Photo credit: Just Above Sunset Photography
Matthew Barnett went to Los Angeles in 1994 with the preconceived notion of what he would do to help his father, Pastor Tommy Barnett, recreate the historic Queen of Angels Hospital, a landmark in the Echo Park neighborhood, into a viable church.
Boy, was he wrong!
“When I came to Los Angeles I was sold on the fact that it would be one way and that would be the extent of the vision,” Barnett tells watchgmctv.com. “When I came and tried it my way, I lost everything. In retrospect that was the greatest thing that could have happened. I had to start over and rediscover what God wanted, not what I wanted.”
This was the first inkling of an idea that has become Barnett’s latest book, The Cause Within You, which is based on the belief that every person has a reason for being here, and that people will not be fulfilled until they figure out what it is and pursue it. Barnett wrote the book in order to share his own personal discovery of what he believes is his cause, the Los Angeles Dream Center, a 24/7 church that ministers to everyone from addicts to abused women and teen runaways.
“When I saw the odds of starting a church like this (Dream Center), I began to realize that there was so much more inside of us as individuals that God wanted to use. Once I began to take on God’s cause and not my dream, things began to happen. It eventually inspired people all over the city to discover what it was inside them to come and make the church the best it could be.”
The Dream Center progressed from a church with no membership to a church with members coming from all areas of Los Angeles to help build a refuge for those fighting the dangers of drug dealers, pimps and prostitutes, human trafficking and [for] runaways unable to fend for themselves.
“People came from Beverly Hills who had been going to safe, comfortable churches. They began driving into the city because they sensed they were needed. There was divine reason to come back in, to organize and take on the city’s biggest challenges. In three years, crime dropped 73 percent. That happened because people were reaching people, and there was the excitement of people wanting to make a difference.”
Beyond a Building
Housed in a 14-story building, The LA Dream Center provides food, clothing, medical care, rehab and shelter to more than 30,000 people who walk through its doors each week. They could be homeless, jobless or runaways – none are turned away. The center is open 24 hours a day to serve them.
In the first four years after the center was opened, the inner city area surrounding the facility realized an amazing decline in crime. Prostitution and gang violence fell by 73 percent and rape dropped by 53 percent. The Los Angeles Dream Center was recognized by the Mayor and the City Council as having a direct impact on
The Dream Center has an amazing outreach at Thanksgiving, giving out more than 2,000 turkeys. During the Christmas season, 6,500 children receive new bicycles and toys, while another 2,000 backpacks filled with school supplies go to children in the fall. The center also has mobile food and medical trucks which go out to reach people on the streets in need of their services.
“Los Angeles is the largest city in America for sex slavery, and we have 60 beds for those victims,” Barnett explains. “We have another 140 beds for homeless families. When the police conduct different raids, they might call us to ask if we have room for someone. None of this was in our original plan, but it has happened. It seems that the more dangerous the people who come in to be served, the more people come in to help. Celebrities come to the church to help. Patricia Heaton from ‘Everybody Loves Raymond’ comes every week.”
From Relevance to Revolution
Barnett says when the Dream Center began to materialize, he realized he had to let go and let the Lord take it where He wanted it to go. “I didn’t know where to begin. I had grown up in a mega-church and what God was asking me to do was so different and out of my comfort zone. I was thinking of preparing sermons, and he was asking me to do so much more.”
When he decided to turn it over to God, Barnett got his answer.
“God spoke to me in really clear words. He said ‘Don’t worry about the neighborhood. I didn’t call you to be relevant, I called you to be revolutionary and to do something they’ve never seen before.' I ended up developing a small army, visiting two houses, three houses, then a block, so it’s been a process. I did one thing that helped me: I decided to commit myself for life to this cause. I didn’t have to accomplish everything overnight. We take it one step at a time, helping the next person as they come along. If you are committed for life, you don’t have to do everything at once.”
Today, thousands attend the Sunday worship service, but Barnett says that’s only a launching point for their service to the neighborhood throughout the week.
“On Monday the drug addicts come in, homeless families come in and we take care of their needs, the same with juvenile delinquents. As far as winning people to Christ, we accomplish more on Monday through Saturday than we do on Sunday, believe it or not.
Addicted to Mending Lives
“The most addictive part of our ministry is when we started getting [volunteers] on the street knocking on doors, reacting to the needs they saw: setting up a clothing store, a food pantry... Once you release an army of people into the community, the vision takes form. People open their eyes to what they see. The vision is found by walking in the valley and seeing what is going on.”
As an example, Barnett says the center has recently come to recognize the need to help emancipated minors who end up on the streets because they have nowhere to go. "We realized God was telling us to meet this need. When people see the next thing that is needed, they either jump on board, or they go to the drawing table to
Barnett says it is not always easy to convince people there’s something they can do. “A few people never step out because they feel like they are inadequate to give. There is so much pain, or so many mistakes they’ve made, that they don’t see they have anything to give. If you look in the Bible, many of the stories are about people who have little in hand, yet God does something incredible with it. But it’s what God can do within you that matters. When I go into places I’ve never been before, I am taking a leap of faith because I know God is absolutely there, more than ever, in places you can’t control.”
A Dream Begets More Dreamers
There are now 170 centers across America which spawned from the way Barnett and his team built the Los Angeles location. Some of them started when youth groups came to volunteer in LA and then went home to start their own programs. Although not managed in any way by LA's center, they are nurtured and encouraged to become the best they can be in their own communities.
Although Barnett isn’t sure what's next for the Los Angeles Dream Center, he's sure that when the need arises, they will move forward to meet it. “Right now we are working on an emancipation home, and we have opened space to take on that need. Once we move the men’s rehab to the main tower, then we’ll have 100 beds for emancipated kids.”
Barnett is dedicating 100 percent of the proceeds from The Cause Within You to a new floor at the center which will serve victims of human trafficking. The book, which made the New York Times Best Seller list, was released earlier this year.
Click here to get Barnett’s amazing book and be part of the Dream in a very tangible way.
News You May Also Like
In May 2010, rain descended on Nashville, Tenn. for two straight days. Fifty-two counties were declared disaster areas. The Cumberland River downtown crested at close to 52 feet, the highest it had been since 1937. Some of the city’s most historic buildings and tourist attractions were...
When Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation earlier this year, it took the world by surprise. Benedict was the first pope to resign in 598 years, and his departure ushered in a time of uncertainty for the church as the cardinals searched for the next pontiff.The election of Pope Francis on...
Although the series finale of “Veronica Mars” was a wrap just shy of six years ago now, die-hard fans of the quirky TV show never gave up hope that their beloved private investigator, played by Kristen Bell (pictured left), would make her eponymous return to the big screen.Not...