My name is Sheila Johnson, and this is my husband, Paul. We have attended New Hope Christian Fellowship (Simi Valley 2 Foursquare Church) in Simi Valley, Calif., since 1996. We have four children: Philip (35), Randy (31), William (21) and Jocelyn (17); and two grandchildren: Carter (3) and Caili (1). We are very involved in Alpha ministry in our community as well as other outreaches, such as Christian Legal Aid of Los Angeles and Reasons to Believe.
This past summer, along with other believers, we conducted 30 days of prayer, praise, worship and declaring the gospel in what is known as “the Wash”—an arroyo that winds its way through Ventura County. Many homeless people lived in this area at the time. (The county has since forced this tent community to leave.)
The outreach in the Wash all started on Monday nights with a small group of us from different churches meeting and praying for a couple hours before the weekly opening of our food pantry at New Hope Christian Fellowship. We were seeking what God would have us do about the homeless in our community.
Simi Valley is surrounded by hills and mountains where the homeless can be found living in tents. But the area we focused on was the Wash, the twisting waters of which eventually empty into the Pacific Ocean.
Drug and alcohol addictions, mental illness, economic upheaval, broken families and abuse—the things of this world sent these individuals there. As I sat in this inter-denominational group of like-hearted Christians, I wondered what I could possibly do. The problem seemed so big.
Then, during one of these meetings, a verse came back to me. A number of years ago, while seeking God’s call on my life, I heard in a dream, “Jeremiah 22:16.” There was no visual, just the words, “Jeremiah 22:16.” The reference to this verse kept repeating in my sleep until I woke up. I looked it up: ” ‘He defended the cause of the needy and afflicted, and so all went well. Is this not what it means to know me?’ declares the Lord” (NIV). I was astounded.
One of the women in our group said she thought God wanted us to go down into the Wash for 30 days of prayer, praise and worship; He wanted us to bind up the brokenhearted, heal the sick, free the captives, give rest to the weary and hope to the hopeless. We would set up a tent and declare Jesus in this community.
We all said how impossible this idea seemed. We reasoned the Park District would never let us have an event in the Wash. We knew, however, that if it couldn’t be done in our own strength and abilities, then it must be God.
So we laid down our reputations and began to get the word out, believing God would make it happen. It would be called The Event at the Tent, and a Facebook event page was set up.
Resources came together. A small stage was built, and a sound system, generator, tent making materials and chairs were donated. Finally, several days before it was to begin, the first miracle: the Parks District gave us a 30-day permit!
We set up our open-air tent structure on an abandoned model plane flying/landing strip next to the Wash. On a hill behind us, we could see tent dwellers under the trees. We knew more were living in this tent village on the ridge and along the Wash.
On June 11, The Event at the Tent started, and we were loud enough to be heard by the tent dwellers around us. A few of them ventured near but stayed around the outskirts. Then more and more came, and they moved closer and closer in.
Believers from all over came to help: evangelists, outreach groups, musicians, students, prayer warriors, youth groups and pastors. Gifts were released and blessings flowed, especially among our youth. Hearts were changed. Working together from many church backgrounds, we really became the church, as in the book of Acts.
How interesting that our Lord would have us on a landing strip, where His Spirit could “land” next to the Wash, and where the lost could be washed and made clean by the blood of the Lamb!
God is moving. He is changing hearts—not only the hearts of our homeless community, but also our hearts. He said to go out into the roads and along the hedges, and compel them to come in, so that His house would be full (see Luke 14:23). He also said that what you do to any of the least of these, you do for Him (see Matt. 25:40).
The 30 days ended. People experienced new birth in Christ, healings, restoration and hope. There were baptisms, both by water and in the Holy Spirit. We made friends and found mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, daughters and sons living in the Wash. We couldn’t leave our friends. So we started conducting Bible studies, and provided dinners and rides to church.
We also brought the Alpha course down into the Wash. The first night of Alpha was in July. One of the homeless carved out a “sanctuary” under some of the trees and brought down the cross, stage and chairs. There we had a meal and talked on the subject, “Who is Jesus?”
Now that the county has forced the homeless to leave the Wash, we are most concerned about shelter. We are praying for the next thing the Lord would have us do. But we will continue our ministry with great anticipation of the fruit of God’s hand at work in Simi Valley!