God First

A WILD Devotional

Every New Year, I make resolutions. This year I only made one, “Put God First in Everything I do!”

My family has been attending City Church since 2013. We loved our Sunday services, but our quality time with God was light throughout our week. Last year, a sweet friend started planting seeds, giving me desires to go deeper. My husband and I decided to do the “grow classes.” In the end, we were signed up as greeters. I was so nervous…but why? I love people! I love to smile and give compliments! This should have been so easy for me. When the enemy saw me putting God first, he planted fear and doubt in my mind, in an attempt to try and stop me. 

But no, this year was going to be different. I printed this verse, taped it to my bathroom mirror, and began reading it often:

“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7 (NLT)

On March 4th 2018, my husband, son, daughter, and myself were baptized as a family. Gods plan was coming together. I joined a City Group and starting unlocking gifts I held inside of me. I was asked to do WILD, but I was still too nervous. I had commitments that conflicted, and decided I wasn’t going to take the class. God had other plans. In my group, a new friend mentioned she was trying to be intentional. She was working to quiet herself long enough to hear from God. I realized I wasn’t giving Him the time and attention He desired from me. The next day I read my Bible, sat quietly, and asked what He wanted from me, and there He was. He was so clear. He said, “take the WILD class.” He also told me not to worry. He was going to give me the peace I was always praying for. 

Prayer:

Lord, help us to always seek you. Help us to hear from you often, in whatever way you want to speak to us. Help us to be obedient, and to put you first. Thank you for the wonderful plans you have for every one of us!

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Marcella Berglund has been a wife to David for 16 years. She is a mom of two amazing kids. Her family started attending the City Church when her son started school at City Christian, during his 2nd grade year. He is now in 6th grade, and their daughter is in 1st. Marcella loves being a wife, mom and friend. She also loves cooking, baking and hosting people in her home. You can find her and her husband serving on the greeting team at the Ventura campus. 

A New Heartbeat

Around the age of one, doctors diagnosed me with a complete/ 3rd degree heart block.  A person with this condition is at high risk for a sudden cardiac death. My parents became so nervous when they received the news. Regular exercise was now life threatening for me. I have spent much of my life with cardiologists and in emergency rooms due to chest pains. I constantly had shortness of breath every time I went up a flight of stairs. In New York City, where I grew up, a flight of stairs in the subway was unavoidable.

When I was about 17 years old, doctors told my mom and dad that my heart was going to get weaker. They talked to me about the possibility of a pacemaker. I remember praying and believing God would heal me. I know this sounds crazy,  but during a prayer time at my home church,  I remember feeling as if God was actually healing my heart. I wanted to confirm that this was true so I went to the doctor. They ran an EKG and told me that my heart had changed and it looked different. They saw no signs of a heart block. I was ecstatic. I didn’t have chest pains or shortness of breath for a few years after that. I truly believe God healed me.

Then, early in August 2017, I felt light headed for three days straight at work. On the third day, I knew that something was up. I told my coworker I felt like I was going to pass out. I drove myself home and my friend took me to urgent care. The doctors ran tests and then followed up with more tests. I felt so “off” the following weeks. After what felt like forever, two cardiologists confirmed that I would need a pacemaker. They said they had no idea how I was able to function without one for so many years. They were surprised I had not passed out and died at some point. I remember hearing them say “if you want to have kids… if you want to live more years… If you want to… you need to have this surgery.” 

I went home and was so overwhelmed. I thought “God, I thought you healed me?! What happened to my heart changing and no symptoms?!” There were so many doubts and fears going through my mind. 

What happens when the prayer God answered suddenly seems like a lie? We lose our hope and feel that God has failed us. We think, “Why is this happening?” I dealt with those fears and doubts. I remember praying before making the decision about surgery and I heard God say, in the quietness of my heart, “Marie, I’m still your healer, and sometimes the way I heal is not what you expect. I can heal in different ways.” That brought me so much peace.

Fast forward to my surgery; it was painful. I couldn’t move my left arm for 6 weeks! It felt more comfortable sleeping in a sitting position then lying down. I remember feeling overwhelmed.  Then the Ventura fires happened. If you know anything about smoke, it affects your lungs and can also affect your heart. Worship got me through this season of sleepless nights.  The presence of God brought me peace. It was not the easiest journey, but God was there and He sent His people. I honestly couldn’t have gone through it without a community. Many people at the City Church stood by me to pray with me, bring me food, take me to doctor visits and spend time with me. 

After Jesus was crucified and had been dead for three days, Mary Magdalene went to tell the disciples that Jesus had been resurrected. She stated “He’s alive and I’ve seen him!” Their faith was restored. Maybe my story can give a similar hope to you. Are you going through a hopeless situation and you feel as if God has let you down? Your situation may feel as conclusive as death itself. Rest assured that God wants to make that situation come to life.  Look up, believe His word. He wants to restore it and turn it around. Wait for the miracle. I’ve seen what He can do.

PHOTO 2Marie Martinez graduated from the Generation Intern program in Seattle, WA and moved with Pastors Jude and Becky to help pioneer the City Church in Ventura in 2011. She now attends the Ventura campus and serves as worship overseer for the Spanish ministry. She is passionate about building the local church and leading people into the presence of God through worship. Marie has been a College City group leader for seven years and loves raising up women to be passionate for God, and empowering them lead and disciple other young women.

 

Zero Missed Calls

I think a lot of mothers dream about the day they have a daughter and can have that best friend relationship. Her daughter tells her absolutely everything that’s going on in her life and no secrets are kept. I know that isn’t a reality for everyone but I’m fortunate enough to consider my mom my best friend. Now don’t get me wrong, she’s still definitely my mother and I’m always reminded of that when she calls me from 1,000 miles away to make sure I got home safe. When she asks if I’m out at night by myself. I usually respond “Mom, I’m fine!” I’m so thankful for her. If you’re a mother of a daughter I pray you too can have a close relationship.

When I moved from the Seattle area to Ventura for Bible College, three and half years ago, not much changed in the relationship between my mom and I. It’s typical we talk on the phone and FaceTime a few times a day. So, this past December 4th when I called her in a panic at 9:30pm while I was nannying, she answered the phone like she always did. I explained to her that there was a large glowing fire I could see in the distance and I wasn’t sure what to do with two sleeping kids. She calmed me down in spite of being two states away and she gave me that comfort that only a mother can give. I made the decision to take the kids and leave. That night the Thomas fire blazed through the city of Ventura and the house where I work was lost as well as the car I had left behind.

Who’s that first person you call in time of need? The person that you can be completely real with? The person who knows you so well but loves you anyways? The person you want to share your absolute worst moments with, but also your best? My mom is amazing but I believe that God is the truest form of that person. Life can get chaotic, it can sometimes seem like too much to even handle, but I really believe that it’s in those moments that we get to see the character of who God is so clearly. His comfort and peace is like no other. His voice can calm even the most intense storms.

In the months following the fire, God’s peace has been so real to me. Every time I call on Him and hear His voice, I am given that reassurance that He is in control. Everyday he reminded me that He would take care of everything and it has been so incredible to see God work in my life in this situation. Someone I didn’t even know let me use their brand new car while I looked to purchase one. Countless people sent me encouraging texts and I am so thankful for every person God placed in my path. I was so blown away by the generosity of the people around me. Just last week I was able to purchase a car that was way better than the one I had lost because of people who had given so generously to me. Isn’t that so like God’s character? He provides all we need and more!

I‘ll admit it, I hate answering my phone. I would much rather someone text me so I can respond when it’s convenient. But I’m working on getting better at it, I promise! When I call my mom she picks up 99.9% of the time (its not quite the same for me, sorry mom!). How much more does our Father God care and listen to us?! He’s ready and listening 100% of the time. I’m so thankful that God NEVER declines or blocks our calls! Psalm 18:6 says “But in my distress I cried out to the Lord; yes, I prayed to my God for help. He heard me from his sanctuary; my cry to him reached his ears.” Jesus wants to be the first one we call upon in times of distress. There is so much freedom and peace that comes when we cry out to Him and let him carry our burdens. Its something I constantly have to remind myself of, that I don’t have to carry my issues (Psalm 55:22). Its so easy to get caught up in the struggle of life and forget that we have a direct line to Jesus. He sympathizes because He experienced life like we do, He’s always there and He isn’t going anywhere. He wants us to tell Him everything: our concerns, our excitement, our frustrations. That constant communication with Him causes us to become closer to Him and rely on Him more.

Can I encourage you to place God as the first person you call on in times of need? He’s always listening and available. When we try to deal with our problems on our own, they seem to get heavier. Remind yourself daily that God is for you, and he’ll carry you through every season of your life. 1 Peter 5:7 says “Give all your worries and cares to God, for He cares about you.” When I truly sit and meditate on this verse it blows me away. The God of the universe cares and loves you specifically. Call on Him today, and let Him take your worries and replace it with His perfect peace.

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Ashley Lundgren grew up in Edmonds, Washington and when she was 19 she moved to Ventura, CA to attend California Coast Bible College. She graduated from CCBC in 2016 and is currently a nanny. She loves serving at the City Church and leads a High School city group and helps weekly in City Kids.

God Hears You

There is so much to be said about the power of prayer. Countless books, sermons, teachings , and podcasts on how to pray, what to pray, and why it is one of the most significant parts of our faith. From the book of Psalms, to the Lord’s prayer modeled for us in the Gospels, prayer is simply a conversation with our Heavenly Father. The most profound prayer we will pray in our life is the one where we respond to God. It is the prayer of salvation, inviting Jesus into our lives and hearts, and being divinely grafted into the family of God. This is where our journey and destiny begin. This is where we witness our first miracle, the miracle of a new life with Christ. Even the angels celebrate as Jesus says in Luke 15: 10 “ In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

That rejoicing in the presence of angels over me, happened when I was twenty years old. For almost a year, I was on a search to find my purpose in life and my passion. I had a faint idea of who God was and wasn’t against the idea that He was the real deal, but I had no idea what I was about to encounter that would forever shift the destiny and course of the rest of my life. I was invited to a church because there was a special speaker coming by the name of Nick Vujicic. He is a man born without his limbs and he traveled all over the nation speaking boldly about the goodness of God. He spoke in a way that moved me to my very core. At the end of his message, he asked anyone who felt a tug on their hearts to come to the front of the church altar because that meant God was speaking to them and that they could respond by inviting Jesus into their lives. I had to respond. There was no way I was going to leave that place without surrender. In that moment, I began to encounter the love of God so strongly that I left a new and whole person. Even though I had no training or teaching in theology, I became so aware and hungry to learn more about prayer and I set out on a journey to grow in my new passion.

I became the first Christian in my entire family. I was a young girl on fire for God and zealous to share my faith with everyone around me. I was eager to learn anything I could and I loved church and gatherings where I could grow through fellowship. Yet, I found myself disquieted and shrunken down when it came to professing my love of God to my very own family, especially my mother. Perhaps she  didn’t quite understand me and the journey I was on. Maybe she  thought I was going through one of my  “phases” and even in the moments I was undaunted by sharing about Jesus, her heart was hardened. The more I wanted to reach her, the farther away we slipped from understanding each other and the more strife and resentment built up between us. I made a decision to be persistent, determined , and even relentless to see my mother walk in freedom and truth. The first thing I had to do was surrender her to the Lord. The weight I was carrying was not mine to bear. Jesus says His burden is light and His yoke is easy. I followed with declaring the promises of God and standing on the Word like they did in Acts 16: 31, “They answered, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you and your family will be saved.” And lastly, I just simply believed and thanked God for it as if it already came to pass. There was no pressure on me to work at it, I had full assurance and confidence as I allowed the Word to take root and grow in my very soul and spirit.

Every moment I could, I would plant seeds of faith and love until I could see softening in areas where her walls stood securely. Whether or not I could see the progress, I felt at rest that God was doing a mighty work. Seven full years later, in this very church where my husband and children have planted our roots, and the place we call home, we had a special guest speaker come on a Sunday morning to speak boldly about the goodness of God. A man born without his limbs who traveled around the world to inspire others and speak fearlessly about the love of God. Seven years later, with immovable tireless prayers along the way, my mother turns to me and asks me to walk with her to the front of the church because she can not shake off a tugging in her heart and she must respond to Jesus and what this same man (Nick Vujicic) is preaching. In the most epic way, God allowed me to witness this miracle as it came to a full circle that morning. I could almost hear the shouts of rejoicing in heaven for what had just transpired. This response to Christ set into motion the life God intended for my family as my father, soon after, also committed his life to Jesus. Not only that, but my sisters and brothers, as well as their families have all decided to follow Jesus. My parents are planted in a local church and they love their community.

Maybe you are still contending for someone in your life, that relative, friend, spouse or child. Maybe you even pressed a pause button on praying for this person because they continue to make decisions that are detrimental and it looks hopeless. Maybe this person has  disconnected even more strongly as you began to wage on their behalf. Remember these scriptures on your journey and believe in our BIG God:

Psalm 17:6 “I call on you, my God, for you will answer me; turn your ear to me and hear my prayer.”

Romans 12:12 “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer “

1 John 5:14 “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.”

I want to encourage you to pick up right where you are, or to forge ahead with great faith that you too will witness the miracle of new life for this person. God has not, and will not give up on you. God hears your prayer and will answer!

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Margaret Thompson is a mother of four young boys and wife to Brent. They experienced God in a powerful way and are passionate about sharing the love of Jesus with people who don’t know Him through friendship and City Groups. Margaret loves to pray and helps to lead the prayer ministry on Thursday nights at the Ventura campus of The City Church.”

Fasting? You Can Do It!

If you read Pastor Becky’s recent post or or attend the City Church regularly, then you know that our community is in the midst of a 21 day season of prayer and fasting. We love to take this space together every year to connect with God and ask Him to do what He does. We pray together and we agree together for miracles to happen. It’s a wonderful reminder that God is the center of our lives and a chance to invite Him to be the center of our year.

There are many examples of fasting in the Bible. Most importantly, Jesus himself fasted for forty days in the wilderness before he began teaching and preaching and healing people. Jesus taught that there are times to fast and times to feast together. Both are valuable and important. Our lives are not meant to be lived in a constant state of fasting but when we take a season and do fast, we experience God in a powerful way. Fasting is a reminder of our dependence on God, that He alone is our source! When the enemy came to tempt Jesus to use his power to turn stones into bread, Jesus quoted a scripture from the book of Deuteronomy in the Old Testament and said, “No! The Scriptures say, ‘People do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” (Matt. 4:3-4 NLT). God knows we will live our very best and fullest lives only when we are completely dependent on Him!

Maybe you’d like to join us this year. It’s not too late! Just ask God what you should fast. Sugar, meat, bread, coffee, alcohol, etc. are all good options to start with. It’s usually good to give up something you like. Some people give up one meal a day or fast for a certain time period during the day. If you’re planning to do an extreme fast, it’s essential that you consult a doctor. When the Bible mentions fasting it is always in reference to food, but we also make an effort, during this time, to simplify our lives so that we can listen and hear from God. Maybe there are some non-essential, time-consuming activities you could suspend during this season. I told God I’d probably hear him better if I gave up  work or caring for my children (ha- kidding!) but that didn’t fall under the nonessential category. I have, at times, given up shopping , social media, television, fiction books, etc. in order to clear my mind and make more time to pray and meditate on scriptures in the Bible. It’s amazing how we can experience God when we just make some space for Him in our brains!

Maybe you’re already fasting, and you’re in the midst of it. Don’t give up! We’re all in this together. I’ve had moments of failure and days with great God experiences too. To encourage us all to finish strong, I asked some women in our community to send in their stories from past seasons of prayer and fasting. Let them encourage you! And, if you have a request for God this year, post it in the comment section of Pastor Becky’s post so we can pray for you as well. We believe God is going to do big things this year.

XO,

Bethany

“I have practiced fasting since I was 12 years old. I gained the ability to tell my body when it was going to eat, and not the other way around.  In High School I had been fasting a week when I ran and beat my own time, running the mile. This self discipline helped me during times of traveling and ministering.   There were times we had to minister for hours before we could grab a meal.  I also felt a closer connection to the Lord and the ability to hear the Holy Spirit.  I would fast to spend time with the Lord, get free in a particular area, contend for answers to prayer, and to engage in spiritual warfare.”

-Carole Kornreich, Agoura Campus

 

“The first time I went on an extended fast was the time my neighbor, who never spoke to me, came over crying, informing me she was pregnant, but wanted an abortion, because she was concerned about her marriage. She told me when she prayed, the Lord told her to come see me.  It was the second day of my 3 day fast.  I didn’t even want to continue the fast.  I mean I wanted to but I was irritable!!  Haha.  When the Lord sent Diane over, I began to understand the depths of fasting.  It wasn’t just for myself.  It was to loose the chains of those who are bound like Isaiah 58 (CEV) reads.  Fasting is not about pleasing myself.  It’s about what verse 6-8 tells us:  

(Isa 58:6)  “I will tell you the kind of day I want–a day to set people free. I want a day that you take the burdens off others. I want a day when you set troubled people free and you take the burdens from their shoulders.

(Isa 58:7)  I want you to share your food with the hungry. I want you to find the poor who don’t have homes and bring them into your own homes. When you see people who have no clothes, give them your clothes! Don’t hide from your relatives when they need help.”

(Isa 58:8)  If you do these things, your light will begin to shine like the light of dawn. Then your wounds will heal. Your “Goodness” will walk in front of you, and the Glory of the LORD will come following behind you,”

Esther fasted and went in before the King to plead for her nation.  Daniel fasted for God’s will to be done for the nation of Israel to return home.  In Acts, they fasted and prayed for the right men to send out to evangelize the world and thus Paul and Barnabus began their ministry!  In Joel, God asks the people to fast in repentance and turn back to Him.  Anna lived to worship God by fasting and praying from youth. Jesus told the disciples that certain strongholds are only broken by prayer and fasting. When we give up the desires that our flesh craves, and prayerfully seek the Lord, He will meet us, and set us free. Our minds become clear to hear his voice as we make decisions. God will use us and draw us deeper and closer to Him.

That’s what the Lord did for Diane back in 1991.  She came to my door, and the Lord delivered her.  She had her precious baby, Hannah, and Diane and I became good friends.  She gave her heart to the Lord and her Hannah, who is 24 now, follows Jesus also and easily shares her testimony of how her mom almost gave her up, but the Lord sent her to my door.  God knew I had had an abortion when I was 19, so I had a special grace to minister to Diane from that place of sorrow and pain.

Then there’s also Raul.  Raul has been in my family since he was in daycare with me at one year of age.  He calls me mom and he is a son to me.  Raul called me up one time and told me that he went to school with Hannah and she was ministering to him in Christ.  He let me know that she had told him about me, how her mom came over and she said it was because of my intervention that she is alive today.  We all know it’s God, and God chose to use this girl.  

So you see how God plays the best chess game in the universe!?!  He took the most tragic thing that I ever did, and not only used it to bless my neighbor, creating a lifetime bond, but also to bless my son Raul!!  

What a mighty God we serve!!”

-Kathy Hageman, Ventura Campus

The Power Available to Us

A WILD Devotional

Most of us want to reach out and help people who are faced with difficult circumstances. To a certain extent I’m able through my own abilities and talents take care of people’s needs.  There is a difference when I’m empowered and anointed by the Holy Spirit. I can partner with Him and operated at a level that brings real and lasting change.

This scripture tells us how this works:

“ And my language and my message were not set forth in persuasive (enticing and plausible) words of wisdom, but they were in demonstration of the Holy Spirit and power”, (a proof by the Spirit and power of God, operating on me and stirring in the minds of hearers the most holy emotions and thus persuading them). (1 Cor. 2:4 Amplified)

When I was in 8th grade I shared with my science teacher my testimony of being miraculously healed from a broken back and two fractured pelvis bones. He was so touched that he gave his life to Christ that day.  In that moment God used my words but the Holy Spirit’s power transformed the teacher’s life.  

I’m not the only one who enjoys this experience; there were 63 million Spirit filled believers in 2014.  And that number is expected to grow to 800 million by 2025. There is an outpouring worldwide!  

Let’s pray:

“Holy Spirit, you are the one who empowers us to walk in the gifts that touch and transform those whom we encounter. I choose to listen and act as I hear you direct my conversation, my day, my choices, and my life.  Where I walk you’ll be with me. Thank you for your anointing on my life”. 

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Carole Kornreich and her husband, Dale are active members of The Agoura Campus of The City Church.  Over the course of her life, Carole has led mission teams in twelve African countries.  She has trained and mentored those who need direction and support.  She currently works as a Ventura Superior Court Mediator and an Executive Job Coach for Lee Hecht Harrison.  Carole is gifted at walking individuals through change and conflict, and launching them into their destiny. Dale & Carole host City Groups and are active welcoming people every Sunday. For more information about the Agoura campus go to thecityagoura.com.

Yes & Amen

Hello there, my name is Anastasia Fomenko and I’m a wife and a mama. You may recognize me from the worship team at the Ventura campus. I love leading worship. The presence of Jesus has transformed my life, so there’s nothing more rewarding than leading people to meet with God where they can find true fulfillment for their life.

I also come alive when I’m helping people discover their value and purpose in life, which is why I’m passionate about small groups. All of life is built on relationships. We were designed to live in community, to know one another deeper than a quick “hello” on a Sunday morning or a nice comment on social media. My husband, Vik, and I have so much fun leading our young adults’ group. Sometimes I feel like hosting is my love language. It’s such a joy having people in our home, which we’ve rented in Ventura for the past few years. The dishes and mess afterward somehow feel comforting, knowing I could bless someone with a coffee or a meal and honestly, who doesn’t enjoy a good conversation?

A few months ago, we felt like God started speaking to us about purchasing our own home. We had no idea what that entailed, but asked God to lead us. We felt like some practical steps needed to be taken to open that door. As we began talking to realtors and lenders, reality quickly sunk in. It would take a BIG miracle for us to own anything in this season of our lives. The list of obstacles was long. Secretly, I was ready to give up but the truth is, I’m thankful to have married such a persistent man who dares to believe and doesn’t give up so easily.

One afternoon, I was driving home from picking up my daughter at school and a worship song, that we both love, came on. She started belting out the chorus as London loves to do, “Faithful You are, faithful, forever You will be. All your promises are yes and amen!” Suddenly, she said, “Mama, I can’t wait for you to get pregnant and have a baby in our new house.” Well, what you may not know is that we’ve been trying to get pregnant for a few years now. Suddenly I was in a pool of tears. The Holy Spirit was so gently reminding me through her words that every promise He has spoken over my family and me is, “yes and amen.” How could I ever forget His faithfulness? One of those promises was sitting in my back seat. When the doctor told us it would be difficult to conceive the first time, London came to us as a perfect little miracle. All of a sudden, no mountain seemed too great, no price seemed to high. Every impossibility became possible with the One who has me in the palm of His hand. “Rest in my promises,” I heard Him say in my heart. It reminds me of the verse in Psalm 116:7 (NLT), “Let my soul be at rest again, for the Lord has been good to me.”

I have seen too much of God’s goodness to doubt Him this time around. I believed God. I wiped my tears and ran inside to remind Vik what he already believed (ha!). In a matter of weeks, a condo became available that had dropped out of escrow (of course, because it was waiting on us). The price was almost too good to be true and the financing came together miraculously. With the year coming to an end, and the holiday craziness, it didn’t seem like there was much hope left. But isn’t it just like God to give us this Christmas miracle? We closed early in December and Vik went to work renovating and constructing. Our amazing home is coming together just in time for the New Year.

Can my story serve in this new year to remind you that your Heavenly Father is big and faithful? He does what we can’t do by ourselves. If He’s given you a promise, don’t let circumstances or impossibility take that away. I’m thrilled to believe and see more of those promises unfold in my family. His Word is truth and that’s the only truth we need to believe. I pray you experience your own BIG miracle this year! 💛

IMG_0100Anastasia Fomenko is mother to London, wife to Vik and a licensed pastor at The City Church. Together, Vik & Anastasia minister to our California Coast Bible College students and the young adults in their City Group. She offers voice lessons and inspires us weekly with her passionate worship on the Ventura campus worship team. She’s just ventured into songwriting and is set to release her first worship single early this year! You can follow her (and London) on Instagram and sign up for a City Group here.