LIVE with Pastor Pancho Juarez
Don’t miss Part 1 of this exclusive Calvary Chapel Magazine interview with Pastor Pancho Juarez, founding pastor of The Ark Montebello in East Los Angeles (L.A.), CA. In Part 2, he shares about the transformation necessary for every believer. He also relates how the church ministers to military and police personnel. Believers at The Ark minister to 3,000 adults and over 1,000 children. Pancho and his wife, Millie, have five children.
You have a strong tie, not only with the military, specifically the Marine Corps, but also with the local police. How is that working now with the current dysfunction—police are feeling that they can’t do anything right and are getting criticized?
I’ll start first with the military. I love all branches. Here we have a military ministry to all branches. Of course, I’m involved. I can’t divulge where I go, but I go into a military base, a Marine Corps base, and I minister to the personnel there. But right now, because of COVID-19, everything is suspended. I have my military ID clearance to go visit anytime I want to, but I do it by schedule. I believe we’re going to start doing it again next month. I’ll be able to be at a graduation on September 11, as one of our men from here in the Marine Corps is graduating. So, we are still involved with that hands-on.
With the police as of late, because of the situation here, Montebello PD has a skeleton crew now. This is before defunding. The city is really hurting financially. So, we’re hosting and participating in a “Christmas with the Chief.” We are giving Law Enforcement Bibles and In and Out gift cards to the police officers. We allow them to use one of our buildings. We have three big buildings on five acres in downtown L.A., brick and mortar. It’s expensive in L.A.
I remember back east, one of our pastor’s friends bought some property. It was in the Green Valley of Philadelphia, so I went with them to check out his new property, about 17 acres, beautiful with lush, green, streams, animals, and birds. I asked him how much he paid for these 17 acres, and when he told me he paid $250,000, I nearly had a heart attack. Are you kidding me?
We have a building that is almost set up like a theater that is one of our overflows. We allowed the city to come inside so they could have a meeting, and they were blown away. They had passed by the church, but they were never inside. They were blown away by the courtesy, hospitality, accommodation, facilitation, and our attitude. I was not involved, so I don’t take the credit. I give the credit to the assistant pastors here who accommodated the meeting.
So now, the city leaders know our number and how to contact us. We’re OK with them, but it wasn’t like it used to be before; we hope it will be again in the future.
What is the message you bring to the young men and women who are excited and ready to serve our country?
We have some standards. We not only have courage, honor, and commitment, but we have other ethos and some principles that we live by, and that every Marine understands. I think that’s what makes us very different. Please forgive me, I’m a little biased right now.
I broke down every ethos that we have in the Marine Corps; they’re all biblically sound. Do not think about yourself but think of others first—that’s Philippians. There’s a greater cause than your ownJesus. So, I deconstruct and then construct it biblically for them and let them know.
To build the Marine Corps’ spirit of the corps, they have a mandate. We know when you go through boot camp, it’s mind control, brainwashing. I’m all for it. It’s called a transformation. We have a kid who goes in there at 18 years old, and in 13 weeks he comes out and is able to shoot a rifle expertly. There has to be a transformation, and this is what bootcamp is all about. It is an ideological transformation, a change. So, the Marine Corps promises they will change your mind. You no longer will think as a civilian. Now you’ll think as a military person. They change your mind, and that will change your body. When you come out of boot camp, you realize you never knew how many muscles you have, and so you’re physically trained.
You’re mentally trained, but there’s one aspect the Marine Corps cannot change, or anyone can, and that is your spiritual element, your soul. So, in the Marine Corps they have stipulated that they don’t know how to do that and they’re right. Only God can do that.
What’s really wonderful is that I tell the people in charge not to introduce me as a former Marine. Just tell them Pancho. So, here I am, it’s Pastor Pancho, but then they realize when I start talking that I’m not just Pancho, a pastor, but one of them. I know what they’re feeling, and I know what they’re going through. So, when you identify with their heart and you come into their world of affinity and you begin to touch and push the buttons, then I know they’re there.
That’s what makes it lovely and powerful, I’m not speaking to people that I don’t know. I may not know them–it’s like [meeting] Christians. We can go to another country, we don’t know the language, we don’t know that culture, we don’t even know their foods, but we do know that we’re connected. The commonality and connection is the Lord Jesus Christ. That is kinetic; it’s a really viable connection when you see another jarhead and we just say “Semper Fi”. We understand it, brotherhood, and the same thing with Christianity.
You can’t fake Christianity. One time I was standing in line at Knott’s Berry Farm for a ride with my daughter and I saw a gentleman with a T-shirt on, and it said Marine Corps, Vietnam, whatever. I asked the gentleman, “What was your MOS?” Now you can never forget what your MOS is, which means Military Occupational Service. I’m an 1833. You cannot forget. He said, “It’s been so long, I forgot.” And I just told him, ‘’Dude, you’re misrepresenting. Take the shirt off. You don’t belong to it,” and he didn’t fight me at all. I was angry, because, don’t misrepresent. Don’t be a poser.
Can you share with us about being a poser in our Christian world?
Sadly, it’s like this pandemic. This scourge has really rattled the cage of a lot of people, and now we’re seeing that people are not coming [back]. My colleagues told me that it takes thirty days to create a habit. Now, [from] March 15 to July 16 will be four months. That’s a long time without having fellowship, without going to the house of the Lord. People have really built habits, but if you’ve never had the roots, you never had the cultivation. This is why Paul says, Be rooted and grounded; we’re rooted. Like a redwood forest, those redwoods, they’re tall, but their root system is amazing. They can stand tall and withstand the winds, because of their root system. And then Paul says, be rooted and grounded. Grounded is an architectural term. You have to have a base, a foundation. If you don’t have a foundation, as you well know, when everything comes in, it will collapse. Liquefaction, that’s what happens. They built their house upon sand and so, sadly, that’s between us. There are those who really only had a cowboy hat, but never had any cattle and sadly, this has proven to them that they really had nothing.
That’s what is happening, there’s a shakeup going on. So, this is my intent for this men’s rally. I’m not calling it a conference. I’m not calling it a men’s retreat, just a rally. What’s a rally? When you look it up, a rally is a gathering as a mustering of men to gather together after they have failed, just like after losing a game in football. Let’s rally together. Let’s look at the weak point. What are we doing?
I read a story from UCLA from back in the 1930s. There was a guy from UCLA that picked up a fumble and he was running, but he was running the wrong way. His name was Riggs, I think, and he made a touchdown against himself; they went into halftime and the man was crying and they rallied up. The coach told Riggs, “You screwed up, you’re going back again,” and he started crying. He said, “Coach, I just ruined the reputation of UCLA, I just ruined you. I’m embarrassed,” and the coach said something that really ministered to me. He said, “Hey, we got a second half. Let’s go,” and you know what, UCLA won. The way he was playing, he was given another chance to prove himself, and that guy was like an animal from what I read. You see, there’s a second half. The first half looked like we lost. So, we’re getting together; we want to rally, and we want to have a focus with the men that we need to look above. We’ve been looking only in the horizontal plane.
[The late Bible teacher] Warren Wiersbe said that when you’re confused, don’t look inside because you’re going to get depressed. Don’t look outside because you’re going to get stressed. Look above where Christ is so that you may be blessed. Look above. We’ve been looking only at the horizontal. What is the First Commandment? To love God with all our heart, all our mind, all our soul, and all our strength, that’s vertical. Then he said, What’s the Second one, to love your neighbor like yourself; so, this is the horizontal.
You and I, as Christians, cannot maintain in a horizontal. We must always be in the vertical, always. So, we’re not looking up. We don’t have an eternal perspective. When you don’t have an eternal perspective, what happens? We despair, we lose hope, we get depressed, we get bummed out. We start getting doubts, we start getting confused; then your heart becomes overwhelmed, your mind becomes paralyzed, and the peace of God is no longer there. The assurance of God is no longer there and pretty soon, it’s easier to get high. It’s easier to compromise if all you hear is the media, the news, the propaganda, and you’re locked in and all you do is eat a bunch of carbohydrates for four months. I’m thinking, Let’s get out, let’s practice social distancing, but let’s not allow the pandemic to [stop us from having] any activities available for the men or the women.
The women here, they’re ahead of us, the men. They’re already meeting, already having fellowship. Of course, there’s some people who have succumbed to this scourge, but none of them have been hospitalized, so it’s just a treatment, and that’s good news. We still practice social distancing—we have to—so, I hope and pray that this will be over soon. It is my humble opinion that I don’t think we’ll ever go back to the way it was before. I think we need to adjust. We need to innovate, and we need to overcome.
With the doors wide open now to minister in the inner city, share your thoughts on what you have seen and how that can help in this situation we are in right now?
In any metropolis city you’ve had a conglomerate of foreigners. If people want to travel all the way to go to Afghanistan, you can come to L.A. and test it there. If you want to go to Korea and see and minister in Korea, come to L.A.—there are Koreans. If you want to learn Spanish, then come to East L.A.; this will be the inter-cultural exchange right here.
Sadly, in our community, we have a scourge of ministries where they have this philosophy about ripping people off. They always ask for money, money, money, money, money, and they are always fleecing the flock. We have many churches that do that here and the community is aware of the church asking about money.
That is why we at Calvary Chapel Montebello, The Ark, we opted 20 years ago not to receive offering at all. We have Agape boxes, but we have never asked for money or passed the plate. On the other hand, we have pastors here who are trying to minister; but the tithing, it doesn’t reflect where they’re living at, because they’re living in a social economical strain. They can barely feed their children.
In essence, pastors that come here are actually missionary pastors. So, Lord willing, once we look at our own finances, we need to help out some of the other guys. Some “chump change” here, but it helps because they cannot live from their own congregations. They should be treated like missionaries, in my opinion.
We’re very fortunate for what God has done. We’ve never been in the black, but we’ve never been in the red. We have a motto here, Beans and rice and Jesus Christ. I think that’s it.
All verses above are quoted from the New King James Version.
© 2020 Calvary Chapel Magazine. All rights reserved. Articles or photographs may not be reproduced without the written permission of CCM. All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.® Used by permission.