Friday, September 16, 2011

‘Open Arms’ in ‘South Central’

A Former Prosecuting Attorney and his wife are now providing ‘hope’ to the needy people of South Central Los Angeles, birthplace of gangs like the ‘Bloods’ and the ‘Crips’

By Dan Wooding
Founder of ASSIST Ministries

SOUTH LOS ANGELES, CA (ANS) -- During my 50 years in ministry, I have had the privilege of speaking all over the world, from North Korea to Vietnam, Uganda to Malaysia, but on Wednesday (September 14, 2011), I had a most unique preaching experience that I will not soon forget.

An earlier picture of the 'Bloods' in
South Central Los Angeles
Along with my wife, Norma, I went to the Open Arms Christian Fellowship in South Central Los Angeles, often abbreviated as South L.A. as the name “South Central” had become almost synonymous with urban decay and street crime.
South Los Angeles is considered to be the forefront for gang warfare and poverty in the “City of Angels,” with so much gang violence and crime. It was the birthplace of many gangs famous for their notoriety such as the “South Side Florence 13”, “18st”, the “Bloods”, and the “Crips”.
In my sermon, I preached about why God can use failures, citing the text found 1 Corinthians 1:27, But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty (King James Bible).
“Tonight, if you feel you are a failure, you are in the right place, because God can now use you in a mighty way to reach out to the people of this area,” I said.

Cathy and Doug Kelley pictured
in their tiny apartment 
(Photo: Dan Wooding)
Before the service, Doug and Cathy Kelley, who had moved to California from Montana in 1998, and have now made this unique area their home, showed us around their House of Hope ministry which is home to some 80 men and women, many fresh from prison, some even from San Quentin. At this place, the Kelley’s and an experienced staff, say they are able to “help other people excel.”
Doug added, “The House of Hope gives practical help to the helpless homeless and addicted. It gives a vision for living life without drugs, alcohol, or prison. We help each client to build a plan for the rest of their life.
“Those coming to the House of Hope have been told that they are not good enough; that they have failed; that they will never make anything of themselves. None-stop relapses are an urgent reminder that we need to do more. Willpower alone will not set people free from the power of drugs and alcohol. Through prayer and counsel, we believe that each person’s potential will be declared.”
Doug and Cathy are so committed to helping those in such desperate need, that they have moved into a tiny apartment which is located over their church, Open Arms Christian Center, at 8874 South Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90003. They have lived in this 540 square foot accommodation now for about two years.
“Believe it or not, we are very contented living here and we don’t look upon it as any big sacrifice,” said Doug in an interview. “We’re happy because the Lord loves us and we’ve got purpose and we’ve got passion!”

One of the House of Hope ladies
getting her hair fixed 
(Photo: Dan Wooding)
Doug went on to say, “We have zero tolerance for drug or alcohol usage and zero tolerance for racism. For instance, we have people come in from prison and they’ve been into the white supremacist thing while inside, but we teach them that we don’t believe that the skin color issue should ever affect anything, because God’s trying to change the color of our hearts.”
Over the years, God has used Doug and Cathy to start businesses, plant churches, participate in politics, and befriend the Body of Christ as well as raising four children.
Doug then told me about his background and how this eventually led him and his wife to do this challenging work in such a difficult area which they say they both love.
“Both Cathy and I are native Montanans and we lived in Montana for fifty years before we moved down here to Southern California about twelve-and-a-half years ago,” he told me in an interview for my Front Page Radio program.

Pastor Doug speaking (Photo: Dan Wooding)
“I wasn’t trained to be a pastor, but rather to be a lawyer. I came to Christ in September 1970; the very time I entered law school. I graduated from law school in 1973 and became a prosecuting attorney and also had a private law practice that made some money.”
He went on to say that, despite his financial success, “the call of God was much stronger than the call to be a lawyer and so, in 1980, I started to be an almost fulltime pastor.”
Doug Kelley explained, however, that he also continued his legal work in Montana for nearly 20 years, representing home schools, private schools and pastors from all denominations, but his first love was his Christian work in which he helped to plant churches not only his native state, but also in Canada and the Philippines.
“We ended up in Southern California by divine appointment,” he continued. “God told me one time, in our prayer closet – it was just a kind of an impression, not an audible voice – that He was going to use us to take people ‘trained in the wilderness’ and help them in their journey.”

The worship team in action at the church (Photo: Dan Wooding)
The couple, first of all lived, in Burbank where Doug worked for a mission organization as the Director of Development and then, after a time, they moved to Westminster, Orange County, where they had another “mini mansion.” Both homes, they said, had “huge swimming pools.”
I was intrigued to find out why they had moved from beautiful Orange County, to their tiny apartment in which they often hear the sound of gunfire, so Doug shared with me the story of how he first of all began the church along with Cathy.
“We started it on September 9, 2001 when we still living in Burbank,” he recalled. “I remember the date vividly because it was just two days before the 9/11 assault of the Twin Towers in New York City.”
Doug said that they had initially run the church out of their Burbank home, and then had leased space from a local Presbyterian Church for the Sunday morning service.
“Our people were coming up to Burbank from the city and we were working with a transitional housing ministry that was really given over to working with people coming out of prison and coming off the streets,” he said. “The Lord had just given us a real strong mission statement which is ‘to give hope to the broken-hearted.’
“We consider ourselves as ‘World Christians’ who live in South Central. We are taking the burnt, beaten, stones that have been crushed by life and are trying to reinvigorate them with the ‘Washing of the Word’ and put them together into a church of ‘Living Stones’ that have also been burned.”
I then asked Cathy to tell her story:
“Doug and I met at a Christian Bible study in a college that both of us attended for the first time,” she said. “Actually, it was the only time we went to that group and the rest is history! We have now been married for about 39 years.”
Cathy went on to say, “Being involved with the House of God has always been our first love and the church that we have here is probably only about 100 people, with probably sixty-percent African-American, twenty-percent Hispanic, plus other races that make up the last twenty-percent. I would describe it as an ‘independent Charismatic church.’ We have always been ‘brand x’.”

Norma and Dan Wooding pictured with a young boy from a Nigerian background who attended the service
Doug then said, “Here at the church, we teach the people that they need to find their potential in Christ; that life here on earth is a dot -- we’re here today and gone tomorrow – so we need to serve the Lord with everything we have in us. That’s why we’re in South Central; we want to serve the Lord and serve our generation.”
Cathy described what it was like living in South Central in this way, “Life here is exciting. Our children think that we should be a ‘little more retired’ and ‘living in a nicer place,’ but we really feel that when you are where God wants you, that’s the nicest place in the world.
“We have had some interesting things happen to us. For instance, our church is located between two motorcycle clubs so we have a very lively street especially on Saturday nights when they turn ‘wheelies’ in front of the church. It is also common to hear gun fire at night.
“When we first moved in, we had a shooting right in front of the church. It occurred just as I was pulling up in front of the sanctuary and I saw a guy running across the street clutching his leg after being hit by a bullet.
“Recently, I had our car battery stolen out of a locked parking lot for the second time in about a week. These are just some of the petty irritations of the world here.”
When I pointed out that some people might think they were nuts to move into such an area, Doug Kelley said, “Well, we really believe that God wants us to live where we can do the most good. I have had some significant success in my life and some would have thought that we should be working with the ‘up and outers’ rather than the ‘down and outers,’ but to me, this move is a divine appointment.
“God has called is to work in this area and He picked our congregation and we have found that we just love people. God has a favorite race -- the human race -- and we don’t care whether they’re black or brown. Whoever they are, and whatever their background, we just pour our hearts out to them the best way we can.
“Most of the ladies we work with, have been prostitutes, and most of the men have been in prison, but these things don’t shock us anymore the way they used to.
“When I was a prosecuting attorney, I put people in prison and now we just hug them and love on them. We also cry with them and laugh with them. They’re our friends and it’s not like we’re the big white people. I tell them, ‘I’m dad and dad’s going to spank you if you need a spanking and praise you if you need praise.’

A member of the congregation (Photo: Dan Wooding)
“It’s an interesting ministry. Our whole desire is to see people saved.”
When asked if the work wasn’t dangerous, Doug smiled and said, “We haven’t had anyone threaten us yet, per se, but we did have guy bring a gun to church one night saying that he was going to shoot somebody. We also had another young missionary from Canada that got a gun pointed at the back of his head.
“We’ve had some things like this, but you we don’t think on those terms because we’re on divine assignment and when the time is over, it’s over, and no devil, no gun, no evil thing, can stop us and nothing can separate us from the love of God.”
Besides their work in South Central, the Kelley’s are also involved in church planning in Mexicali, a city in Baja California, Mexico.
“I’m down there at least once a month,” said Doug.
Cathy then made an appeal for helpers to come and join them at the church and also in their rehab work.
“We have so many opportunities for service here in the inner city,” she said. “We have people here that just need a friend; they need a listening ear; and probably my main ministry what is listening. There are so many people that have never had anyone to love them and just put an arm around them and listen to them as they pour out their hearts, and people could do just that.”
Doug added, “We’re in the city of the Azusa Street Revival* and our heart is that God is still the same today as he was in the early 1900s. So we’re praying for a real outpouring of the Holy Spirit and a transforming of lives that people would sovereignly be changed by a movement of the Lord.”
* The Azusa Street Revival was a historic Pentecostal revival gathering that took place in Los Angeles, California, and was led by William J. Seymour, an African-American preacher. It began with a meeting on April 14, 1906, and continued until roughly 1915. The revival was characterized by ecstatic spiritual experiences accompanied by speaking in tongues, dramatic worship services, and inter-racial mingling. The participants received criticism from secular media and Christian theologians for behaviors considered to be outrageous and unorthodox, especially at that time. Today, the revival is considered by historians to be the primary catalyst for the spread of Pentecostalism in the 20th Century.
For more information this dedicated couple, just go to their website which is:
Note: I would like to thank Robin Frost for transcribing this interview.

Dan Wooding, 70, is an award winning British journalist now living in Southern California with his wife Norma, to whom he has been married for 48 years. They have two sons, Andrew and Peter, and six grandchildren who all live in the UK. He is the founder and international director of ASSIST (Aid to Special Saints in Strategic Times) and the ASSIST News Service (ANS) and was, for ten years, a commentator, on the UPI Radio Network in Washington, DC. He now hosts the weekly “Front Page Radio” show on KWVE in Southern California which is also carried throughout the United States. The program is also aired in Great Britain on Calvary Chapel Radio UK and also in Belize and South Africa. Besides this, Wooding is a host for His Channel Live, which is carried via the Internet to some 200 countries. You can follow Dan on Facebook under his name there or at ASSIST News Service. He is the author of some 44 books. Two of the latest include his autobiography, “From Tabloid to Truth”, which is published by Theatron Books. To order a copy, press this link.Wooding, who was born in Nigeria of British missionary parents, has also recently released his first novel “Red Dagger” which is available this link.

** You may republish this story with proper attribution.

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