"Each one win one" and "Go ye therefore..." read the raised foam letters on the back wall of Mira Mesa Bible Baptist Church. Below these exhortations hung rows of framed, typewritten missives from Baptist missionaries, working in Ukraine, in Nepal, in Trinidad and Tobago, in Wyoming, in Utah, in Riverside. "We gave $90,000 to the world missions this year," said Pastor Del. "We believe in missions. This church was founded by a missionary." "From the Cross to the Church to the World," read a banner; flags of the world stood in rows on either side of the stage. And the sermon was preached by Gary Craft, who, with his wife Karen, has worked since the mid-'80s as a missionary to the American military stationed overseas. In his opening prayer, Pastor Del prayed that the Lord would use Craft "to challenge people to be mission-minded." And during the announcements, he stressed the importance of the upcoming "friends day," when congregants "invite all their friends and loved ones who have not visited this church before. We are going all out...knocking on doors, handing out flyers, making phone calls. We will serve them food -- our favorite Filipino dishes."
The piano rollicked along under a number of old-style hymns: "Just Over in the Glory Land," "Victory in Jesus," "Wonderful Grace of Jesus." A choir took the stage for "Peace Be Still": "Whether the wrath of the storm-tossed sea/ Or demons or men or whatever it be/ No waters can swallow the ship where lies/ The Master of ocean and earth and skies." After the choir, the songleader crooned a ballad: "Teach me the mission appointed for me/ what is my labor and where it shall be...."
Gary Clark showed a video that illustrated his ministry and then asked the people to stand "out of honor to the word of God." He read from Luke, chapter seven -- the story of the centurion with the dying servant. The centurion sent word to Jesus: "Lord, trouble not thyself, for I am not worthy that thou shouldst enter under my roof.... But say in a word, and my servant shall be healed. For I also am a man set under authority, having under me soldiers, and I say unto one 'Go' and he goeth...." Upon hearing this, Jesus "marveled at him" and said, "I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel."
Clark's sermon, centered around faith, emphasized the personal relationship with God. "You know, when you got married, you didn't marry the church, and you didn't marry the ceremony, and you didn't marry the one who presided.... You married your wife or your husband. You took that person into your life...and your life has never been the same again.... You have somebody to love who loves you, and you want to please that person.... When we talk about being saved, we're talking about...Jesus Christ coming into your life, and you can never be the same again." And when he began to address the Gospel, he noted that "the Bible says, 'a certain centurion's servant'.... Every time you see that word 'certain,' you ought to be reminded of the fact that 'God is personally interested in me. I am a certain person.'" Amens -- some murmured, some barked -- rose from the congregation.
But Clark's main point was that "there are three things that caused the Savior to marvel." First, the centurion's humility in saying, "Lord, I am not worthy." Clark contrasted this with those who "would rather have something they can do, rather than trust in what has already been done, because it demands humility, and it demands repentance." Second, the centurion's "great confidence in God's character and in God's word." Third, when the centurion said, "I also am a man set under authority," he was saying, "'I understand the principle. It's the principle of submission to authority.' Jesus submitted himself to the will of the Father.... Do you know that a man who is under authority speaks with great power?... These are the characteristics of great faith."
He closed by bringing the notion of relationship to the altar call. "Every healthy relationship has good communication and good response. If God has spoken in your heart here today, He's communicated with you. You should respond. Respond at the old-fashioned altar; you'll be glad you did." As the songleader sang out "I Surrender All," a solid half of the congregation came forward and knelt in prayer, some doubled over, their heads touching the carpeted steps of the stage.
What happens when we die?
"Christ is the one who pays, who atoned for the sins of mankind," says Del. "If a man receives Christ's payment, the Bible says that will be sufficient for God to accept as his payment. If he accepts Christ as his personal savior, then his soul is redeemed...not by having religion, but by having Jesus Christ as his savior."
9920 Scripps Lake Drive, San Diego
Denomination: Independent Baptist
Founded locally: 2000
Senior pastor: Willie Del
Congregation size: about 110
Staff size: 2
Sunday school enrollment: 70 adults, 90
Annual budget: n/a
Weekly giving: n/a
Singles program: no
Dress: fairly dressy -- plenty of sportcoats and ties, plenty of skirts and dresses
Diversity: about 90 percent Asian American, mostly Filipino, but also Vietnamese and Laotian; some Caucasians and African Americans
Sunday worship: 10:30 a.m., 5:30 p.m.
Length of reviewed service: 1 hour, 10 minutes