OUR STORY

1954 - 2021

PART 1 | 1954-1991
"To move forward with strength, we must first look backward with clarity and gratitude."

For the next four weeks, I thought I would provide a brief history of God's work with the people called "Light & Life". As we emerge from Covid into a new reality, as we move forward into God's future, as Deb and I continue to move towards transitioning (not leaving) in our roles of leadership, as so many newcomers have come to LLCF in the last few months, we need to hear God's story of goodness and faithfulness to LLCF.

In 1954 the First Free Methodist Church of Long Beach, (1535 Gundry Ave.) sent a small group of people to start a Bible Study in North Long Beach with the goal of becoming a church. The Bible Study grew and in 1957 they purchased a large lot on the corner of Downey and 59th Street.

The church was without a building and with little money to its name SO they pulled a big yellow school bus up on the property. People sat in the bus seats and the preacher preached from up front. Soon they filled the bus.
When the church went for a loan to build they were immediately turned down. But they were told if they started a school the bank would lend to them. SO they promptly started Light & Life Christian School and built a one room school. It served as a classroom during the week and a church sanctuary on Sundays.

The school continued to expand both in enrollment and in facilities. The church grew too but not as quickly. The congregation was determined to reach out and to build a proper church sanctuary. Many of that small group of believers gave sacrificially. Some, like Gene and Bev McClain, even took out a second mortgage on their homes to build God's house.

Finally in 1976 the existing sanctuary was built. On the bi-centennial of our nation the church doors of Light & Life were opened with much praise and thanksgiving.

The first 37 years saw pastors come and go. Some were effective, others struggled. No pastor stayed more than 5 years.
 
In 1988 more money was raised and the wings to the sanctuary (where the current nursery, prayer room, green room are currently) were added.

Light & Life believers have always been tenacious, generous, prayerful and evangelistic. Their faith and sacrifice held the church together and developed her over the first 37 years of her existence. We honor their legacy and praise God for them!
PART 2  | 1991-1999

By the start of 1991 the ethnic and economic demographics of our North Long Beach  area had changed dramatically. The church was made up of a small group of godly “white” folks who wanted to reach people for Jesus but were not being effective in doing so. They had no pastor and were struggling to keep the church doors open.

But a significant shift occurred, the older generation chose to empower the new generation (then stayed to support them). 26 year old Don McLain (of the McLain family who had kept the church together for 34 years) became the key leader.

Don boldly brought in Craig and Mary Durst with their “jazz worship” sound to lead worship on Easter and they ended up staying for 30 years! Their powerful new worship became a key in Light & Life’s growth.

Don also called the church together for a special evening prayer gathering. The adults of the church gathered down front at the “altar” and were earnestly praying for God to use their church to reach people for Christ. At that exact moment, the back doors opened and a large man, a stranger, walked slowly down the aisle. Don said, Can we help you? The man blurted out, “Can you tell me how to become a Christian?” Tony Cook was saved that night and for the last 30 years almost every week someone has come to know Christ.

Don was auditing a class at Azusa Pacific University seminary where I was attending. We became friends. After a few weeks he asked, Would you come be our Pastor at Light & Life? I said, “No. I am Associate Pastor at this large, wealthy suburban church that has just offered me the high-paying Lead Pastor role.”  Not to be denied Don asked, “Would you at least pray about it?”. I said, “Yes”.
In a miraculous way God spoke to Deb and me and called us to the little place, the place with 39 parking spots in urban North Long Beach. I had just read the top book on “church growth” and it said, “To grow your church you must have ample and convenient parking”. I looked around and said, "Thanks a lot, God!"

But God began to bring new people into our church and over the next 8 years we grew dramatically. Vibrant worship, solid Bible preaching, vital small groups, loving people well, earnest prayer, all contributed to our growth. In 1997 we were the fastest growing church in our entire denomination.

One of the biggest changes took place as we prayer-walked our neighborhood asking God, “Help our church look like our diverse neighborhood”. And God answered that prayer powerfully. To this day we are one of the most diverse churches in America.

We hired staff, added worship services, knocked down walls, remodeled the sanctuary, added the balcony, and rented the building which is now our Ministry Center. We took mission teams to the Dominican Republic. We sent out our associate pastors like George Bowker and Fraser Venter, to pastor other churches. God raised up other leaders from within, like Kevin Boyce, to be Executive Pastor.

A miracle happened in our little church because people prayed, invited, sacrificed and served for the glory of God! We grew to be larger than 97% of churches in America...but still only had 39 parking spaces.
PART 3  | 1999-2010
 
By 1998 our church was at a crossroads - We could relocate to a larger property with more parking and seek to become a “megachurch” or stay where we were and cap our growth.

The RIVER: Deb and I went away for a week to pray. As we read God’s word the Lord gave us a revelation called, “A River Church” from Ezekiel 47. Instead of being a “Lake Church” where people flowed into one place, around one pastor and we keep everyone who comes; people would “flow into" Light & Life and “flow out” to start new churches. Ezekiel 47:9 says, “Where the river flows everything will live!”

PRAYER: As our church embraced this church planting vision we embarked on 40 Days of fasting and earnest prayer. We did all night prayer meetings and prayer bicycle rides around the entire city. We cast a vision called "Mission 2010" to start new churches in the different city council districts of Long Beach.

CHURCH PLANTING: Our first church plant started on Sunday evenings in Belmont Shore led by Larry, Deb, JR & Kim Rushik plus 25 people from Light & Life North. God blessed this evening church and it grew. Eventually the church was turned over to Mark McGrath to lead as Larry and Deb refocused on the mother church.
This kicked off the River Church vision and a flurry of church planting activity over the next ten years:

  • Light & Life Bixby led by Jim and Karin Blythe,
  • Luz y Vida led by Paul Vargas,
  • Storehouse Church in Philadelphia led by JR and Kim Rushik,
  • Sumballo led by Charles Wallace,
  • Light & Life Oahu - Ronel Estorgio,
  • Light & Life West with Charles Latchison, (we purchased a building on Long Beach Blvd. for West to start in),
  • Halogen- Deb and Larry then Izzy Matos,
  • Luz Y Vida 2 with Jonatan Gonzales,
  • Lifehouse with Kreng and Panya Krich,
  • Light & Life Downey with Larry then handed off to Kevin Boyce,
  • The Light in Signal Hill with David Hino,
  • Luz y Vida Norte with Carlos Cueva then Richard Martinez,
With each of these plants or restarts Light & Life gave leaders, people, coaching and finances to see them get going. Some thrived, others struggled, a few died but all of them advanced the kingdom, saved souls, raised up leaders and sent out more people into ministry.

SCHOOL
As the demographics around our church changed it became economically unfeasible for our Christian School to continue. So we celebrated 50 years of faithfully providing quality Christian Elementary Education to neighborhood students (like Pastor Sean) and then transitioned to a day camp program called, Reaching Higher, followed by a partnership with a charter school for underprivileged children.

GLOBAL MISSIONS
Also our global missions took off in a huge way. We took Light & Life teams to Ethiopia, to the Philippines (with Ralph & Joji Silo) and to Indonesia (with Lody DeRidder). In each of these countries we went to the hardest, most remote places by horseback, by small boats, by scooters, by hiking. God used our teams powerfully to hold rallies, raise up leaders, start churches, build schools, feed the hungry.

The River was flowing globally as well!
PART 4  |2011-2021
The River of Church Planting and sending out leaders was flowing when 2010 started. Some of these church plants or restarts were named Light & Life, others were not.

We had renamed the church from Light & Life Free Methodist to Light & Life Christian Fellowship in 1992. Although still an active part of the wonderful Free Methodist family, we wanted to emphasize our first priority was building God’s kingdom not a denomination. Very few people knew what “Free Methodist” meant and most would confuse it with United Methodist. We were first of all a “Fellowship of Jesus followers”. We weren’t promoting our name, or the name of a denomination, but the name of Jesus.

As we reached globally in missions and nationally in church planting, we realized we had not done enough to serve those in need in our own backyard. God opened the door for us to buy the Jones Electrical building adjacent to our church property. People asked, “Why do we need it? What will we use it for?” The Pastors replied, “To serve our community”.

We needed to raise $100,000 within 4 weeks for a down payment to buy it. It would take a miracle. God through our generous LLCF people provided $128,000 in one month.
Juan Carlos and Betty Arevalo took Luz y Vida in 2017 and have built a thriving spanish speaking congregation that operates as a church within a church model on our LLCF campus.

Many other amazing stories occurred during the last 11 years: Calvin & Sarah Tatupu and Side by Side Church, Luz Y Vida Southgate - Percy Riley, Rebirth - Lé Selah Richardson, Anthem Church - Autumn & Daniel Katz, Voice Church - Taka Iguchi, Josh & Marsee Smith - Zoe Christian Fellowship, Renovate Church with Chris Kirish and the recent planting of Free Life Community with Paul and Rebecca Park in Westminster.

Our global church planting and missions work has prospered as well. Many churches haven been started in the Philippines and our work in Indonesia is growing. Recently we have built a church and children’s center in the Dominican Republic and started Light & Life Guatemala.
Our Light & Life Community Center opened its doors to serve in 2010. Since then it has been actively used for after school programs, community meetings, computer classes for neighbors, a polling station, Christian counseling, a large food distribution program, a summer day camp for kids in need called “Come Alive” and a thriving community theater program called “Act Out” which has seen hundreds of kids get a taste of acting and Jesus!

Pastor Deb not only led the Community Center but also started a garden on the side of our church property. Then in 2013 from her Doctorate project started the first Community Garden in Compton California which has touched hundreds of lives. (By the way, one of our LLCF defining “God Stories’ was Deb’s miraculous healing from fatal cancer in 2005.)

In 2010 we were asked to take the leadership of a small Free Methodist church in South Central. We led it back to health and growth, renamed it “LA Community Church” and eventually sent Robert and Donna Marshall there to pastor.

In 2012 the opportunity to buy a church property in North Long Beach on Cherry Avenue came up. Again our people rallied and we purchased “Cherry Campus” and did extensive remodeling led by Pastor Vern Burgess. It became a satellite campus under the leadership of LLCF. The campus grew and God did wonderful works there. After four years, however, it was decided to sell the campus to Light & Life West which was also growing and needed more space.

Also in this period our largest church plant ever was launched. Chapel of Change led by Pastor Brian and Laura Warth was started with many of our Light & Life people helping. Today it is a flourishing, church-planting church that has outgrown LLCF!
In March of 2020 the COVID-19 pandemic closed down in-person church gatherings. Light & Life immediately launched an “On-Line Campus” ministry which is continuing to thrive as the church slowly regathers in the aftermath of Covid.

In 2018 a succession plan was implemented which would eventually transfer the leadership of Light & Life to Pastors Sean Fenner and Joel Silva. January 2022 Pastor Deb and Larry will reposition as Global Pastors under Sean and Joel’s leadership as Co-Lead Pastors.

Primarily through Pastor Larry’s work with Exponential (the world’s largest church planting resource ministry, (exponential.org) and the books he has written, Light & Life has become known nationally. LLCF has been recognized as one of the 400 most influential churches in America, one of the top 100 reproducing churches in America and one of the most ethnically diverse churches, many churches have started using their “River Model”..AND we still only have 39 parking spaces.

Jesus alone deserves all the glory for anything good that’s happened at Light & Life! As we say, “God is good...all the time...and all the time...God is good!” Light & Life is “the people-loving place”, a River Church, where we will continue to Reach, Teach, Mend and Send!  

The BEST is JUST AHEAD! Jesus is Lord of Light & Life!

WHERE ARE WE HEADED

Our church has been in a transition of leadership for the last four years. As Pastors Larry & Deb reposition themselves and take on more national leadership in the Free Methodist Church and through other organizations, Pastors Sean and Joel will continue to serve and lead the church together with the support of Pastors Larry & Deb, who are not going anywhere! Watch the video update for a more detailed vision.

As we continue to reach, teach, mend, and send into the coming years we are more committed than ever to be the RiverChurch God has called us to give, a church that knows deep within her heart that "You cannot out-give God!" We will continue to raise up leaders, pastors, and send them off to continue proclaiming the gospel and making disciples of all nations.


-Pastors Larry, Deb, Sean & Joel

BEING A RIVER CHURCH

We love the River Church vision God gave Pastors Larry & Deb Walkemeyer and decades later, that same vision continues to drive our little church. We envision God drawing hundreds of leaders and non-believers that will boldly GO and be sent to start new Christ-centered communities throughout our nation and the world. Are you tired of church as usual? Step into the river, be healed, built up, and sent out!