Iglesias de Restauracion Megachurch: Yelling About the Love of God
It's a warm, bright Saturday down at the intersection of Pico Boulevard and Western Avenue, just below the bottom edge of Koreatown, and a kind of joyous street party erupts on all four corners of the major crossing. The crowd features people across a spectrum of ages, but with an emphasis on youth. They spill off the sidewalks onto the edges of the street, waving signs, gesturing wildly and yelling giddily to passersby, many of whom honk their horns in spontaneous assent.
The festive gathering seems as if it should be connected to a car wash or bake sale, but in fact this lively aggregation is a celebratory outreach, an attempt by members of a megachurch called Iglesias de Restauracion, located a couple miles away at Adams and Crenshaw boulevards, to reach the "unsaved."
Unlike the staid, grim-countenanced believers one sees down at Venice Beach and other tourist spots, holding signs reading "Judgment Day Is Coming" or "The Wages of Sin Is Death," these people wear colorful shirts and elated grins, and hold up endearingly slapdash, homemade messages scrawled onto jumbo pad paper: "God = (heart sign)," "Christ died for homosexuals," "Jesus loves atheists." The feeling is fuzzy peace and love, almost a mimicking of the hippie-esque.
"We go to places, we go to different cities, and we preach about God and the Bible," says 15-year-old Margie, who lives nearby. "We go to every corner that we can whenever we can and we scream about God and ... it's a lifestyle. It's not just a religious thing.
"We believe in a relationship with God, and that God is love and that He always answers our prayers no matter what. I guess it's our choice if we want to feel better or be a better person, but it's for God. Everything is for God."
So just what does that love look like?
"He wants us to be the people we are, but not sin," says 20-year-old Vic, who lives near Staples Center. He has the super-short haircut, wiry build and street attire that undoubtedly get him pigeonholed by cops and passersby as gangsta. "He wants us to basically not practice what the world does. You are gonna sin, but not consciously."
"He takes control of our lives," declares 19-year-old Jack, sporting a fashionable Caesar haircut and resembling a cross between Esai Morales and a young Antonio Banderas. "Other people who don't believe in Jesus, they tend to do adultery, fornication, there's a lot of sin going on in the world."
What about other major sins, like theft, greed, violence, murder, fraud, destruction of the environment and so forth? "They're all sins, so God takes them all equally," Jack says. "He is willing to forgive each and every person. God doesn't see what people have done. God doesn't see 'gangbangers.' "
Religions are a complicated ball of wax, with holy books full of nuances and apparent contradictions. These young people are trying to sort it out.
"Every human tends to suffer in life, in their house, with their family, in school, in universities," says Jack, sounding sensitive and altruistic, as well as factual. "With Him at our side, the recession won't exist in our lives, it will not be possible for us to be suffering. The economy is really bad right now, but if we're faithful to Him, he will give us a reward. And that reward is economy-wise, spiritual-wise. ..."
Jack makes a point of separating his group from the Florida church that burned a Koran, insisting that Jesus doesn't hate people from other religions. He then stoutly proclaims: "We love all the homosexuals, we love all the lesbians." One can't help but think his love of lesbians is probably more truly benevolent and less exploitative than that of Howard Stern.
"I used to be into hip-hop and kind of like a little gangster, back in middle school," says 15-year-old Jeremy from Silver Lake, who looks like a young Che Guevara-esque hipster. "But then I came to church and accepted Christ and my whole life changed. I've lost a lot of my old friends." His group has done food and aid missions to Mexico, South America and inner-city L.A., but he speaks most passionately about the effect of his transformation on him as an individual.
Just how transformative is this belief?
"I never thought that I would be listening to country music," he says, with an endearing glint of irony in his eyes. "Anything that praises God, you know?"