become viral, how do you infect others with the Jesus virus? And that is seeing each other created in the image of God, treating everybody with dignity, and assuring that no one goes hungry. Those are elements for me that become more holistic as I see Christ.
Christ declared his mission, he said, “I’m here to liberate those who are oppressed. I’m here to make the blind see”—blind literally, figuratively, spiritually. He’s talking holistic. I don’t think we’ve done enough of that holistic aspect of discipleship. It’s not, “You sit at my feet and I indoctrinate you,” but rather, “Let’s join together and let’s discover what God is asking us to be about: in our neighborhood, with our families, communities, in our world.” That’s the call of discipleship. It’s not that I evoke certain words that make me a member of the club. There are other aspects of it. That’s my approach, that’s my thinking. And it’s liberating, cause now I invite people to be apart of something that has value to them and everybody around them.
I had an interesting conversation with a Chinese woman, she said, “Michael, she was learning Chinese and she was in Taiwan or Singapore or wherever and of course she was a Christian teaching Chinese and she learned about the Bible and she said, “Why would I want to go to heaven, knowing that my family is going to go to hell?” I guess that’s what they were told, that your gonna go to hell. She said, “I’d rather be with my family in hell, than in heaven without them.” Ok, so you’re talking about cultural perspectives and issues that are not easily interpreted and answered by Euro-centric or Euro-centric theology.
CL: Do you think there is a practical model as far as numbers and the kind of life that you are inviting them into. Can you do this, are you operating off of a kind of small group, mid-week model?
MM: No, no. My… I told you. I’m bad at evangelism. You know I’m not gonna.. I couldn’t get out there. There are people that can do that really well, they have learning groups, stuff like that. I find my discipleship is through my classes and my capacity building that I do. That’s where I am discipling people on how to rethink their faith and how to live it out, when I teach transformational youth ministry, when I teach how do we bring about justice, owning the pond, how do we rethink justice, it’s not just giving someone a fish; that’s not justice, that’s really tantamount to keeping someone on an IV and not giving them a full report of health.
So I see myself as a teacher, and that is through my various speaking engagements, training, teaching, coaching, consulting. That’s how I do my discipleship. And I have a lot of people who follow me, not follow me day to day, but I see what they have done with what I have taught them and they say, “I remember when you said this” and I go, “Really? That was twenty years ago. I don’t even remember what I said twenty years ago.”
CL: So with such an expansive work history, with all sorts of different causes, what are the core beliefs that drive you?
MM: You know, people say, “Well you could do all kinds of things.” But I’m still apart of the same stream, the same river, if you will. There are a lot of streams that feed into it. And you know, it’s almost to the point where it’s the same drum beat I give. And I think part of it, again, is truly believing that people are created in the image of God, and if they are then we change how we deal with things, even from violence, to the justice system, to economics, to even being a neighbor. I often ask, “How many of you know the name of your neighbors?” Across the street, down the street. You know even those people who have moved into places intentionally, do you really know them? You know, my best security system is my neighbors, when I leave, I know they are watching and I’m watching theirs, too.
So it’s really about the kingdom of God. I use different language for that, but essentially that’s what it is. Whether that be in terms of health issues in South LA, or of youth in public housing, to helping those preparing for ministry to really understand what it means not only to preach and theologize but also to create viable vehicles for sustainable change, not drive-bys or drop-in ministries but somewhere where it becomes part of the fabric of community.
So no matter what I’m asked to talk about or teach, it’s basically the same these days, just coming at it from the door they are opening for me to walk into with them and say, “Oh by the way, coming into this building, we’ve walked through this door (maybe its education maybe its church planting) but look where we ended up, we ended up in this big room, this big room is the kingdom of God, this big room is kingdom transformation. So are we ready to engage this? And a lot of them aren’t, they’re not. Because they are about institutional building, and I’m not there. I’m not about institutional building..
CL: So in what ways do you see the church succeeding on mission in L.A.? And in what areas do you think we need to give greater attention to?
MM: Well, I think we need to become less “clubish.” We need to be more interdenominational, we should not be as frightened by our neighbors. If there is something good happening down the street, I want to say, “Hey, go over there for that.” In fact, that’s what we did at my previous church for a number of years. We were Evangelical Holiness and they were Mainline Reform, but we helped them set up their youth program, same nonprofit framework that we used for ours. And in fact, I send my children over to their program to learn about art and stuff like that, and I don’t have a problem with that, because it wasn’t about “We are better than you,” or, “We have the best theology.” Certainly, the market place allows for people to feel comfortable for certain things. But too often, unfortunately, international brother and sisters come here, and their model is “the mega church,” and they think that is the way to be in the presence of God.
Well I challenged that and said, “If your church was to disappear tomorrow would it make a difference in the community other than not creating a parking chaos or occupying a space? What else are you doing that’s the light and salt in the neighborhood?” So I think we really need to think about what does it really mean to be salt and light…how can we be a place of healing and hope? They are setting a role for the church within its four walls but we are going to have to have permeable walls to.
We talk about, “We’re segregated,” well, some of that segregation is intentional; they want to be with their own, and I understand that. So I’m no longer arguing, “OK let’s move a different way,” cause the African American experience is so different—they feel a compulsion to kind of stay and strengthen their culture and identity, just as much as immigrants come in, and the first generation with their identity and their language. So we need to be freed up from that. We shouldn’t be so condemning, but we also need pastors, no matter where they are, to be able to know how to open up the doors to the neighbors exactly where they are located.
And often when I talk to pastors they normally don’t even live in the neighbor the minister in. They don’t even live in the neighborhood where their ministry or church is located. And I understand the challenges for ethnic churches, where the pastor is a significant presence for that community or that church or within that ethnic community where they have to demonstrate that they are achieving status, and so their bigger and better vehicles, and you know, I like a great cruise as anyone else that likes cruises. But I think again, that we aren’t demonstrating that we are part of the community. If we want to love L.A. we need to be part of it, we need to hear it, see what’s going on.
My neighborhood burned in ’92—that’s the other flash point. It burned. My wife and I decided we’d leave, we had the privilege to leave, but we also know that a lot of people couldn’t leave. So even though my adopted children we raised, we had to evacuate them, we invited people to come live with us. We invited people to come live with us during those days that our neighborhood was burning, we dodged bullets and we know, we aren’t naïve. So how many pastors can talk that way? I don’t know too many, to tell you the truth, I don’t know many.
When I moved here, the pastor of the English speaking congregation sold the parsonage and moved into the neighborhood and then all the English speaking pastors lived in the neighborhood. But I understand that the ethnic pastors, for them to have achieve some status, you know coming from their country, it meant to live in a better house a better neighborhood, so they were compelled by other factors to live outside, which is a shame. I could go on and on about it, but you asked how and what we need to do, we really need to think it.
CL: Could you share an experience where you saw the Lord work powerfully through the unity of the church towards the city in an interdenominational way?
MM: I would go further to even say, interfaith, at this point. ’92 and ’93 were driven by churches but we included others. In our neighborhood, we were the second flashpoint in the ’92 riots. People know about South L.A. or South Central at that time. Here in Korea town where I live now, it would have been called Korea town then, it’s home to a number of significant churches: First Congregational, First Baptist, First Unitarian, First Religious Science, First Nazarene, a lot of firsts there. Also one of the largest mosques and synagogues west of the Mississippi resides here in our neighborhood. But what we did was, we got together, and it was heavily driven by Christians, but we brought in other faiths, they were called the interfaith coalition to heal L.A., and at a certain hour we had thousands of people lined up along Western Boulevard from Hollywood Boulevard all the way to Exposition Boulevard, holding hands, and it was called “Hands Across L.A.” So that’s a visible tangible thing, symbolic, but we are coming together. And we all sang certain songs, and we got together and we did that. And our Nazarene Church ran over to the church a mile away which was a Presbyterian, and we got their people and their pastors came out in robes, it was great, it was beautiful.
We also helped started two non-profits that continue to go on, one of them is probably one of the most significant charter school developers probably in our part of the city. Another one is with West Angeles Church of God in Christ, we helped start that non-profit, and I served in the board for a few years. So we did a lot out of that group, I know Bishop Blake with Jack Hayford and other ones. Then created what they called “Love L.A.,” where they just brought clergy together, faith leaders, Christian, all Christian, to just pray, nothing else. They would meet over at Hollywood Presbyterian. I went to one or two of those. Maybe at first there was a few hundred, maybe three hundred, maybe two hundred. So there were some efforts of that nature.
But again you’re dealing with a tremendous challenge of the geography of LA. The African American community hasn’t always been apart of that larger effort, not because they didn’t want to, but because no one knew them, no one could invite them, no one could say, “Oh, I know so and so.” Often, they relied on me because I knew them, I had been in their offices, they knew me. I still work with a lot of the leadership there. But the African American community is a little different in how they operate, they are trying to keep their culture and identity alive, the older ones, the younger ones are a little less concerned about being black in America, as they are trying to be more diverse. But you have the same issue with first generation Asians and Latin Americans, it isn’t about the second and third generation where you have a little more opportunities to work across ethnic lines, racial lines, which then makes it a little bit easier to work interdenominationally.
I don’t think interdenominational differences, by the people who are here, are as significant as they are from people who aren’t from here. “I’m reformed, or I’m this and that,” but here it’s like, “Hey, I’m not going to argue theological points with you. We’re here to make this a better city.” If you can contribute something, so much the better, but why debate that piece if some of the things aren’t even issues here in L.A.
CL: Have you seen your heart change towards the city as you were involved in breaking down barriers in all these initiatives that are trying to build community?
MM: Oh yeah. As I mentioned earlier on, every time I come home, I’m like, “Wow, this is home.” You know, will I be called somewhere else? Sure. Don’t mind Vancouver, British Columbia, don’t mind Toronto except in the winter, don’t mind San Francisco, don’t mind Fuji Islands, not a problem. But here I am and I really, really enjoy it. I enjoy showing it off to a lot of my ethnic colleagues who are Christians and who are kind of living in their enclaves and are not getting out to truly benefit from the incredible culture resources that are here, and much of them free, accessible.
So I love showing off LA, I love showing off how it’s morphing, how people have taken the concrete and steel and glass and have made it into a reflection of who they are. So when you pray for the city, or as you pray for someone else, your perspective changes about that person as well as the city. But it’s not like, let’s bring Jesus to the city, Jesus has been here, as far as I know. He was here way before I came. And Jesus is all over the place, there is no doubt about that. Rarely, I could probably count it on my one hand, and still have a couple of fingers left over, where a person was kind of like, “Ehhh, I’m not into praying with you.” I’ve been to all areas, I spend more time probably in non-church settings than I do in church. And I’m upfront about who I am, I’m an ordained minister this is where I come from or whatever, and after a while they kind of, first they are suspicious, but all the sudden they go, “Hey, yeah, we want you apart of this.”
CL: If there is one thing you could tell young people in the church today, what would it be?
MM: (*silence.) Hmm, well one is: We need you. We need young people to find their voice and to really be part, to be at the tables where decisions are made, not only in the community, but also in the church. I teach a class on transformational youth ministry, and I said, “You know, too often churches say, ‘Yeah, we love our children, we need our children. They are the church of tomorrow.” (Although I believe they should be the church of today.) But I go, you look at their budget, and the first person to go is the youth minister. It tends to be that way and I think it’s reflective of how we tend to say that children are precious, but our actions tell them otherwise. And so as much as they desire to be spiritually nurtured, by the time they become teenagers and even young adults, there’s a great disillusionment, because it doesn’t jive with what they see on a daily basis.
CL: After working on so many initiatives and probably seeing a lot of success and a lot of hardships, what continues to sustain your hope for the city of L.A.?
MM: There is a lot to be hopeful about L.A. People come here and are full of hope; they sacrifice a lot. Today I was talking with someone who came from another country by themselves, not knowing English. And I’m going “Wow, I don’t know how you did that, and I don’t know if I could do that.” And you know, they are getting by. So people sacrifice a lot to get to the U.S., and L.A. is a great place because of the great diversity of people represented here. So, people coming with hope and faith give me hope, because there are a lot of other hope-filled people here.
One of the other aspects is, just recently, we convened a number of young church planters, people doing ministry in the city, on the ground, it wasn’t as ethnically diverse as the city, but it was more than it has ever been before in that group of forty people. Twenty years ago, there would have been a dozen of us, but there were forty and there were other ones that could not make it because it conflicted with their schedule, or they got called away at the last minute. And people were just really, really energized, and I was energized. I’ve been here for thirty some years and I feel like I’m the old man now and I was just were they were. I was the young buck, but now they call me “Sir” and I go “Uh-oh, I’m old.”
There are a lot of people with a lot of passion and desire to do something different, from the faith perspective. And yet there are also people in the public and private sectors that have impressed me. Now, I haven’t yet sat down and really quizzed them about where they come from or what influenced them; I suspect that a lot of them have had church experience and are church-going people, or faith people, at least. But they are there and that’s encouraging, but sometimes the church is not connected with that, so the church is almost an island into themselves as a whole, so that doesn’t portend well, but I’m thinking, if we bring the hope of the church, connect with people who are filled with hope already, we can really, really do something tremendous here in the city. But it’s going to have to be community by community, I’m not even going to say person by person cause there are already people out there.
So there is a lot of stuff that gives me hope. And what gives me hope, too, is that there is a real place for us to be at the table, people of faith, but it’s going to be a different language we speak, cause regardless if I say, “Let’s pray,” ninety percent of the people are going to pray with me. So it’s hopeful, in terms of our leadership in the city. In terms of institutions that are doing things, I just don’t know if the church is always part of that. I think they underestimate what they have to offer or they estimate in a different way, they think they have to offer, part of it’s just let’s be part of the neighborhood in which you exist.
CL: Thank you for your time Michael, it’s been a joy to talk to you.
MM: Take care and God bless.