The Surfboard Church
By Kermit Wilson
I was cleaning out a desk of a former employee and found a small green surfboard with “Long Beach, California” printed on it. I thought, “I know people there,” for I had at one time coached the pastor and church there. I placed the surfboard on my desk to remind me to pray for my friends in California. Little did I know that I was praying seeds for my future. Six months later, my wife and I would be called to serve as lead pastors of College Park Church of God in Long Beach, California. This surfboard, and my new surfboard desk, has become an affirmation and inspiration of God’s calling. We accepted the challenge of redeveloping this then-one-hundred-year-old church. Some thought we were crazy, but I felt inspired!
I wanted to understand the reputation of the church in our community. I went to both major intersections to ask the local businesses if they knew where the church was located. The responses ranged from Ahhhh? to some location other than the right one. Only the Domino’s pizza delivery guy knew the location of the church! I discovered that we didn’t really have any reputation in the community. We began to pray for God’s direction about how we could serve and reach our community.
For five years we served the Avon Breast Cancer Walk annually, recruiting 1,800 walkers. We reached out to families at an annual festival. Then another idea: snow in Long Beach, California. The board thought I was crazy; however, it would not be the first or last time we tried it. We created a winter wonderland with ten tons of snow brought to our parking lot for sledding. All the while, four snow machines were shooting snow off our roof and a horse-drawn wagon provided Christmas-caroling opportunities. In addition, a Christmas movie was projected onto a two-story screen, Christmas treats were provided, and family portraits were offered with “Surfin’ Santa.” Last year’s event drew more than a thousand people from our community! Besides our Christmas ministry, another favorite annual community outreach is the Halloween block party, which offers games and treats to the neighborhood. Over the last six years, God has blessed us to reach and baptize thirty people in the Pacific Ocean.
God’s vision for us has resulted in a new expression of ourselves in the symbol of an ocean wave. By nature, waves as a creation of God bring life, create and transport energy, and clean and shape the coastline. Waves find energy from wind and gravitational pull. We desperately want to experience the wind of the Holy Spirit and the power of God’s love to be a small part of his work on the earth. We are called to be “A Wave of God’s Love,” sharing eternal life and the Holy Spirit’s power and purity as God shapes and transforms us and our community. A remodeling of the church’s exterior facility to look like ocean waves now communicates this vision to the community. The unique design of our church building causes those who pass by to stop and take a look. The four waves of our logo express our four values: (1) the Great Commandment, (2) the Great Commission, (3) a caring community, and (4) an equipping and sending church.
On October 7, we lived out this vision through what we called “Wave Sunday.” For first time in 107 years, we did not have a worship service inside the building, but rather served outside in our community. A team passed out water bottles at the city marathon. Our Cooking Team prepared a meal at a local rescue mission. The Clean Team went to two laundry mats and gave away free uses of the washers and dryers. The Cookie Team prepared baked goods and took baskets of thank-you cookies to emergency room staff at local hospitals. And in an unplanned experience, team members went to a local frozen yogurt shop and paid for people’s purchases.
Our message that day was simple: “We don’t want anything from you. We know that times are tough, and we just wanted you to know that God loves you.” Responses ranged from shock and unbelief, to thanksgiving and a desire to know more about our ministry. On that day a deep sense of God’s presence blessed us with encouragement and love. Some of the teams have decided to continue to serve on a monthly basis.
It is such a great adventure following God on his mission. We are still very much learning as God shapes our small community of faith and transforms us into a wave of his love for our world.