A Small Church Has the Faith to Take on Goliath
After the 1992 Los Angeles riots that followed the acquittals in the Rodney King beating trial, Richard Parks moved into South LA with a group of friends. Kevin Blue and others joined Richard over the next three years. Their prayer group and Bible study slowly grew into what now is the Church of the Redeemer. Richard later launched their associated non-profit, Redeemer Community Partnership, working to holistically improve and enrich the community.
Being a multicultural community pursuing Kingdom-oriented transformation in its corner of the inner city was always central to the church’s vision. Jen and Kevin Blue are on staff with Servant Partners and serve as two of Redeemer’s pastors. The pastoral staff team and church members come from a varied mix of Latin, Black, Asian, and White ethnic backgrounds. Some members are working class, some are very poor, and some have upper-middle class economic resources. Their call to be a neighborhood-based, cross-class, and cross-racial community was no simple task, and it took years to develop. “We didn’t see fruit for a long time, but through our patient endurance as a community, God has brought forth change from seeds of faith,” shares Kevin.
In the early years of Church of the Redeemer, neighborhood safety was at the forefront of the congregation’s concerns. Local shop Lucky Liquor spilled public intoxication, gang violence, and prostitution into the surrounding neighborhood. It quickly became a focus of the church’s organizing efforts; local residents from Redeemer formed block clubs and brought their neighbors together to change what was happening on their street. The store closed and was replaced with El Rey Market, a Central American grocery store.
These early struggles in their life as a church were like King David’s early lion-and-bear encounters; they would prepare Redeemer with the kind of faith needed to face a Goliath. In 2013, Richard learned of plans for new work on the Jefferson Boulevard oil and natural gas extraction site just a few block from his home. Thousands of gallons of toxic chemicals would be trucked in and injected into the ground with massive machinery, a noisy extraction method called acidization.
Drilling operations across Greater Los Angeles extract oil and natural gas below ground. Extraction sites in close proximity to wealthier residential neighborhoods are often heavily regulated for safety. Sites located in poorer zip codes, like the one on Jefferson Boulevard, fail to give surrounding residents the same protections that wealthier neighborhoods demand and receive.
Sentinel Peak Resources, the current owner of the Jefferson drill site, operates 36 oil wells on a 1.86 acre site right in the middle of a residential area. The nearest home is three feet from the site’s exterior wall. Neighbors have suffered from noxious fumes, prolonged loud noises, headaches, nosebleeds, and respiratory illnesses like asthma. The chemicals involved in oil extraction at this site are also known carcinogens and endocrine disruptors, meaning they increase risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and damage to the reproductive system in present and future generations.
When Richard and Servant Partners intern Niki Wong learned that the Jefferson drill site had been endangering the health and safety of their neighborhood for decades, they set to work. Though they faced a giant multinational oil corporation, they had faith in God’s power and did not hesitate. Redeemer Community Partnership networked with Stand Together Against Neighborhood Drilling (STAND-LA) to begin a four-year process of increasing public awareness, organizing residents, collecting public testimonies, filing a Nuisance Abatement Petition, and coordinating multiple on-site demonstrations.
On October 13, 2017, the City of Los Angeles placed some of the most stringent operating regulations in the nation on the Jefferson site. This South LA community finally had the same protections that wealthier, Westside neighborhoods had been afforded decades ago. Everyone in the neighborhood celebrated this unprecedented victory with tamales and agua frescas. But their work hasn’t ended; just this winter the community had to fight back Sentinel Peak’s attempt to appeal the city’s decision, and though they were successful, they anticipate that Sentinel Peak will continue to resist compliance. Still, their faith stands strong. “Stories like David and Goliath are preserved for us so that we know that God can do this,” Kevin explains. “And as you can see,” Jen continues, “this is no small battle we’re up against. But our God is no small God.”