LIVE with Pastor José Hernandez: Marching for Godly Solutions, Part 1
Compiled by Sherri Spencer
Pastor José Hernandez grew up in Watts, a neighborhood in East Los Angeles (L.A.), CA, which has been greatly impacted by gang activity and riots throughout the years. Hope Central Watts Calvary Chapel has been a beacon of hope through Jesus Christ since José began the fellowship in September of 2011. Calvary Chapel Magazine Editor Tom Price interviewed José recently. This is part 1 of a two part series.
Pastor José addresses the community during a prayer walk organized by Hope Central Calvary Chapel Watts, CA. The march began at the church in Watts and ended at the local LAPD precinct.
How did the Lord lead you to do the Prayer Walk event?
There is a lot of uncertainty and things going on right now, and a lot of great things that are coming out of the protests. Our surrounding cities were trashed weeks before and I think our communities were looking to the church to be the leaders, the ones who stand in the gap. I was praying about the unrest and talking to some of the leaders at our church, and one of them said, “If there’s no Jesus, there’s no peace, and so we need to get out there and proclaim Jesus.” I realized he was right and said, “So let’s do a prayer walk.” We put a flyer on social media and a lot of people started to share it. I got a little nervous because I didn’t want this to turn out to be something bad, but the Lord spoke to me about His Word, about Him being the center.
I reached out to Calvary Chapel South L.A. (SOLA), CA, and Calvary Chapel Inglewood, CA, and other local churches in the community about the prayer walk. We had at least six or more churches and some community organizations come together to pray for a community like Watts, an area known for bad things. Some people even drove an hour and a half from Riverside, CA, to attend the event.
In Matthew 5:16, Jesus says, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” It doesn’t get any simpler than that. So, for us, investment looks different. I remember Greg Laurie said this one time: “Time, talent, treasure.” There are needs in the inner city church where there are some awesome bridges for service that would lead people to say, “Hey, those Christians, that’s what it’s about,” and that’s what the prayer walk was about. It wasn’t about, No justice, no peace, it was about No Jesus, no peace. It was about showing our community that we care enough about it to go out and pray for our community, to cry out to God that He would move in power.
As a pastor in a community like Watts, I am against injustice because God is against injustice, but I can’t be for something that is done outside of God’s Word. So we have to do it in righteousness, and we have to pray for our community. Yes, we’ll stand when we need to stand when something is wrong; but at the same time, we have to pray and we have to pray some more, because it is only God who is really going to change the heart. And that’s where the issue is at—the heart.
Community members, church goers and police embrace one another while during a prayer walk organized by Hope Central Calvary Chapel Watts, CA
You shared that so many of your youth are African American. How are you impacting the families in the community through the youth group?
There are real needs in the community. If you are doing life with people, you are not only a community church, but a church in the community that is involved in the lives of your members in the community—and you’ll know the real needs. You’ll know the single mom who is struggling and needs help, and you’ll know the kids in the community. It’s almost like they’re your own kids and we’re investing so much in them through discipleship, predominantly with the Word of God.
We have set up times at a ministry house that we have in the community, especially before COVID-19, for the kids to come and do their homework, get tutoring, use a laptop, print out their homework or resumé. We’ve had kids who are the first ones to ever graduate from their entire family or have a job.
I grew up in this community. For me to grow up and to make money and to do well without the Gospel, without my heart being changed, I would just acquire things. For us, it’s important that although we know that the kids in these families need things, the center has to be the Gospel, a real change in their life. Someone that I knew, a gang member, sued a police agency because of brutality years ago. L.A. gave him about ten million dollars, and a couple of days later, he got arrested in Las Vegas transporting drugs to another state. Why? Because it wasn’t a money issue; it was a heart issue.
A woman places her arm on a police officer as a show of support during a prayer.
Can you speak to the pastors of the suburban churches about how their youth groups can impact churches like yours in the inner city?
One of the things I heard Dr. Tony Evans say is that everybody is looking for the solution. We know in a spiritual sense that the only solution is Jesus, but in a practical way, how do we build bridges into these communities that are all over the country? Calvary Chapel Aurora, CO, had their whole graduating class of their School of Ministry fly out for about a week to minister in Watts. Calvary Chapel in Marysville, WA, drove down with their youth group, and they were here for a week with us. There is so much to do in these communities.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of affluent urban churches that would rather drive to LAX, jump on a plane and fly right over us to go to another country, than to minister in the inner city. That grieves me. There are so many needs in these communities and opportunities to really be a part of something that God is doing consistently.
Consistency is important, because if you do an outreach, that’s great. But then what happens on Tuesday when someone gets raped, on Wednesday when someone gets shot, on Thursday when someone needs to print out a resumé. I realize that in my community it looks different—ministry is very involved. I’ve buried black kids, sat in their classrooms, and gone to their graduations. I’ve taken kids to Colorado on their first plane ride, to a camp in Missouri, up to the mountains to camp every summer. It just looks different from other churches.
You have to be like that father figure. In some cases, God has called us to be fathers to the fatherless. Our youth ministry consists of about 40-50 kids and about 90% of those kids, especially the boys, don’t have a father showing them how to be men. The wrong kind of men on the streets—the gangs, the dope dealers, the pimps—are going to show them how to be men. These kids lack a father figure, community, and affirmation, and they are willing to do what most of us are not willing to do to get it.
Participants from all walks of life embrace Pastor José during prayer.
What more can Calvary Chapels do to help in the inner city to reach the youth?
It’s an investment. You have to count the costs. You have to realize that it’s just not a weekend mission trip. I literally started with a case of water on the basketball court at the park where the church now meets. A bunch of sweaty kids were playing ball. Instead of drinking out of the nasty water fountain that probably had rusted pipes, we gave them a bottle of water with a Scripture on it. Then six months later, we planted the church and started to invite other Calvary Chapels from South Orange County to assist. That is where you bridge the gap.
For the past nine years we had our big annual Thanksgiving event. It is a catered sit-down event with music, decorations, everything for the community. Some of the people in these communities can’t afford to go out to a restaurant, so we want to bless them and give them the best. One of the girls who is from South Orange County, with blonde and blue eyes, had a little African American girl sitting on her lap and this little baby was playing with her blonde hair. What God has been able to do in Watts through our ministry is to bring down walls, because sometimes it’s not that people are racists, it’s just that they don’t understand one another.
One weekend we had kids come from a Korean church and play ball with the African American kids, and they played ball well. We have been able to bring people from outside in to serve a community that always gets leftovers. We want to bring them the best. We have also taken kids from the projects and flown them to the other side of the country, to the mountains, and to the beaches. Some people in Watts have never been to the beach that is 15-20 minutes away. So being the hands and feet of Jesus in a place like that—it’s just different, but it’s been so great.
Men, women and children from various ethnic backgrounds display unity as part of the prayer walk organized by Hope Central Calvary Chapel Watts, CA.
Tune in tomorrow to read about José Hernandez’s positive experiences dealing with the LAPD.
All verses above are quoted from the New King James Version.
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