“Undercover Church” Fights Food Insecurity in California
By Jaymie Dieterle
“God planted a church against our will,” says Mustard Seed Acre founder Darian Bourez.
When Darian retired from law enforcement in 2018, the plan was to travel with his family, including wife Summer, helping where they could, and landing where they felt they belonged for the next season in their lives. Their dream was to have a roadside produce stand somewhere. But the road trip never happened. Extreme weather kept the family from their trip.
Instead, they discovered two undeveloped lots in nearby Exeter, California, where they had family. The land, in a rough neighborhood, had been on the market for eight to ten years. On faith, the Bourezes put in a “ridiculous” offer to see what God might do. When the offer was accepted, they moved forward in creating their urban farm and produce stand.
They called their space Mustard Seed Acre, saying, “We’ve done this on faith and faith alone.” The name has repeatedly opened doors for the Bourezes to tell visitors about their faith. And their ties to the community have grown, especially as Mustard Seed Acre has responded to needs in the community.
After an earthquake in Trona, California, impacted the family of a local friend, Mustard Seed Acre agreed to be the drop-off spot for donations of bottled water. The Exeter community provided 90 cases of water in 2 hours. The needs in Trona were so great, the Bourezes said they would continue to collect items. That’s when things exceeded all of their expectations.
Every pallet they put out was quickly filled. A stranger offered to donate a semi to cart everything to Trona. A local dentist set aside money to buy hygiene supplies, and when the order came in way under budget, they bought more. After two weeks of collections, the semi was completely full. In fact, just before their early morning departure for Trona, the group was looking for more volunteers to transport 800 to 1,000 breakfast burritos for those who would be helping unload the truck and others who had need. God continued to show up in the kindness and generosity of their community.
With the testimony of their business name and their heart for meeting the needs of people in their community and beyond, people began asking the Bourezes when they were going to start a church. Neither Darian nor Summer thought that was the path they were on. They heard about a man in the area who had recently left his Church of God congregation, and they contacted him to see if he would pastor a church for them. Michael Guzman, regional pastor for the Church of God in Central California, told them they were the ones being called.
That was the Bourezes first contact with the Church of God. They have since participated in both Leadership Focus and the Chapter 4 Institute, two programs that have fit perfectly with the Bourezes’ philosophy of community engagement and ministry in the name of Jesus. They have 30 to 50 people show up on Sundays for church, but it’s a group that is not content to stay within the confines of a church site. “Culturally, we tend to be too church-centric,” Darian says. “The Church at Mustard Seed Acre is more of an ‘undercover church.’ It’s time to get out of the walls and into the community. That’s what we are about.”
The Church at Mustard Seed Acre is all about engaging with their community. And their community is responding in big ways to that open spirit of generosity. Last summer the Bourezes installed a 5-foot-by-3-foot cupboard at their property as a food pantry. Community members keep it full of food, and it’s available to those in need 24 hours a day. At Thanksgiving, someone donated 20 turkeys for Mustard Seed to give away. Members of the congregation drove into the needy neighborhoods of their community to give away the turkeys. When word got out, people came to Mustard Seed to see if they had any more. One of their customers was watching. The next thing the Bourezes knew, they had a check for $1,000 in hand to buy turkeys or chickens for the community for Christmas. Then a $500 check came in. And then another. As money continued to arrive, the church bought 100 laundry baskets and started filling them with not only Christmas dinner supplies, but also enough food to feed a family for a week. In the end, they gave away over 100 “Blessing Baskets” and another 50 “Blessing Bags” of food. Again, the congregation members went into their community, and made (masked and physically distanced) connections with the people there. The food was given not as a handout, but as a gift of love.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated an already difficult season of food insecurity in Exeter. The local food bank has seen their traffic triple in the last year. The folks at Mustard Seed Acre continue to follow God’s leading to change that dynamic in their community. And as they meet the needs of their neighbors, doors are opened to tell people about Christ. “The Church has been sitting on its hands. The time is ripe to act. I am encountering people in our work who have never heard of Jesus.” As the Lord opens the doors, the Bourezes and their congregation are stepping in to share generously food for the body, as well as the soul.
Help churches like these respond to urgent needs in their communities as a result of recent crises:
Jaymie Dieterle is a freelance writer with a passion for books, reading, and life-long learning. Jaymie and her family live in Anderson, Indiana, and they are actively involved at Madison Park Church of God.