You Belong

Catching Up with Erica Lopez

It would be hard to attend the Ventura Campus for very long without meeting Erica Lopez. She’s always present working behind the scenes to include others in the life of the The City Church. Erica attended our very first service and gave her life to Jesus at our New Years service shortly after we opened our doors. She has barely missed a Sunday since that time. I was able to sit down with Erica last week at the Natural Cafe in Moorpark and talk to her a little bit about her experience in our community. She was taking a quick break from her new “dream job” (as she calls it) working as Pastor Mike Rovner’s assistant at Rovner construction.

Erica, you’ve been a fixture of our church as a volunteer at almost every event, on every Sunday. What motivates you?

City Church changed my life. It changed everything. I suffered from fear and anxiety and the church gave me the tools to overcome those things. They taught me how to pray and gave me a Bible and gave me a place to go. I’ve lived in Ventura County all my life but was never really aware of who God was or how He could impact my life.

I went to the church on the very first Sunday, it was the soft launch before the grand opening. Pastors Jude and Becky had come and were the new leadership of my daughter’s school (now City Christian School) and I wanted to know who they were so I could decide whether I’d was keeping her in the school. I had never heard a pastor talk like Pastor Jude about real stuff. He’d say, “Don’t believe what I say, go to your Bible and check on it for yourself.” When I did check it out, the Bible commentary page would say the exact thing as Pastor Jude. God was so obviously speaking to me and drawing me to Himself through all the different messages.

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Erica and her daughter, Jaden

Were there any particular messages that deeply changed your perspective about God?

I specifically remember the message about belonging. He told us that we could belong to Jesus before we even believed, before our behavior changed! It was the first time that I felt that I didn’t have to change first in order to be included. I know we talk about this idea in Grow class but I also always tell people to go back to that series about Joshua in the podcast archives so they can hear it too. It’s such a powerful truth.

Did you feel like people included you right away?

Yes. People immediately reached out to me. Pastor Katie and Pastor Becky invited me to a City Group and told me how to serve. I didn’t know much about leading a Bible study but I told Debby (Wooff) I could be her assistant and be the person who would always read the chapter and have something to say if she asked a question. I made some of my very best friends coming to that group and serving on teams with people.

But I have also found that some of it is a response to preaching. I always say, “Pastor Jude says…” this or that when I encourage people in their faith. People think I’m talking about a personal conversation but I’m not. When you really listen to someone’s preaching, you connect with what they’re saying. I remember him saying once at the beginning, “I can’t personally ask each one of you to volunteer. But I’m asking you to volunteer.” I took that to heart for myself.

Were you proactive about serving right away?

I did not feel at all qualified to serve in the beginning. I remember Debby asking me to help pass out books and I was worried that people would know about my past and believe I wasn’t worthy to help. It was just passing out books! But I did it and they didn’t care about my past.

Now when I serve, I’m always thinking of the people who come to visit who are like me. Someone cared enough to serve so my life could be changed and now I serve with the same hope that someone else will be able to have that same experience. I went to a church for a year before I came to City Church and I sat in the same seat every week and no one ever talked to me. I’m really passionate about talking to people and noticing them. Just recently I noticed a woman who would sit in the same seat every week and it was a bit hard to talk to her at first but I just kept doing it and eventually she came to my dinner group and is now connected to a number of different things.

What do you think helps people feel connected over the long term?

Whatever you are doing, it’s mostly about doing it consistently. It takes time to connect with people and get to know them. I think I became close friends with people because I served with the same people every week over the course of time. That’s why groups are important. How are you really going to get to know someone if you don’t see them regularly? I really admire Debby Wooff because she did her same group over the course of so many years and we were able to really get close to one another.

And now you lead a group with Dee Taday; it’s a dinner group. Can you tell us more about that?

Life was getting really busy and I was overwhelmed with work and everything and I didn’t have time to do another book study. So we started in the summer and now we just meet for dinner twice a month and hang out. We often talk about the message from Sunday and then just share from our lives. We do it at different restaurants. It’s so easy, I just tell people and then we show up. We do it casual and just get separate checks or counter service. I highly recommend leading this type of group if you’ve never done one. Just do it consistently!

Erica, is there a scripture that you would want to share with the women who read this blog that kind of sums up this story?

Yes, Psalm 27:13 says, “I would have lost heart unless I had believed I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” I see the goodness of God in the church and in my family and friends and the people I do life with. I remember a couple years ago, I went through a really dark time in my life and Pastor Jude started his Psalms series and he shared this and also the scripture, “And He will strengthen your heart.” My heart has been so strengthened by the goodness of God that I have seen in this community.

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Erica and her husband Joe have one daughter, Jaden. They sit on the left hand side in the first or second row of the Ventura campus every single week. You can get to know Erica and serve with her on the Guest Experience Team and the Beautiful Women of Influence team or attend her City Group.

Catching Up with Katie Venti

Today Pastor Katie Jane Venti is here for a chat. She and her husband, Phil relocated their family from Seattle, WA to help plant The City Church in 2011 and they now serve as pastors and Phil as an elder. Katie also works at City Christian School. They have three great kids, Jackson, Benjamin and Jefferson.

What’s your life like these days? I am a wife to Phil, and mom to my three boys. I volunteer with groups and teams within the church (some seasons more than others) and volunteer with my kids’ sports teams (baseball season can get a bit tricky in our home). I just moved to a new position at City Christian School as the school administrator and am loving my new job. I also am still able to teach some in our middle school as well.

What do you love about what you do at work and church?: What I love most about my role at the school is seeing our students and families meet Jesus for the first time or grow closer to Him. There is nothing I love more than seeing middle school students come to our school unsure of their relationship with Jesus and graduate full of life and confidence in Christ. There is honestly nothing more rewarding. At church, I love seeing individuals and families find a home within our community. My life was transformed through serving in a local church and I find so much joy seeing that happen for others.

What’s the best thing you’ve read recently? Why?: “Stay the Path” by Bobbie Houston. This book was so encouraging! The stories of ministry and what God can do if we simply continue to obey even when we may not feel like it, really reminded me of why I want to always be connected to and serving in a local church. It also made me excited to see what God has planned for our church. I know if God can do what He did in Hillsong Church in Australia and around the world, He can do it here through The City Church!

Best thing you’ve listened to? Why?: I kind of get behind on the music scene so I am still stuck on Hillsong United’s Wonder Album. I can not stop listening to “So Will I (100 Billion X)”. There are a few lines in the song that say:

God of salvation

You chased down my heart

Through all of my failure and pride

On a hill You created

The light of the world

Abandoned in darkness to die

And as You speak

A hundred billion failures disappear

Where You lost Your life so I could find it here

If You left the grave behind You so will I

I can see Your heart in everything You’ve done

Every part designed in a work of art called love

If You gladly chose surrender so will I

I can see Your heart

Eight billion different ways

Every precious one

A child You died to save

If You gave Your life to love them so will I

When I don’t seem to measure up to what I think I should be, these words ring through my spirit and remind me that it’s not about what I’ve done or can do, but that it’s all about God. Through my failure and pride, He is chasing me down. All my failures, all the things that make me feel insufficient don’t matter, they are buried in the grave. And I get to leave them there, because Jesus left the grave! Talking about it makes me excited about what God is doing.

I get behind and will probably keep this song on repeat for the next year, so let me know if something new comes out!

Funniest thing that has happened to you lately: My life is a constant comedy routine! Between the burping and farting of my three boys there is a lot of laughing. One of my favorite things about the holidays we just had is time my family got to spend together and all the laughing we got to do together. My dad always had a saying, “Whether it’s good or bad, just chuckle. It will all pass.” I want to enjoy my life; and laughing with my husband, my family, my friends makes every season and situation joyful.

How has God come through with an answered prayer or testimony for you lately? Always on the top of my prayer list are my three boys. I have been praying for specific areas for each of them and have seen God do so much in their lives. I don’t know why it surprises me, but I am always surprised when I see how miraculously God answers my specific prayers. I feel like the more pointed my prayers are the more I see them answered.

What scripture or truth about Jesus, has been particularly meaningful to you lately and why? I have been barraged lately with scriptures about God’s love. A constant theme in my heart has been that love wins! I think of 1 Corinthians 13:8 where it says, “love never fails” and I try and remind myself in everything I do always begin and end in love.

Catching up with Keola Bolles

Today Keola Michele Bolles is with us. She and her husband, Steve (who leads our Ventura Campus worship team) are our newest staff members. They have three great kids, Addi, Micah and Judah.

What keeps you busy most days?:  Hahaha, I’m a mom and a wife… so, I do a lot of cleaning up, laundry, and kissing ;). I also work part time at City Church doing the finances and I substitute at City Christian School.

All that kissing! No wonder Steve’s always smiling.

What’s your favorite part of church?:  I love ministering to Women… all women.  I love hearing their stories and loving on them.  What an honor it is to be a part of so many beautiful lives.  There is no greater feeling for me than when the Lord allows me to be a part of someone’s healing process.

What’s the best thing you’ve read recently? Why?:  Oh my goodness… Where do I even begin?!  Obviously the correct and only answer here is the Bible! Lol, but I love reading, and there are so many wonderfully perfect stories that have influenced my life and perspective.  I tried to give five, but Bethany wouldn’t let me! So I’ll have to say “Jesus Feminist.”  This book has influenced me and helped shape me though so many seasons.  As a woman in ministry, it can sometimes feel as though you get lost in the mix, but this book reminds me that Jesus was the original feminist, He is for me and I belong.  I love that this book brings all women together and puts down any division among us.  

Best thing you’ve listened to?:  I recently listened to Jentzen Franklin preach a sermon called, “Worthy is the Lamb.”  It was extraordinary!  I loved how this sermon so practically reminded us that the focus should never be on us.  Good or bad, no matter what is happening, “Worthy is the Lamb.”  God deserves all the glory and credit, and our insecurities don’t matter.  He has chosen us and He deserves for us to give ourselves to developing and changing lives.

Funniest thing that has happened to you lately:  I don’t know…. That’s kinda sad!  Lol! I’m going to have to work on remembering the funny moments!

What prayers is God answering for you? Oh man, God has been in the business of answering our prayers lately in so many ways.  But, I think the biggest way he has come through is with the selling of our house in Florida.  But, honestly, this entire season of moving across the country and transitioning my life to Ventura has been so much fun as we watch the Lord move on our behalf.

What’s Jesus teaching you?: This may sound so simple, but this is the scripture I find myself meditating on the most lately is Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV), “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and future.”  When I am confused about my path and not sure how it is all going to work out, God reminds me of this.  It’s like He’s saying directly to me, “Don’t worry about it!  All you need to know is that there is a plan, it is good, and you will like it.”  And, I find extreme comfort in that!