20 Years Later: An Interview with Gregg Garner

What do you think the 20-year anniversary of an organization like G.O.D. testifies to?

The first thing that comes to mind is God’s faithfulness.  What I mean by that... is that I don’t think something like this could be sustained by human effort.

While I’m sure you have experienced your fair share of unpredictable moments, is G.O.D. currently situated the way you envisioned it would be--as a young college student? Is it moving at the pace that you expected?

Pace. When you’re a young person, ‘pace’ seems to be a relative term. When I was a young guy, pace was more like a matter of pushing and pushing and pushing until I ran out of strength. I would have to tell myself,  “This is a marathon, not a sprint.”

These three young guys on the left, from Azusa Pacific University, are all still around. Gregg Garner serves as President and Founder of G.O.D. Int'l, Robert Munoz, Health Care Specialist, and Jason Roufs, Director of Education. 

Back then it was only me; I was just responsible for my own pace.  And then, to some degree, for the few people that were around.  And if I needed to, it was easier for me to carry them, or because we were all at the same stage in life, it was easier for them to follow.  

Now, God has given us so many people, pace is actually something I don’t think about anymore.  I recognize there’s a joy that can be attached to the aliveness of God in the present.  So while I’ve long been a person who has plans about what could be, I also have learned that such things can be idols, they are not alive.  And the people that God gives us, the ideas they have, the ways in which they end up expressing their response to need, and how they enact what they have learned from God, there has to be room for all of that.  

If people were subjected to an expected pace, who or what would be the standard?  If I would have made myself the standard, this would be a super high-pressured, very fast paced environment, that I don’t think would be enjoyable for too many people.  But instead, we’ve allowed God to work with everybody where they’re at – some people have just gotten married, some people just had their first child, some folks are kids who have just moved away from their parents for the first time… other people are having their fifth child… folks have transitioned into being grandparents, people have lost loved ones close to them...  All of these differentiating life circumstances demand, it would seem, a different pace.

If there is one thing Gregg Garner reminds the G.O.D. community of often, it’s that God is alive. His presence must be sought each day, his direction in each decision. 

I think of it all more like an orchestration piece, you know...  I like all kinds of music, but the music that impacts me the most is music that is dynamic – music that can start off slow, because it needs to be, then it can speed up, then it can find an intense moment where the pace is really hitting hard and quick and then it can slow back down, and it’s just like the dynamic of that pulse that feels so alive to me.  It doesn’t just feel like a drum machine ticking away mechanically.  And I think living for God and having a ministry that wants to embody his spirit... He’s alive, and so it would be idolatry to subject him to a tempo that I think the song should be written in.  Instead, I think we’ve let him orchestrate, and we can identify that the orchestration comes with the introduction of new characters, with new people bringing their violins, and trombones, and some of them never having played before, you know it changes the dynamic, and sometimes the sound, but it’s all beautiful.  It all becomes something really lovely to listen to, to observe.

And I think that bothers people, the pace I just described.  I think it can bother people because the ambition I had as a young man was what it was to get things started. Perhaps people expect that pace even now, because it can have an appearance of productivity and success, but I’m so thankful to God for his Word because that ambition was harnessed, and I believe matured, into a more dynamic one as I spoke of earlier.  I was told as a young guy to be cautious against temptations related to achieving fame, status... that my service of the LORD could be cheapened by the pursuit of accolades and pedigrees. I saw that in God’s Word, to be known by God is the highest achievement.  And so I have sincerely tried to pursue that, and of course, made mistakes along the way, but God’s grace has been sufficient through it all.

When you start out, you have ideas of what you want to do, ideas about what is good, and so you want to run to catch up to those ideas. But even as a young person, you could have bad experiences. I’m listening to [“When Love Calls You Home”] in the background right now. I learned it in high school because my church split.  As a young 15 year old guy, I imagined I would play it one day when the church came back together.  The chorus says, “When love calls you home, forgiveness embraces the past you’d once known...All your mistakes that carried your name are gone...That’s what happens when love calls you home.”  I imagined one day I would sing this song when everyone came back, and the church reunited, and people made up for what happened with the division. But I never got to sing the song.  

So you also have what seem like negative moments that inform how we move forward into the future, and I think that affects pace too. You can’t genuinely expect to get anywhere with superficial relationships. And I think that’s what I ended up learning through that experience. The reason why no one came back together is because they didn’t need each other.  And you can’t be mad at anybody for that.  

I think that’s why these days I’m very relaxed about who’s here and who isn’t, because if God is giving us people who can be laborers for the harvest, and serve with our organization, and even giving us faithful supporters, and family and friends... then in order to sustain those relationships, they must be meaningful, they must have substance. It can’t just be about perceived success. So it changes the direction of your ambition. You move less into trying to accomplish things and focus more on trying to accomplish things, together.  

I look at my own life, and there are a lot of things I could have done, that I’ve not done, because I wanted to do it together, with others.  There’s this movie that came out when I was in junior high with Lou Diamond Phillips called La Bamba.  It was about Richie Valens, who is this Mexican kid from California, who got a guitar and…. he’s basically like the Mexican Elvis. He sang the song La Bamba. He didn’t really even know Spanish or anything. He had a band, and there came a moment when an agent wanted to pick him up, but he had to leave the band and go solo… he had to choose between this record deal and possible fame, which was something he could have, but he would have to ditch his friends. And in the movie he does, he ditches his friends and he gets the fame.  

Everything we do, we do “as a band.” Whether it’s beginning the Academy for G.O.D., or performing original plays and musicals, the bond of peace that ties us together is, in part, due to the addiction we have to doing things together. Laying aside personal ambition, we have a lot more fun. 

I remember watching the movie and thinking… well for me, knowing God doesn’t exempt him from certain venues of my life, because I know God, he’s invited into everything I do, and I learned that as a kid.  I believed God sat with me and watched movies, and I remember at the end of that movie... as a junior high kid thinking, “That’s a test.” That you could have certain gifts and abilities that could be recognized... and your ambitions could drive you. That you have to make a decision, is it about the accomplishment, or is it about doing it with your band? And for me, it’s always been about doing it with my band.  

So I’m really happy about the pace we are going and everyone involved.  We even go at a pace where moms can be involved, which is awesome. Sometimes they put a lot of pressure on themselves, but they are doing quite phenomenal things. We have mothers who are raising multiple children, and at the same time leading teams, even delivering other people’s babies... they are doing things that usually folks have to choose between – either they choose to be a mom or have a career.  But because of the pace God’s given us, and because of the relationships that we have where we support one another, and they are meaningful, moms are able to do both, and find peace, fulfillment and meaning in their lives while doing it.

 

How do you maintain employee enthusiasm, knowing that this organization has kept so many of its original employees over the last 20 years?

We have a very high retention rate, that’s very true.  I can’t be altogether sure it’s related to some employee tactic though. First I would, again, source it in God’s faithfulness. Jesus at one point in John 6... he had an issue, because a lot of people who were following him were leaving, and they were leaving because of the way he was teaching... about things that were, the text notes, offensive to them, and also difficult for them to understand.  They were going to have to work hard to figure out what Jesus was saying. And he goes from having a significant group of people to a core group – the 12. And before the 12 note their commitment to Jesus, or at least 11 of them, Jesus has to ask them, “Does this offend you too, are you going to leave?”  And Peter says, “Where are we going to go? You have all the words of life.”  

Jesus will say that no one comes to him except that the Father draws them. To me, that became a lesson about retaining people. First of all, it’s not my job to retain them. That’s something the Father does. So I can let the Father do that; I don’t have to be stressed out about retention.

I would say initially when I started in ministry, I would get stressed. Even about whether or not someone would come back. They could literally just be going to visit someone, and I’d be like “I know what we do is challenging and difficult and could be offensive, so maybe I won’t see them again, bye.”  I think it was a defense mechanism so I didn’t get too attached or anything like that, but after a few years that went away, I think, because the LORD taught me this lesson.

The other thing I learned, is that if we teach the words of life--which come from God--where else would be people want to go? I have made it a priority of mine to ensure that people are taught God’s Word. When I think over the last 20 years... if you were to put my words in a pie chart... and ask, how much of it has been organizational talk, versus how much of it has been Scriptural teaching, we’re going to have a grand majority of that chart committed to Scriptural teaching. Even to the degree where I’ve had people say things unknowingly funny like, “That was a really great employee meeting. We didn’t really talk about the organization or anything, but I like how that Scripture applies to this and this.” And then at the end, me realize, oh yeah, I didn’t saying anything practically organizationally...like I didn’t give like 7 habits of highly effective people. I just taught Scripture. At that point I really depend on the LORD to help that person think about God’s Word and implement it into their work practice.  

I don’t know if I’m gonna write a book “Employee Retention: The Secret to Our Success.”  But I definitely think those principles come to mind: the Father draws them, so there shouldn’t be stress on how they get here, and then if the Father has drawn them, it’s the words of life that will keep them around.  

If you ask a graduate of the Institute what they’re up to, you may be surprised to hear that they are still taking classes! We prioritize learning the Word of God, even after the completion of our undergraduate program, and create intentional venues conducive for everyone, from moms to handymen, to discuss God’s Word.

So I make a concerted effort to ensure that. For example, all employees get a class every semester so they can be in the Word.  We have routine opportunities for people to be learning God’s Word. Even if they’re in a transitional situation, like they just had a baby, they can take an online version of the class.  If they have a day job, they can take a night class that we make available. We diversify our opportunities to learn, so that we can meet that need in people. So, to sum it up, I think it’s God who is doing the retaining.  

As far as enthusiasm goes, I think naturally it’s exciting to make history.

As far as enthusiasm goes, I think naturally it’s exciting to make history.  And I get that could be a presumptuous statement on my part, but after 20 years, there seems to be enough that has objectively been done, where a third party could look at it and say, yeah, something has happened there that will be talked about into the future.  

A lovely person, a mother of one our members, encouraged me the other day. She said she was looking at the Academy where the kids go to school and said, “I’m so thankful to the LORD for what he is doing here, and I even pray for the grandchildren and great grandchildren…” and then her husband said to me, “I pray for your grandchildren, too.”  Side note: I have no grandchildren, they were just expressing to me how their prayers project forward out of love and concern for me. Anyway, she said, “No, no, not just his physical grandchildren, but for the grandchildren of these ministerial efforts, and what they’re doing, that there would be other Academies like this around the world... going into the generations,”  and she was just really encouraging me with those kinds of prayers, because I too envision and think, and pray along those lines... because to live for God is to make history, to create legacy for his name.  

In serving the Lord there is never a wasted moment.  There is significance and meaning attached to every moment, because you are acting out what it is that God says.  So I think that’s exciting for people when they can be attached to something like that...  A lot of folks get to hear about God’s Word and about what God wants to do, but very few folks get an opportunity to implement. There are lots of places that talk about it, but very few that give a framework to implement it.  

I think the uniqueness of our organization is that the same community you worship with is the same group of people you work with, and the same group of people you go to school with, and the same people you raise your kids with, and in some cases even people you live in the same neighborhood with.  It’s a unique model.  I’m not saying it’s the model, or it’s the one everyone must ascribe to, but it’s definitely the one God gave us, and I’m thankful.  I think it’s exciting.  I think when people are around it, they sense that excitement.

 

What unique challenges do you face as the leader of an organization that is majorly composed of millennials?

So, one of my concentrations in my undergrad was generational studies, and they didn’t call them [Millennials] back then.  The guy at the time who was putting out work called them “the Bridgers” because they would bridge the 20th and the 21st century.  The organization that now denotes when the Millennial generation began is the PEW organization, they actually put my birth year [1977] as the beginning of the Millennial generation.  The idea is that these folks come into their authority around the dawn of the new millennium.  So it’s not people who were born in the 2000s, it’s those who come into their authority during that time.  

There’s a long list of people who came into their authority in their 30s.  So, I came into my 30s at the commencement of the new millennium and it is a different experience to be on the older side rather than the younger side [of Millennials].  They call it “the cusp” because those folks can take on some traits of the previous generation, which we know as “Generation X."   For me, having to evaluate myself, I think if I was on the cusp, I’ve leaned more onto the millennial side [than Gen. X], likely because I had an uprooting of American culture which happened when I moved to the Philippines.  I kind of missed the 80’s altogether.  I wasn’t conscious enough as a kid to know I was in the 80’s, and then when I was conscious enough to know, I was in the Philippines, which wasn’t the 80’s, and then I came back to the States in the 90’s.  So I kinda came into my own historical awareness a little bit delayed.  

I see that as a way in which God prepared me to work with Millennials because Millennials don’t bother me.  I get them.  I get the weakness of millennials and I get the strength of Millennials.  I can understand what we are coming against and what we’re hoping for.  And I think being similarly situated along those lines is of great help in leading a group of Millennials.  

Now, the real challenge to me is this next group.  It’s the group my daughter is a part of, she’s 14 years old, and she captures, I think, the essence of this new group coming up. They’re not Millennials; they don’t really have a name for them yet. They’re just way different.  

The key to working with Millennials is not to be relevant in terms of pop culture relevance. The key is to be relevant in terms of the truth and what is meaningful and significant.  But I also understand, to get across those virtues, one must do it in a way a person has a palette for. You take even the metaphor of sound, how people hear music.  Folks have their tastes. We played this game recently on apple tv that has pop songs. And everyone has a character and they try to identify songs, and they are from the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, whatever.  And you can tell whatever decade someone was born in because the era of songs that came up was their jam--like that became their soundtrack, that brought them to life.  

I think for me as a leader, I can have a personal era of ‘that’s my jam,’, but if I want to be an effective leader I have to learn to appreciate everyone’s jam.  I think metaphorically, I need to know all the hits from the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, all the way to the new millennium.  All the way from what Johnny Cash sang, to Usher, to what Shawn Mendes is doing--I have to hit all three of those generations. I think that my desire to be faithful to the LORD and love people gives me a hunger to learn those things.  

I listened to Chris Rock talk about comedians, and they were asking him how he has been able to stay relevant.  He said he has to work at it and it’s really hard because he’s getting older.  He said he listened to another comedian, and the guy had a really funny joke but he said something about Bart Simpson.  And he said, had he upgraded the cartoon character to someone more modern, he would’ve gotten way more laughs, but that’s the thing about trying to speak to everybody is that you have to keep up with the times.  You gotta decide, “Am I gonna grow old with my generation and just keep saying things that are fun and funny to them or am I gonna be relevant to the next generation?”  There was this time in our ministry where I could make reference to pop culture things like Tommy Boy, and then it came real quick that people did not know what I was saying anymore when I said, “Richard, what’d you do?” Nobody knew it. I had to find what was the next pop reference. And it goes to Napoleon Dynamite and then Napoleon Dynamite goes out. Anyways, metaphorically, in order to be a person who is relevant I really don’t think you need to be updated on pop culture, but I do think having an understanding of the language, the symbols, that young people are paying attention to, becomes very important because it’s a medium of communication.  It’s not the substance, but it’s definitely a medium, a form.  And I pay close attention to mediums of communication.   

Bridging the generations: Rosemary Sherrod, a boomer, teaches a Black History class for high school students of the unnamed generation at the Academy for G.O.D. Rosemary has caught on to Gregg's concern for remaining relevant--she is one of the most beloved teachers at the Academy. 

Relating to Millennials has been easier for me because I’m part of the group, though I’m an older part of it. It’s this next generation that’s really got my attention right now and I’m trying to figure them out. There are so many interesting things to say about both generations.  I do feel one of my responsibilities is to help generations understand one another.  So with the Boomers and the Gen. X folks, I like to have conversations with them to shed light on making sense of millennials because they don’t typically understand them. Millennials don’t make any sense to these people. We are actually having a shift in our nation where the Boomers are taking back some power. And actually the presidential campaign isn’t even belonging to the Boomers.  It’s the generation before the Boomers. I like this question. I’m part of [the millennials], but we have to learn to think towards the future and also carry some of the past with us, because they have something to offer.

 

What has been the most challenging aspect of your responsibility over the last 20 years?

The way things work in the world is not difficult to figure out.  It’s really easy to identify the patterns that exist in society that allow a person, or people, to find what we could call success, or accomplishment.  It’s not difficult to do those things, and then have an appearance that by all reasonable means someone would consider to be accomplished.  

I think that the challenge has been how to stay faithful to the calling God has given us--what makes us alternative, or, a contrast to the dominant way of being a ministry.  Like we’ve never called ourselves a church, but we are a church. But I’m not going to promote those labels just so everyone could accept us because now we make sense to them. Because we have a value that says, ‘the way people should know you is by your fruit,” not by your label, not by the way you classify yourself. So for me, it’s always been a very difficult thing to do. I could put up statements of faith, and tell you we are a church, and tell you we are a ministry, and communicate in a way that everyone could understand, but then there’s these things Jesus said that makes all that very challenging.  

So instead, it’s like, why don’t you come visit us? Why don’t you look at our lives? Why don’t you examine our values? Why don’t you have dinner with us? Why don’t you stay here for a week and see what we’re doing? That’s a difficult way to be in this world. You’re not going to get anywhere, it would seem. So, I think as people are growing older in this ministry and they are sensing their finiteness, that they are going to die, time is going to be up, they are not going to have all the time in the world to give...I think it’s going to be more and more difficult to maintain that non-compromised attitude that says, first and foremost we are going to maintain this calling that God’s given us.  

I’m not saying that everyone else has to do what we are doing--not at all.  But I’m not responsible for everyone else’s convictions.  I’m responsible for our conviction which is to do our best to implement how we understand God’s directives.  So when I see that Jesus hides himself from attaining political position, or that he doesn’t set up a booth for the convention in downtown Jerusalem (John 7), those are paradigms for us, and we want to implement them. So, you won’t find us having a ministry booth down at a church, or a youth ministry, or convention, or whatever. We’re not there. And that’s because of that very difficult, narrow path that we’re choosing in following Jesus. And he told us it would be hard, so I guess when you asked me that question...for me, in my position, it’s not coming up with the criteria that’s difficult, it’s convincing everyone else that it’s worth it.

Being in my position, its preaching, its persuasion, it’s getting everyone to believe that wide is the road and broad is the way that leads to destruction and many go by it.  But narrow is the gate and small is the path that leads to life, and few will ever find it.  And then saying, “Look, we found it! His name is Jesus. He has a way in which he lived, and it is not conventional by any means. He was misunderstood by his contemporaries and crucified by the state and religious authorities of his day. We have received a paradigm in him that is challenging, but the Father was pleased with him, and raised him from the dead. And that life is promised to us too, if we follow in his way--This prince of peace, this person who made history, in a way that no one else will be able to duplicate, we all just want to be part of.”  So I think that’s the challenge of my job is to get everybody to hold the non-compromised position and continue on this narrow path, even though, the world gives us so many other easier options.  

We’re now in a different universe compared to where we started, but it’s the same God. And we have the same commitment, same passion, and same directives that I had on my knees praying for $50 a month.

When I started this ministry, I would literally cry out to the Lord and pray for this $50 a month that we were using to support some people in need from Africa, we were monthly sponsoring kids to go to school. It was so hard to come up with. I was just a teenager. To get an extra $50 on top of my other bills, and other things, was so tough to access... and I would have tears in my eyes, praying. Over the years, it would increase, $150, $300, $500, and now when you have an organization the size of ours, doing the things we do all over the world, where every month the commitments you’ve made to help are now in the 6 digits, it’s a different universe compared to where you were when you started, but it’s the same God.  And we have the same commitment, same passion, and same directives that I had on my knees praying for $50 a month.  

Antonio is one of many people in the third world that we support on a regular basis. Because of our help, Antonio was able to get the medical care he needed to continue to support his family, engage in ministry, and grow food for his community--his passion! 

It’s been my concern to ensure we do not relax that conviction that God gave me even back then. We have made it a priority, that before we meet our own needs here, we have to ensure the needs of those we’re taking care of around the world are met. And thank God we’ve never faulted on that. We’ve always ensured that people around the world, the commitments we made, the people we are going to take care of, that they are taken care of before we take care of ourselves. I’m thankful to God for that, but it gets more challenging when you have more kids and more people. So the challenge isn’t just in the area of raising more money, the challenge is to ensure we keep our priorities and help those most in need, even with our own growing families, and personal, and communal list of needs.

Literally right now in our community we have over 150 adults and 200 children.  That’s a lot of people! And these are highly committed people. I often give the imagery that if I tweeted at 2am “Come to our auditorium for a time of prayer,” and that’s all I put... I guarantee 90% of our people would be there, and the other 10%... likely they wouldn’t be there because they missed the tweet, or they had small babies and couldn’t get there... though a lot would bring their babies. Or maybe 1% would be apathetic. But apathy would be very minimal. It’s a very committed group of people and I’m thankful to God for that, but I think getting everyone to stay committed is a big part of my responsibility. Stay committed to the calling of this vocation, to following Jesus. And as I said earlier, God will retain, and we just have to give the words of life - his Word.

 

You started 20 years ago as a young single man. How has marriage and children, and even the large influx of children into this organization changed your focus?

It changes everything.  My dad taught me this, and I think it sat with me because it’s very true: Getting married is an unselfish thing to do.  Having kids is an even more unselfish thing to do. And in Christ, we are moving further and further away from selfishness, and at the core of selfishness is self. So when I was a self, a single, there was more opportunity to be selfish. But when I got married and God gave me my wife, it was the most important schooling I’ve ever gone through. I learned to love someone who wasn’t me. We’re good at loving ourselves; it’s like an instinct. But loving someone else...  

Paul the Apostle would talk in Ephesians about the mystery that exists in the love in between us and God, finds meaning in the marriage relationship. That the relationship between the husband and the wife can somehow help us make sense of that mystery. You know, what a school – marriage. Tara and I have been married now 17 years and it’s been amazing. She is an amazing woman. Initially, I didn’t want to have kids. I didn’t want to get married. There was a lot of hypocrisy in me. I didn’t want to get married, not because I didn’t want to get married, but because I wanted to impress God with celibacy... so that I could be a martyr or something. I was very ambitious along those lines. But I fell in love and that was God’s doing and it humbled me. And I’m so thankful.  

But I thought, too, maybe we were going to be those kind of people that just don’t have kids and we have to sacrifice by not having kids. But the reality was, I didn’t really care to have kids, so what kind of sacrifice was that? It was more like an appearance. It would just look like it to others that we were sacrificing. But in reality, we could go where we wanted, do what we wanted. So I don’t know, there’s a hypocrisy that we don’t even know how to weed out until we get older. 

Gregg Garner with his wife, Tara, his daughter Genesis (who just turned 14), Justice, Xavier, Malayah (Fall 2016).

But a few years in God gave us Genesis, and we named her “the beginning” because she was the first kid in this community.  And we knew she would be the first of many more to come because God saw that it wasn’t good for man to be alone and he didn’t just want him to get married--“For this reason a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife.” The reason was so they could have a family and they could grow communities, and I knew that we would have a bunch of kids show up naturally. It would be the most natural expansion of our ministry.  

So to me, every kid that shows up around here is the future, literally.  I know that people get to say that in a Whitney Houston romantic kind of way. But for me, when I look at these kids, I see that we can do something for them that would put them on a track to living such a meaningful life... where they can bypass some of the mistakes and struggles and failures that some of us have had to go through--something that every generation wants for the next generation. I’m not saying that they won’t have those things in their own right but we can help them avoid some of the pitfalls.  

You know, if you talk generationally, and you see 4 generations of anybody, where you see progress--it may not be like incredible progress, but it’s progress--you hear a son talk to his dad and he tells him, “Dad, I’m never gonna spank my kids the way you spanked me.”  And the Dad says, “Well you’re lucky I didn’t hit you the way my dad hit me.”  And that grandpa says, “You’re lucky I didn’t punch you in the nose like my dad did.”  And you see that through the generations it’s gotten better. It’s not where we all want it to be, but it’s getting better. I don’t know, maybe that’s a terrible example. But I think that human progress is along those lines. We’re overcoming major obstacles with the demons we wrestle with in our lives and the way in which God is healing us and restoring us. And it comes slowly.  

So when I look at these kids I see that every kid is an extension of every family’s generation. So when I meet their grandparents, or your parents, it is meaningful to me. I am turning into a sponge in that moment because I have to find how I can even assist these parents that don’t even know I care like this. I’m sure when I meet them, they don’t know I care to extend their legacy, to find out what it was about them--what do they do, how do they think, how do they love God, or how are they good people, and how can I help their grandchildren understand that and carry it forward into the future?  Because we have a legacy in Christ but that legacy in Christ also has a very real familial aspect to it. So while I know that we are in Christ brothers and sisters, and one big family as a community of believers, I also know that every family has its own story to tell. And I feel responsible to ensure everybody can carry both in one thought.

There’s no agenda to remove people’s identity of the flesh. Paul the Apostle, he was a Jew, but he was also in Christ. But he said that he wasn’t going to separate himself from his association with the Jews if you read Romans 9-11. He actually had a great burden for his family of the flesh, though he has that burden for all people who are in Christ. He had really become all things to all people. He had come to the place where he could capture both the legacy he could have for Christ, which was universal and expansive, and then also the responsibility he had as a Hebrew to his family. And I carry that in my own calling and I see that as important for everybody around here. 

DJ is the son of Seth Davis, who has served as our first full-time farmer. Seth not only manages our Community Garden, he gets to teach students at the Academy for G.O.D. all about growing food. 3 of his 4 kids are old enough to attend the Academy and get hands-on experience learning this legacy, coupled with a phenomenal biblical education.

When I see all these kids, they are, yes, the future of this organization and ministry and what we are trying to do for the LORD, but they are also extensions of the legacies that exist within their individual families. So it’s always really amazing to see certain things happening. I can’t help but think of Seth Davis, whose dad was a firefighter. But his grandfather, who went on to work in finance, actually started out training in agriculture as a farmer, before he went on to a very successful business career. And now, that very grandfather has been instrumental in providing funds for Seth to advance his calling in Christ to do things in our community garden, which can be thought of as  an extension of what his grandfather started out doing. And I get emotional when I see little DJ in the garden, loving to help out his dad and advancing this legacy. For me, I see two things at once. I see God’s universal family, because I know that Seth’s gardening techniques are helping a bunch of people as he’s teaching and equipping folks to serve around the world. But I also see that for his family, the Davis family, there’s also this legacy that is being passed down through the generations... where DJ will know of his great grandfather, and the green thumb that existed in him, a legacy.  

I see a lot when I see the kids.  They’re not just an abstract source of inspiration for me. I took Jesus seriously when he said, “You want to  be great?” And he took a child and set it in front of them, and said, “Here you go, here’s your focus.” So for me, they’re the focus. That’s why personally, everyday, I teach at the Academy. I have a ton of things to do. And seriously, almost everyday I’m thinking of how I can get out of teaching at the Academy, but I know it’s good for me and I get there, and I do it... and it’s a reward every time, and I thank God for that. That’s the truth.  

 

What do you consider to be one of the greatest successes of G.O.D. International?

There’s a lot to say here.  We have such a tight knit group.  When I get together with the members of this organization, you can just feel the bond.  I remember reading in Ephesians, “Maintain the unity of the Spirit given to you in a bond of peace.”  I read it for years, and it was by faith that I wanted to achieve that within our ministry. Through challenges and triumphs, loss and gain, we’ve seen how God was shaping and cultivating our community to get to where it is now. I can with full confidence say that when our members get together, there is this bond of peace the Scripture speaks of.  

And people are going to do whatever they need to do, to ensure that our community experiences these blessings of God. Blessings that he noted in places like Deuteronomy 8... that we would have well-being, that we would have qualitative and quantitative growth, and that we would be able to have dominion over the land in which we possess.  

The transformation of the Hopewell neighborhood has been truly remarkable, and anything but abstract. These kids in our after school program planted a garden for one of the widows in the neighborhood. 

And when I see us getting together and taking care of our elderly neighbors and cleaning up this neighborhood, and helping each other... I mean, a bunch of guys came over recently and helped me build a fence in my backyard. I didn’t have to spend thousands of dollars. These were my friends who helped us do that because they care, and they love. This happens all the time in our community. When I think about success, I think getting to witness the reality of God’s Word is a success. It’s not an abstract.  It’s not a hypothetical.  It’s not a thing by some distant... faith. I don’t have to sing the song “One Day” and think purely in the future.  

There are aspects to the “One Day” kind of prayer, that I hope for, but there’s so much right now we’re experiencing.... right now, as a result of doing God’s Word. So I feel an incredible success attached to my children growing up in an environment where the Word of God is being realized. Not just preached, not just hoped for, but realized. I don’t say it to boast, I give glory to God. But, man, should I not talk about it?  Should I not share the joy that comes from witnessing such a thing? I just know we will take care of each other. There is a success there.

I think it’s been awesome to be able to work with my parents, and also work with my kids. Both generations, the one before me and the one after me are involved in this ministry. I can see the future with my kids. This summer, I did a Bible study with the kids who were born in 2006 and before. Every week I had them over at my house. I know that sounds like an interesting year, but after 2006, the kids exploded. In 2006 there was 7. In 2007 there was like 15. 2008, there was 25 of them. It just gets crazy after that. But the kids at that age, at this point they are at least 10 years old, so I would do Bible studies and worship with them. So, this one day we had a really powerful worship service. The kids had hands lifted in the air, they were crying and they were praying for each other and the LORD was really moving in their midst.  And I got to ask them, “What were you sensing?  What were you feeling?” Every single one of them noted a future responsibility in God’s kingdom to take care of the weak and vulnerable in the world, as a result of what’s being invested in them. I did not program it into them, I did not say anything to them. This was something growing in their soul. And my own kids were there. So to see that in your children, and in your friends’ children who you love like your own, as much as you possibly could, it’s a success.  

Connecting the generations: Robert Munoz Sr. visiting his granddaughters at the Academy for G.O.D.'s Grandparents Day. Robert's son, Rob, has been a part of the ministry since the early years. We welcome Robert as a regular visitor who worships with us, grateful for the thriving place his kids have made home.  

We just had a Grandparents Day. I would say throughout the day, if you were to look around, you wouldn’t have missed a grandparent crying. And they shared that they were so moved because they could see what’s happening with their grandchildren. Connecting generations I think is an incredible success. It’s hard to do. When we started this ministry, the LORD spoke to me at a specific event... it was to celebrate the Jesus Movement in California with the Costa Mesa Church... and I was so moved by the LORD. He spoke to me that with the ministry we were going to have there were a bunch of things we needed to transcend. And one of them was the generational issue. And I’m not saying we are there yet. Most of us are Millennials. But it feels like we are getting closer and closer. In my early twenties, I wondered, “LORD, why do we not have older people here? I’m 23, and I’m one of the oldest people in our community. What are we gonna do?” And at that time the LORD spoke to me that we would grow into becoming our own old people.  And I’m about to turn 40 and it’s happening. I’m still one of the oldest, within the top 10, and for the most part, other people are within a year or two older than me. I know that we have some grandparents who are involved, and I’m so thankful for them, grandparents of our kids. But I think there’s going to be an incredible success with connecting generations.  

Everybody told me when I started the ministry that I was pipe dreaming. “Young people will give you two years and then they leave.” So they said I should just do a program that anticipates their two years and let them move on with life. But I knew I wasn’t like that, so I believed there were other people who weren’t going to be like that.

Other successes would involve the way we are formed as an organization, it’s been structured in such a way that we could continue in this vocation. Everybody told me when I started the ministry that I was pipe dreaming because I was only going to get two years out of people. “Young people will give you two years and then they leave.”  So they said I should just do a program that anticipates their two years and let them move on with life. But I knew I wasn’t like that, so I believed there were other people who weren’t going to be like that. I knew there were other people who could stay the course, see the long-term, and envision what’s possible with God... with people who stay invested and really give their life over to God, up to the end, to see these things happen. And I think it is quite the success to measure how many people have been around for such a long time. I’m telling you, they are just as, if not more, enthusiastic about what God’s doing here than when they first got here. That’s even for people like yourself Brett... 12 years here, and the introduction you gave me prior to this interview officially starting... man, it inspired me because, as you said, you’re inspired to still be a part of what we’re doing. That’s gotta be a success. I can’t attribute any of these things to having done anything other than obey.  And I would tell anyone who is trying to do ministry, to just stop trying and just be obedient.  And let God have the successes. And just appreciate his successes.  And be glad to be a part of them. That’s all I feel right now. I just feel happy to be a part of it.

[“Jesus, Son of God, Son of Man” song plays in the background.] This song...my sophomore year of college, when the LORD prompted me to stop going out on Friday nights and just stay back and start a Bible study, which snowballed into this ministry, I would listen to this song that asks, “Who is Jesus?  Who was he?” And I had to think about that. And the more I thought about who he was, the more I saw somebody who was other than anything or anyone I’d ever known. And then to know this humble servant, who was not promoting himself but promoting the will of God, drawing people to the Father in prayer, and turning the hearts of people to righteousness and living well and doing good for God--I just wanted that. I wanted to follow that guy. And to follow that guy was going to mean staying close to him. To stay close to him and walk with him away from the very conventional ways of being great in our world. Anybody can do that. There’s no special prerequisite. You just have to be willing. So I pray and hope that anyone reading this could get that. Drop the drive to be successful, to do something great, just obey. Follow Jesus and share in his success. Share in his greatness because you’re not going to find anyone greater.