Church: God Brought My Heart to San Francisco
I came to live in the USA from Trinidad and Tobago in 1975. My wife, Renee, is from the Philippines. We met in Connecticut while attending military school and have been married for 28 years. We are out of the military now, and I work as a senior network engineer supporting the Department of Homeland Security (U. S. Coast Guard) computer network systems. My wife works in the same department as a Program Analyst. We live in San Francisco, California. And we moved here for the purpose of planting a church.
I don’t think it was just my idea. I believe God chose it for me, and I just followed what he put in my heart to do. I attended the local GCI congregation, but I began to see that something more was needed in our area. I read an article in our church magazine about the need to start new churches in our communities. In 1997 our church participated in the San Francisco and Oakland Billy Graham crusades. I realized then that these new believers coming out of these crusades needed places to meet and worship if they were to continue to learn about and grow in Jesus. Traditional and established churches might not have what they needed. They needed an environment where they felt comfortable. Like Isaiah, I said, “Here I am. Send me! Please send me!” I went to bed thinking about it. I woke up thinking about it. It was something I had to do.
I had no experience in doing something like this, but I decided to trust God to give me what I needed. I had always enjoyed teaching new Christians and non-Christians about Jesus. There was so much that I wanted to share.
When people ask me what a person needs to plant a church, I tell them that the most important thing is love. Love for God and love for people. Jesus said, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35). People are attracted to love. Love breaks barriers between culture and languages. It’s amazing to watch our diverse group in San Francisco praying together, each in his or her first language, reading together from different Bible translations, and fellowshipping, eating and serving God together as one Body.
In 1998, we held our first house church service with seven people: my wife, my adopted daughter, her husband and their daughter, and my two nieces. The first few years were a struggle. We had some Coast Guard people attend, but some of them have transferred out. At times there were only three of us. I remembered the parable Jesus told about being faithful in a few things. I suppose it might be easier to be faithful in big things and large numbers. But could we be faithful in small things with the same enthusiasm?
Paul’s words to Timothy, “Preach the word [of God]…in season and out of season” (2 Timothy 4:2) were encouraging. The Scriptures lifted me up, energized and kept me going, so I stood up and preached to three like I was preaching to 20.
Today we have 36 on the rolls, with a regular attendance of 25 to 30, and the numbers are increasing. We know God will keep it growing as he sees fit. Our job is to be faithful, whatever the numbers.
When the church outgrew our home, we prayed for wisdom in finding a new place to meet. We believe God answered our prayers with a commercial corner building, close to many bus lines, public transportation, easy freeway access, a half-mile from our home. We meet every Sunday at 11:30 a.m., and after the service we have lunch together, get to know one another better, talk about the week and encourage one another. We are never in a hurry to go home.
My wife and I enjoy meeting people of different races and culture. We want to reach out to everyone—rich, poor, all races, all cultures. Our neighborhood is the ideal place for that, and we believe it’s where God wants us to be.
When it comes to growing a church, we have learned that people respond best to a simple, personal invitation. You get to know people, and when the time is right, you invite them to come to church with you. It’s that easy. Over the years we have distributed a lot of flyers in our community, but all of our new members began attending by a personal invitation, not by reading a flyer.
If I were to do this all over again, I would do it a little sooner, without hesitation. I knew this was of God before I started doing it, but I was actually discouraged from it by some people, whom I am sure meant well. But knowing what I know now, I would definitely get started sooner than I did.
Reaching out in love is not just for new churches—it can happen in any church. But there is a need for new churches in places we don’t have them. I found that planting a church is hard work and it takes time, but I have always felt God there beside me, encouraging me, giving me peace of mind, and filling me with joy as he works through me to open doors to people’s hearts.
In 1992, I was led to start a church at work on a military base when the chaplains were reluctant to lead regular worship. I took over and held a weekly lunchtime Bible study and a worship service every three months while doing my regular computer support job. Little did I realize it was all in preparation for planting a church in our denomination.
Today, when Renee and I see new people come to really know for the first time how much God loves them, we are renewed with joy, and we know that this journey has been worth every obstacle and hardship. It is so exciting to have the privilege to show new believers what the Bible really says about their life and their future, and to watch as God draws them to him.
I would never have known this joy if I had not followed what God put in my heart to do. If you plant a tree in a place where it’s really needed, you will enjoy watching it grow. And that is how I’ve found it to be with planting a church.
If you’re ever in San Francisco, we’d love to have you come by and visit. Even if you’re not coming our way in person, you might enjoy our website at www.sfcf.org.
Author: Richard Roberts