Welcome to my Blog!


I'm a youth pastor in Southern California at a Nazarene church. I've been serving here for about 4 years. We have a large youth group of around 100 teens from all different cultures and backgrounds.

We merged with a Spanish church in January of 07 and our youth groups are now ONE! As of a little more than a year ago, I am working with a co-youth pastor named Javier. If you want to know more about me, you can read my very first blog post here.

I started this blog as a way to remember the amazing things that happen in my everyday life in ministry... the hilarious things that my teens say and do, the joys and victories, and the life stories of the amazing teenagers that are the future of our church, and our world. But I am also glad when it brings encouragement and joy to others. Feel free to leave your comments and let me know you're reading!

I am so blessed to be here, I love my teens... they are my heart!

And by the way...
at our church...
we speak 5 languages!!!
English, Spanish, Korean, Chinese and Gypsy! :)


Gang Raid

10:00 AM at 10:00 AM

We do ministry in Southern California.
In a very urban area.
Cerritos itself doesn't seen all that urban... it's a pretty nice, fairly wealthy city. But our church sits on a corner that borders Hawaiian Gardens and Artesia.
When I first moved to Southern California and heard "Hawaiian Gardens" I had this picture of this beautiful, wonderfully nice city. I was sadly mistaken. Hawaiian Gardens is home to all kinds of racism, gangs, and hatred.
That is where we do ministry.
One of the things that I have often shared is my heart for gang outreach.
This morning, I heard about something that really shook me.

The largest gang raid in United States history happened two minutes away from me. Right down the street. In an area where a huge amount of my teens come from. A place that I drive through everyday. For this small town girl from Oregon... that was shocking.

(weapons confiscated during the raid)

88 people linked to a "notorious southern California street gang" were arrested. Right next door. 1400 police officers, 17 SWAT teams... FBI, and all kinds of other people were involved in the take down. You can read more about it HERE (or just google it).

Today I'll be praying for these people... for their families... for the other members of the gangs... for the people they've hurt... for the people who may be hurt in the future.... for the ongoing issue of racism that haunts our nation and hurts people of all nationalities... for the hate in the hearts of people... Join me?

This is my life in ministry.

It's been a while...

9:50 AM at 9:50 AM

...things have been crazy over here. I write another blog as well, that you can see HERE. It's my photography blog, and it seems to have kept my writing brain busy lately.

Quite frankly, I haven't felt much like writing this one. There's so much that God has been doing and so many great things, but I've been tired... worn out... and needed a break. But today, I thought I'd share some things with you.

First, some funny stories... I know you all love those :)

We were talking in youth group about the "armor of God" from Ephesians. One of the teens looks at Javier and says, "Javi has the muscles of God." I'm sure that's a compliment but it sounds so funny!

* * * * *

I was talking with several teens one Friday night about when they first came to youth group... they were sharing stories of how they first met me. One of the girls, after sitting quietly and listening to everyone else talk, says to me, "Did I ever meet you?"

* * * * *

Javier was kind of teasing one of our junior high boys about his mustache that is starting to grow. He was saying how "mustaches get the girls," and things like that (remember, Javier has a mustache.) A few days later in youth group, we realized that this junior high boy was showing off his mustache to a new girl that had wandered in to youth group.

* * * * *

We were talking to the kids about the Holy Spirit and how when you feel guilty about something, that's God talking to you. One of the kids says very excitedly, "Yeah! Before I was a Christian I would do something bad and not feel guilty about it. NOW I do something bad and I totally feel guilty!"

* * * * *

During a discussion of where you'd go if you died (heaven or hell)... one of the kids says, "Who here is going to heaven TONIGHT???" I'm sure he meant if you were to die, but all of the kids kind of looked at him with this puzzled look.

I will try to do better at keeping up with this blog. So many funny, touching, and wonderful things happen in youth group on a regular basis. I have so much to write about, and yet there are days I just can't seem to find the words. I know God is good... all the time... even when things are hard and ministry is draining. The cool thing is that even when it's draining, there is so much JOY! I am blessed to do what I do.

A butter knife, a hockey stick, and an empty cross.

11:16 AM at 11:16 AM

I love my job.
It is so much more than just a job for me.
It is my life.
It is my heart.
These teenagers... they are my life... my heart.
I laugh with them, cry with them, hurt for them, pray for them.
They occupy my thoughts, my prayers, my plans for the future.

We do real youth ministry here.
And I gotta tell you, real ministry doesn't always happen inside the church walls.
It isn't always happy victories, and funny stories.
Sometimes it's downright messy, heartbreaking and brutal.
But it's real.

Javier and I both spend an immense amount of time with these kids within the church walls at events, services, youth group, Bible studies, counseling, and when they just wander into our offices after school.

But we also spend a ton of time outside the church walls.... whether it's at an organized event off site, an impromptu movie, a lunch at school, a football game, or when we see them walking down the street and stop to have a conversation. We live life with them. It's a wonderful thing when you realize that as much as you have invested in their lives, they want you to be a part of them. We often get invited to performances, birthday parties, graduation parties, and even occasionally, family events.

We give rides to kids from one place to another, even if we aren't staying at either place, because some of the BEST ministry happens on that car ride.

These kids are really what we live for. Their hearts... their souls... that's why we do what we do.

I firmly believe that because of those things, the teens are open and honest with us. We don't walk away from difficult situations, and when we are confronted with conflict, we work through it with the teens. That is part of the importance of what we do: teaching these kids to deal with things... to do the right thing even when it's hard... to confront things head on and trust God to take care of us.

I really debated whether or not to post this, because it is difficult and messy, and not like the funny stories I usually post. But my heart is aching... breaking... for some of my students. For those of you who read this and are in youth ministry, maybe this can be an encouragement to you. For those of you who aren't, please pray for those that are.

Last Wednesday night in the middle of youth group, we had a breakdown. One of my boys came to me and said, "Diandra, the girls are in the bathroom crying, and they won't come out." So I went to the bathroom and sure enough, three of my girls were crying hysterically. They tried to explain to me what was going on, but I could hardly understand their broken words through the sobs. Finally I pieced together what was going on. The girls were having a feud with another girl in their class and had broken into her house with a butter knife and taken a bunch of her clothes. Now the police were looking for them, and they were scared.

I quickly ushered them into my office and called Javier. After speaking with the girls, he and I stepped out of the office and started discussing our options. Then we made the most difficult decision we've had to make since starting youth ministry. We needed to call the police. We went back into the office, told the girls what we were going to do, and then prayed with them. We told them to be honest and to do the right thing. They agreed. Then the police came. They spent quite a while questioning each of the girls individually. I spent every ounce of energy I had trying not to cry.

When they were done questioning the girls, the police called the girl whose stuff had been stolen. We all expected her to press charges, and the girls were facing some major consequences if she did. But she just wanted her stuff back, and she decided not to press charges. So the police took our girls with them to get the stuff and return it, and deliver the girls into the hands of their parents.

As we watched the police cars drive away, I broke down. I cried. Hard. I knew that the girls were going to be okay, I knew that they'd learned a valuable lesson, and I knew that God had done a miracle and showed them grace in all of it. But I still cried. Because sometimes youth ministry is messy. Sometimes it hurts. And that night was the hardest in the history of my youth ministry... until this week.

We have a pretty large group of teens. They come from all different walks of life, all of them have different family dynamics, many of them are different ethnicities, and they're at all different stages of spiritual growth. For the most part, the kids put their differences aside, and we have a pretty successful meshing of teens. But on Wednesday night, these differences became evident.

Before youth group, there was an exchange of words between a few of the kids when one of them was cussing and another asked him to stop. One of our wonderful leaders, Shannon, was able to calm them down and talk them through it. They were seemingly okay and were told to stay away from each other for the rest of the evening. We had a wonderful service, and God really moved. After everything was broken down and put away from the service, the kids were hanging out.

The boy that had told the other to stop cussing (we'll call him Scott) was playing basketball. All of the sudden, another boy that had been involved in all of this (we'll call him Eric), came at Scott with a hockey stick. He hit him in the back of the head so hard that the top of the hockey stick broke off. Scott went down. Eric continued to beat him with the wooden handle of the hockey stick. Javier ran at him yelling, and it apparently scared Eric enough that he dropped the hockey stick. Javier grabbed him and held him so he couldn't move. Shannon rushed to Scott and held his head to stop the bleeding, and I called 911. Then the chaos ensued.

Scott was rushed to the hospital, and was later released with 7 staples in his head, damage to his ribs, and a whole lot of bruising. He could have been killed. God definitely protected him. Eric was picked up by the police and taken to a juvenile detention center. He will have to appear before a judge.

Many of our teens witnessed the whole thing, and were scared and shaken. Youth group is a safe place for them... a refuge for many of them whose family lives are crazy and miserable. But their sense of security was shaken.

So was mine.

I am a girl. I am an emotional girl. Not only that, but I genuinely, honestly LOVE my kids. All of them. Even when they make bad choices. So my heart was broken. I held it together until the kids were gone, and then I cried.
I cried for Scott, and for his family and his pain.
I cried for Eric... for his soul, for his anger, for his hurt.
I cried for my kids... for the impact I knew this had had on them.
And I cried, because it was hard.

Sometimes youth ministry is hard. Sometimes it is ugly and scary and real.
The good news is, as my dad always says, the only battles we lose are the ones we don't fight.

Friday night, we sat down with a small group of the teens to talk through the situation. Scott was there. Eric was not. Another kid was also there... the one who had been cussing in the teen room. At the end of the time, our teens had grown closer together in this, and decided that they were not going to let Satan win this battle. Scott and the other teen hugged. They laughed together. They put the past behind them... all 3 years of it... and decided to start fresh and allow God to use them. They no longer wanted the hurt, anger, and frustration.

I pray for Scott.
I pray to God that he still loves Jesus.
I pray that he learns through all of this.
I pray that my teens will surround him with Christ's love.
I pray for forgiveness... for restoration.

I serve an AWESOME God.
A God of new beginnings.
A God of love and forgiveness and faithfulness.
A God that is there, even when it is hard, and even when I can't do it alone.
I am so thankful that I don't have to do it alone... that my God is with me every step of the way.
I am thankful that all of my teens are alive and healthy.
I am thankful that God can take what Satan meant for evil and use it for good...

Sunday was Easter.
My God is not held by a cross and 3 nails.
My God is not held by a tomb.
My God keeps His promises.

We had a baptism service and baptized 6 of our teens (more about that in another blog).
I was reminded of God's promises...
As my teens stood one by one and read testimonies for their friends, and as others joyfully stepped into that baptismal, I was reminded that God loves them more than I do. That as I sat crying that Wednesday night, God cried harder. It hurt him more than it hurt me. He loves them so much that He DIED for them. On a cross. And then He rose!

So in the midst of the trials... of the difficulties, I am joyful in knowing that God wins.

Typical Wednesday night...

10:04 AM at 10:04 AM

Our youth group has changed a lot from when I first started here.
When I started working here almost 5 years ago, we had about 10 teens and we met in a very bleak looking youth room on whatever rag tag couches we could find. I would teach a Bible study and we'd chat for a while and everyone would go home. Now, several years and many changes later, we are getting ready to re-vamp our youth room into a cafe/lounge... but we no longer fit in there. We hold Wednesday night services in the gym, and we have over 100 active teens. Probably about 150. We have a teen worship band, and we even take an offering. I just wanted to share a few pictures of what a Wednesday night typically looks like now :)

First of all, it takes several wonderful volunteers to run things the way we do. In addition to Javier and I, we have 3 key leaders. George and Shannon who have been helping since the beginning of 2007 and they're WONDERFUL. They help with so much.
We also have an intern from Biola who has been with us for the last year and a half or so. Her name is Sarah.
When the kids get there around 6:30 (although some of them start coming as early as 5 or 5:30...), we have the gym and teen room open for them to play basketball, or soccer, or just hang out.
During that time, we also open up our snack bar (which will be new and improved when we do the youth room renovations! Right now it consists of snacks on a table in our gym...) Shannon takes care of that and she does a GREAT job!
Around 7:00 we start setting up one half of the gym for the service. George does the majority of the work on that... he sets up and runs all of our sound equipment. In addition to the sound, we set up a stage, chairs, room dividers and a cross.
It's also during that time that Shannon takes care of getting teens to take the offering and making sure that everything is covered and running smoothly. George tests the sound, and Javier and I are working on the final few things for announcements and helping wherever we can. Sarah makes sure all the teens are where they're supposed to be.

The we start the service by having the teens come and find a seat. Whoever is NOT teaching that night (me or Javier) gives the announcements and gets the kids settled.

Then we turn down the lights and our teens lead worship.
One thing I'll say is that our teens have learned to WORSHIP... rather than just sing.
During this time we also encourage the kids to use the cross as a place to get away from their friends and distractions and focus on God and pray. They do. It's pretty cool.
After the worship, Javier or I will get up and speak. Right now we're going through the book of John.
Sometimes we'll ask questions, or even incorporate the teens into what we're talking about.
At the end, we always challenge the teens to take action. Publicly. We often ask them to get up from where they're at and come forward, or go to the cross. They do. It's pretty cool. We also ask if anyone wants to accept Jesus. We have been blessed with many responses to that! We close the service with a time of prayer and worship.When the service is over, the teens help break everything down and put it away, and then the gym and teen room are open again until they all go home. Sometimes we're there as late as 11:00pm, but it's a great thing to have teens that WANT to be at church.

Things have changed a lot in the last few years. God is doing GREAT and HUGE things in our youth group and I am so excited to see where He takes us next!


8:30 AM at 8:30 AM

Sunday was AMAZING!
The service was great.
God moved (as always) :)
But one REALLY HUGE thing happened!

Brian accepted Jesus!

Now it's always a big deal when one of the teens accepts Jesus. We celebrate with them and we're excited. We are fortunate that this happens quite often in our youth group.

But this time... it was even more exciting. If you don't know about Brian... you need to read his history. I have written about him several times, but never mentioned him by name. Check it out:

Click Here to read the blog I wrote about how he came to our youth group.

Click Here to see him dressed as Santa... for no apparent reason...

Click Here to read the latest blog about Brian where he's struggling with God.

This kid has been a rollar coaster of questions and emotions... he's struggled, fought and wrestled with the idea of God and who God is, and why God would love him. He's gone from being an Atheist, to believing that there COULD be a god, to believing that there probably is a god... but why would he want me, to believing that there is absolutely a God, but needing a miracle to prove it, to asking Jesus into his heart!

He was so excited on Sunday! He was telling everyone who would listen that he "accepted Jesus today"... and his face just absolutely GLOWED!

I dont know all of the circumstances that lead up to his decision on Sunday, but it was about time! Boy is God great! And He sure does answer prayers! There were people all over the country that have been praying for Brian. And on Sunday, those prayers were answered. I thank God that I got to see his journey... but even more, that he loves Jesus now!

Here's Brian with our Intern Sarah at church on Wednesday.

Random Musings...

8:30 AM at 8:30 AM

Sometimes I cannot help but laugh right out loud at some of the things the kids say and do.

We were talking about Lot and his wife turning into salt in Sunday School last week. One of the kids (after some thought), says, "If I turned into salt, would you use me on your french fries?"

:) :) :) :) :)

Javier was reviewing with the teens about something he'd talked about the week before. The conversation went like this,

Javier: What did I say last week about Satan?
Teen 1: That he's a piece of crap.
Javier: No.
Teen 2: That he has no power.
Javier: Yeah, that's right.
Teen 1: Crap has no power...

I did laugh out loud at that one. I just can't hold it back sometimes.

:) :) :) :) :)

Some of the kids are taking a leadership/discipleship class with the adults. My dad was teaching one night and came home with this story...
They were talking about what Heaven was going to be like.
Teen 1: Can I have wings when I get to Heaven?
Teen 2: You wont even have a body... you'll just be a squiggle... with a tail!

:) :) :) :) :)

I find so much joy in this job. it is really neat to see lives changed right in front of me and to see kids "get it". But not only at those points... the whole journey. These teens are amazing people and they have so much going on in their heads... I love it when they share with us!

So cal Teenagers...

8:30 AM at 8:30 AM

I grew up in Oregon.
Home of snowy, rainy winters...
...weather below 60 degrees (and if it gets above 60, you wear shorts!)...
...warm clothes (including but not limited to: hats, scarves, mittens, coats...)...
...icy roads (yes, ice. it's not just for cooling down your drink!)...
...warm boots (complete with socks!!)...
...real fires in fireplaces (used for warmth!)...
...and common sense.

I now live in Southern California.
Home of dry, warm winters...
...weather that never goes below 70 (and if it does, people panic)...
...t-shirts and shorts (even in the rare rain storm)...
...icy cold cokes...
...flip flops (even if it is weirdly cold or wet)...
...fireplaces that are just for show...
...and NO weather sense.

Dont believe me? Check out these pictures of my teens in the snow... PROOF!!!

Shorts and T-shirts...
Yes... those are flip flops...
Shorts and a t-shirt... and he's even THROWING A SNOWBALL!!!
More shorts... although at least he has a sweatshirt on...T-shirt... notice the waterproof pants UNDER the ripped jeans???

t-shirt and glove??? But only ONE glove...
t-shirt and gloves... at least he has both of them...
Notice how bundled up I am??? She's wearing a t-shirt.
a scarf with a t-shirt... at least he has it wrapped around his neck!

We were getting ready to go to winter camp, and Javi comes out with a scarf draped around his neck. He says, "Did you know that they ACTUALLY keep your neck warm???"

My 100th post!!! Winter Camp 2009

9:21 AM at 9:21 AM

Wow. 100 posts. I still remember starting the blog about a year ago and worrying that I wouldnt have enough to write about. But I have LOVED writing this blog... and going back and re-reading it too! I hope you've all enjoyed it as well! I'd love to hear from you if you're reading... because the only way I know is if you leave me a comment.

I can't believe that we're already done with another winter camp! It seems like we just had last years! But Winter camp 2009 has come and gone... so here's how it went down...

First of all, we had about 40 people go! Which is really quite something considering there were only about 150 in the whole camp... our youth group is really growing!!! Last year we took about 25. Because our bus is not in commission right now, we had to take a caravan of 9 cars!!! We had some wonderful people volunteer to drive kids up which was awesome. Javier's parents were among them:
As soon as we got there, snowball fights ensued... and they didn't cease until we left the snow.
luckily, the kids were so excited to be in the snow and at winter camp, that they had great attitudes... even as they were getting pelted by incoming snow.
We had a few kids that came with us that had never been to an event with us before. It was an AWESOME weekend of bonding with our kids... they really opened up to us. Over and over I heard them saying that our youth group is like a "family".
One time we were at the snack bar, and the guy working it asked us which group we were with (there were several groups up there), and Chrisha blurted out "CERRITOS!!! WHOOOOO!!!" and the guy started laughing because that was not the group, but rather our church. He said "It's great to have church spirit!" to which Chrisha replied, "we're not a church... we're a family!" It's really cool that our kids feel that way about us. I sure feel that way about them!

It's also the first year that we brought our intern, Sarah.
I really dont know what to say about this picture... other than that it is just so Sarah :) She came to us a about a year and a half ago from Biola and we love her! It has just been such a great fit! It was also George and Shannon's first camp which was sooo exciting (but for some reason, I dont have a lot of pictures of them)! All of our leaders bonded with each other and with our kids. We are so blessed to have great leaders who really LOVE our teens!
I often hand my camera to one of the teens and let them take pictures for a while... what we end up with is always a lot of fun :)
This is Javier and his son Javi... they have a very special relationship... but we all get a kick out of it...
The chapels were pretty good. The kids really connected with God. But one thing that I noticed is that this was not a "mountain top experience" for our kids. God has really blessed us at our church. Every week we have wonderful services and our teens connect with God. They dont need a camp to see God face to face, or to experience His love. They get that on a regular basis. So while the teens responded, and absolutely got something out of the weekend, it was really a neat realization that they are building strong relationships with God wherever they are!
Several of our kids are pretty musically talented and always seem to find a way to worship... wherever we may be. I think that's pretty cool :)
We had several game times when the kids hung out in the gym and played games. We never had all of our kids on the same team, because there were so many. We would have dominated. But it was fun to play with them and watch them have fun with each other.
But more than anything else, there was a lot of hanging out in the snow: taking pictures, having snowball fights, sledding down the HUGE mountain (more about that later), playing football, "snowboarding", and just having a blast!

I am not a very big girl. I am about 5 feet 3 inches and about 120 pounds... so most of my teens are bigger than me. Especially the boys. So when we get in situations like winter camp... I find myself eating it... a lot... and usually with the help of one of the silly boys...\

The boys sure were loving the football! (or maybe just pushing each other around...)

This was the result of that one...

We kept taking group pictures, but we could never quite get the WHOLE group in the picture...
The youth pastors (Javier and Me)
Yeah... it looks like a nice picture... but this is what REALLY happened:
And as always... I seem to get hurt. Here is the story of my injury... There is a very large hill (pictured below). The kids were sledding down it (you can see some of those pictures above). most of them were going to the second section (marked on the photo below as II) and sliding down, but a few of the more daring ones would go to the very top. Most of the teens were catching a foot or two of air as they hit the lip... several of them lost their sleds and rolled the rest of the way down the hill. Two of my boys decided that I should go down. I told them I'd go but only if they went with me. So we got one of the big sleds and headed up the hill.
We got to the middle part where most of the kids were going down and I stopped. But they kept going. "You have to go from the top," they said. "It'll be more fun!!!" So up we went. I watched a few other people go down and I thought, "I cannot do this! I'm going to die!" But no one else died, or even got hurt. I rememberd the story my dad tells of me as a kid wanting to go down the waterslide but being scared... by the time I finally did, it was so late that I only got to go once and I was bummed. So I decided to go for it. I was the first on the sled, but before I got on, I looked at my boys and said in my most serious voice possible, "If you push me down this hill by myself, I'm going to kill you."

**Side note: When youth pastoring, resorting to threats of death or serious injury is highly frowned upon. In fact... it's really a bad idea. And typically... I do not make such threats... but I blame it on adrenaline mixed with sheer panic.**

Everyone was watching...
So I sat down on the sled and sure enough, they shoved me down the hill and stood at the top to watch. I made it down the first section fairly easily... still sitting on the sled and I even thought for a minute, "Hey, this is kind of fun!"
But then.
It happened.
I hit the lip (labeled below as II).
And I flew.
In the air.
At least 10 feet (as told to me later by the people watching).
But in addition to the 10 feet, there was a drop. So I basically flew in the air and dropped about 15 feet and landed on my head/neck/back (I landed right about where it's marked III) and then slid the remainder of the way on my stomach with my arms straight out in front of me like superwoman (I was wearing my wonder woman shirt that day... I should have known!).

Now, I know this is a little scary (especially because my mom and grandma read this)... but I am okay. It is another miracle considering how it happened and how I landed and all of that... the people who saw it happen were pretty scared that I was badly hurt. But I came away with just scrapes and soreness. God is really good. The boys, however, got quite an earful from Javier. Needless to say, nothing like that will ever happen again :)

All in all, camp was WONDERFUL! God did great things, our kids bonded with each other and with us, and a good time was had by all.

I'll leave you with our last attempt at a group picture (we're only missing 4 teens who had already headed down the mountain):

Music We Love!