Category Archives: Los Angeles

Hop Li in LA’s Chinatown, the hot spot for locals

Hop Li Chinatown LA

Forget about the big fancy expensive Chinese food restaurants in Los Angeles’ Chinatown. Locals get their authentic grub at Hop Li, an unpretentious eatery that would necessarily stand out as a hot spot.

Peking Duck Hop Li Chinese restaurant Chinatown LAI was introduced to Hop Li, when in the 90s I was dating the lady who is now my wife. It was the most frequent place we went to.

spicy pepper beef Hop Li restaurant Chinatown LAI’ve learned to ignore the worn-out red carpets that lead to the bathroom. They look like they were new in the 60s. I’ve learned to ignore the dust on the exit sign. People don’t come to Hop Li for its immaculate interior. The decorating looks like it hasn’t updated since the 70s.

hot and sour soup Hop Li Chinese restaurant Los AngelesNobody cares about that. They only care about taste. When it comes to authentic Cantonese food, there’s nothing better in Downtown LA (Chinatown is just northeast of DT).

sweet and sour chicken Chinatown Los Angeles Hop Li restaurantHaving married American-born Chinese, I learned you always start with soup. My in-laws used to honor me (many many years ago) by ordering shark’s fin soup, which cost $100 and tastes fibrous (nothing special for my American taste buds, or bitter melon soup (which they cherish but tasted to me like the name, bitter). But on my recent visit we were treated to the more American-friendly hot and sour soup.

Hop Li restaurant in Chinatown LANext, if the meal is special, you get Peking Duck. I like the dunk meat best, but the true Chinese way, apparently, is to eat mostly fried duck skin with plum sauce, onion sprigs and parsley.

Chinese crab restaurantThen the entrees start coming out to be served on the white rice: honey garlic spare ribs, asparagus, baby Spinach, fish in black bean sauce, pepper chicken, spicy beef and bell peppers, noodles, sweet and sour chicken. There is more than we can finish, which is the Chinese way for a banquet.

Chinese asparagus Hop Li Restaurant Los Angeles ChinatownThere are a lot of exotic items for the truer Chinese taste buds, deep fried squid in light crunchy batter, crab and fried tofu in creamy curry sauce, whole steamed fish (my in-laws, to honor me years ago, offered me the fish eyeball, which is a delicacy, and which I dutifully ate. It was mushy like a pea, though harder.)

Chinese noodles Hop Li restaurant Chinatown LA

Chinese like fresh, fresh, fresh food, so you can get the fish live and placed into the pot.  So Hop Li has tanks of living crabs for you to enjoy.Chinese fish in black bean sauceI always liked the orange pepper chicken but through the years of eating with my in-laws have learned to go along with whatever they order. Another favorite of mine was kung-pao chicken.

honey garlic spare rips Hop Li Chinese restaurant Chinatown LAYou can come here for a quick lunch, simple dinner or a full-on banquet.
historical map of chinatown Los AngelesHop Li is part of Chinatown’s history. They even have a historic map that traces the beginnings of the section in Los Angeles. Some of the history is a stain because racial violence against Chinese is why the Chinese moved out of Downtown and quartered up near Dodger Stadium (which, of course, wasn’t there at the time).
Chinese crab restaurantwhoa

Hot mustard sauce to add some zing to vegetables. Alternatively, oyster sauce makes the veggies delicious.

Chinese spinach Hop Li restaurant Chinatown LAThe menu is extensive.

Hop Li menu page 1 Chinatown LAHop Li menu page 2 Chinatown LAHop Li menu page 3 Chinatown LAHop Li menu page 4 Chinatown LAHop Li menu page 5 Chinatown LAHop Li menu page 6 Chinatown LAHop Li menu page 7 Chinatown LAHop Li menu page 8 Chinatown LA

Falafel Corner, an undiscovered gem in Koreatown

falafel
Falafel Corner has all the makings of an undiscovered sensation. It’a a tiny hole-in-the-wall hawking Lebanese food in Koreatown Los Angeles. It is so small and unassuming, hidden away in a not-so-prosperous corner mall, that people would be sure to overlook it.
beef kebab
But people discovered it and starting giving it great ratings on Yelp. The undiscovered restaurant gem had been discovered. Word got out, and so we came. It is good.
Falafel Corner Koreatown los angeles menu
Naturally, I ordered the falafel, since I hadn’t enjoyed that for quite some time and since it was the very name of the joint. This was a mistake because my daughter ordered the beef kebab, which was astonishingly tender and seasoned to perfection. Henceforth, I will stick with meat. The hummus was very good. We will be back.falafel corner korea town los angeles menu 2
And it is cheap. This is the place to get really good food at a really affordable price.

I also discovered why it is so good. It turns out the Armenian owner was neighbor in Lebanon and friend with the owners of Zankou Chicken, a veritable sensation in LA. They seem to bring with them a taste for deliciousness. I’m going to have to tell Trump to grant visas to all Armenians from Lebanon because they know how to cook!)

Falafel Corner
689 Irolo St. #103
Los Angeles, CA 90005
213-252-4435
$

stocking stuffer miniThe author sells 10-inch bamboo steamers on Amazon to broaden your culinary cooking experience. They are great for vegetables, fish and especially Chinese buns and dumplings that can be picked up frozen in specialty food markets and warmed to perfection, almost as good as the restaurant.

But it was only $1!

cupcake heavenNeed a treat on a budget? Try Hansen’s Bakery in Little Ethiopia in Los Angeles.

They specialize in custom cakes and have a long list of celebrity clients whose birthday parties they have patronized. The workers are always in the back crafting their latest master works. Out front, they have unattractive tables and chairs with a very beckoning display of cupcakes.

cupcakes in LAI was surprised at the price — a buck each. The frosting was laid on thick.

At least the day I was there, the taste didn’t live up to the looks: it wasn’t moist and fresh, it didn’t taste as sweet and buttery as expected. But ok, it was only $1, so I’m not complaining.

chocolate cupcakeI’m thinking this spot makes a great place for anyone short of cash and wanting to have a little something to eat out. It’s good for people on a budget.

The pictures certainly are tempting.

IMG_3890 (1)IMG_3887 (1)
Hansen’s Bakery
1072 S Fairfax Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90019
(323) 936-4332
$

stocking stuffer miniThe author sells 10-inch bamboo steamers on Amazon to broaden your culinary cooking experience. They are great for vegetables, fish and especially Chinese buns and dumplings that can be picked up frozen in specialty food markets and warmed to perfection, almost as good as the restaurant.

Flame International Steak & Kabob House

A delight for trying new restaurants is finding something new. In the case of a Persian restaurant in “Tehrangeles” called Flame, my wife and I discovered sumac salt, which zipped up an already delicious boneless chicken kabob with saffron basmati rice.

My infatuation with Middle Eastern food started when I had a serious falling out with Mexican food. You see, I turned 50 and my stomach turned — with the chili sauce. Without the picante, Mexican fell out of favor, and I needed to move on. I made some friends among the Arabs and Middle Easterners — and the rest is history.

Flame International Steak & Kabob House beckoned me for years on Santa Monica, its flames dancing on the sign. But it either appeared too expensive or traffic was too strong (it’s right next to the Santa Monica Blvd. on-ramp to the 405 freeway — as in “four or five hours to get anywhere on it”). Friday was the day. Here’s what we discovered:

The place has a lush and garish look that the Persians love, but the price wasn’t too bad. They have the absolute best humus, which I thought I wouldn’t be able to finish but demolished with the nan bread. Not sour, like Yankou’s. Slightly accented with some kind of spice. Just perfect.

My wife ordered the lamb shank with eggplant, which was very tomatoey. Tasted like an Italian entrée.

I was  delighted by the pink mayonnaise given as dressing for my salad. The colorfulness of the presentation was inviting, and I accordingly dove in. The pink color came from beet juice. The salad had beets, which I like and don’t often find.

On the walls the restaurant has a four panels showing nature images, presumably from Iran, alternatively waterfalls or thermal waters bubbling up in rivers. This, which the New Agey music, has quite the calming effect.

What really caught my fancy was the sumac. It’s bright red like paprika but provides a strong flavor. Ground into powder from the dark red drupes, the tart lemony herb adds garnish color and flavor to salads, rice, beef or chicken. Where have you been all my life?

Basmati rice with sumac

You go about your life thinking you know it all, and then wham! something totally new and delicious invades your horizon. It causes me to know that Heaven will have limitless new delights for us.

By the way, at least 300,000 residents of Persian descent reside in Los Angeles, many of whom are clustered around Westwood Blvd and Santa Monica Blvd, about a mile from where Flame is. While “Little Persia” is an official nod from the city, “Tehrangeles” is a fun and common reference even recognized by Wikipedia. Tehran is the capital of Iran.

Flame International Steak & Kabob House – $$
11330 Santa Monica Blvd.
West Los Angeles, CA 90025
310-444-0045

The author sells 10-inch bamboo steamers on Amazon to broaden your culinary cooking experience. They are great for vegetables, fish and especially Chinese buns and dumplings that can be picked up frozen in specialty food markets and warmed to perfection, almost as good as the restaurant

The X-Factor in Santa Monica Saints volleyball

X Factor on LCA volleyball teamXiovana Moraida doesn’t even want to call herself a volleyball coach. Her sport was soccer, and she was really good at that. She was team captain of Santa Monica College’s women’s soccer team in 2014. But she was pressed into it.

“I knew that if I didn’t step up and coach that there wouldn’t be a girl’s volleyball team,” says Xiovana, who goes by the easier-to-pronounce “X.”

Nevertheless, Xiovana has become the X factor behind Lighthouse Christian Academy’s resurgence into varsity volleyball after the sport was dropped out of the Saints’ offerings a few years ago.

On Monday, the Santa Monica Saints beat San Fernando Valley Academy from Northridge in five sets 25-19, 13-25, 25-23, 24-26, 15-13. LCA now has two wins and three losses.

Xiovana was born in Lodi but was raised in Lockeford, California.

santa monica volleyball christian high schoolStarting at the ripe old age of 5 years old, she played and loved soccer.

In 2013, Xiovana came to live in Santa Monica to live with her aunt for soccer while attending SMC. She was the captain of the SMC soccer team in her sophomore year (as well as being the captain of her high school soccer team). 

As Xiovana stayed in LA after college, she met her now husband Lucas Moraida. Lucas was from Arizona and was attending the Lighthouse Church. As her and Lucas began to talk more, X became a Christian and got more involved in the church. Read the rest of X-Factor in Santa Monica volleyball.

300 (how a small Christian school in Santa Monica puts up a fight in football)

Lighthouse Santa Monica footballThis was not King Leonidas’ battle. It was Gideon’s.

After witnessing Lighthouse’ undermanned but courageous stand against his team, Downey’s coach Mike Nuño compared his Santa Monica opponents to the Old Testament hero who vanquished the Midianites with an army of just 300.

“You’re like Gideon’s warriors,” Nuño told them after Saturday’s game. “You guys are the 300 that stayed and say, ‘Man, we’re going to go out there and do this thing.’ It takes heart. You guys battle and battle and battle. You guys come out with a small group year after year after year and fight until the end.”

If Lighthouse Christian Academy got compared to Gideon’s 300, it lost like Leonidas’ 300, overwhelmed by the endless swarming hordes of the Persian Empire. Despite a late first-half, valiant but quixotic surge, the Saints lost 21-62 against Calvary Chapel Christian School of Downey in CIF’s Southern Section 8-man football league.

“I coached 16 players one year, and it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” Nuño said. “You come out with 10 or 12 players. I applaud you guys for that.”

LCA and the Grizzlies were roughly even at the beginning of the game as players sized each other up, identified strengths and weaknesses and sought to exploit opportunities. Realizing their superior firepower, the Grizzlies began to pull away, making the score 6-24.

But then a short kickoff gave Lighthouse a short field to drive for a touchdown. Senior Marcus Scribner caught a pass in the 2nd quarter for a touchdown to make it — with the subsequent 2 point conversion — 14-24.

Downey discovered they could essentially block Lighthouse as long as they needed to make the long bomb pass and quickly added a TD.

When Lighthouse tried to reply, the Grizzlies stymied their advance. Despite a dazzling one-handed catch and subsequent power scramble from senior Hosea Ashcraft, the Saints were unable to capitalize and had to punt.

The Grizzlies shot their effective long pass down the right side to 1st and goal. It seemed they would pull away definitively in the scoring. But sophomore David Hutchinson tackled a running back for a 2-yard loss, and two passes bounced off the receivers hands brought an unexpected stop to the Downey steamroll. Read the rest of Christian school Santa Monica football fight.

The quiet kid is heard in football

lighthouse christian academy football santa MonicaHe was the quietest of five brothers. While his older brothers fought and his younger brother was being the mischievous clown, Steven Lahood was the quiet — and obedient — of the siblings, both at home and at school.

But Friday, Steven made himself heard, first with a touchdown on the second play of the game and then by stripping the ball from Teach Tech Charter High player and running almost for a touchdown in what was Lighthouse’s last chance to overtake its opponents.

Despite the sophomore’s eruption on the football field, Lighthouse Christian Academy of Santa Monica lost its opening game 25-38 in its sputtered bid to establish league dominance this year.

2019 was supposed to be the year for the Saints. With a crop of talented, speedy and big seniors, LCA hoped to win by big margins.

But key man, Levi Photenhauer, injured his knee in the first quarter and went out for the game. Without the speed of “Cheese” (as coach calls him for his shock of red hair), the Saints’ offense centered pretty much around hulkish Marcus Scribner, who trains constantly and wants to crack the NFL.

“We became one-dimensional,” said Head Coach Zach Scribner, Marcus’ uncle.

Marcus delivered.

After a controversial ref’s call annulled a Lighthouse touchdown because of a smart block by Marcus, the blond-haired kid returned undaunted to the offense and caught a pass to not be denied the TD.

But it was not enough. At the end of the day, the Tech’s Rams from Los Angeles, weaved and wobbled their way through the Saints enough times to secure the win. Read the rest about Small Christian School’s football team.

Blinky Rodriguez forgave his son’s killers in court

william blinky rodriguez christianThe Lord told William “Blinky” Rodriguez to forgive his son’s killers, but when he came to the courthouse, he was faced with 30 hostile friends and family of the convicted gang bangers.

“I was beat up in regards to the way my son got killed,” Blinky says. “Then we get to the courthouse and 30 guys are there supporting them. They were looking at my wife and I like WE did something wrong, like we were a piece of garbage. This hatred was trying consume me. It was choking me. I tried to not feed it. I tried to not do war. The weapons of our warfare are not carnal. We came into an agreement to forgive.”

Facing the hate-filled supporters on Jan. 30, 1992, Blinky stood and addressed the Pacoima gang member who shot and killed his 16-year-old son. At the time the teenager was learning to drive stick shift and mistaken for a rival: “David, we forgive you, man. You may have taken Sonny’s life, but you didn’t take his soul. You deal with God now.”

william blinky rodriguea kickboxing

Blinky Rodriguez in his office with a boxing pose and gloves.

It was an extraordinary demonstration of God’s love, redemption and mercy.

That moment in court also sparked a ministry to save gang-bangers and bring law and order to the streets of Los Angeles. Violence snuffed out his son’s life, and Blinky would dedicate the next decades of his life to snuff out gang violence in LA.

Today, social scientists can’t account for the dramatic drop off of drive-bys and retaliations in LA, with some pointing to California’s three-strikes law and others to social programs.

In the strife-ridden 1990s, there were 1,200 killings a year in LA; now there are a mere 300, Blinky notes.

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Gang bangers from the San Fernando Valley back in the day

He gives credit to God and to the 37 staff members serving in the organization he formed, Communities in Schools (CIS), a social service agency focusing on gang prevention and hard-core intervention. (Note: CIS is changing its name to Champions in Service because of restructuring at the national level.”

“I am waiting for the second wave or revival,” Blinky says. “There’s a lot coming. There’s going to be revival in this valley. God allowed a light to be set on a hill that would not be hid. It’s all for the promotion of the kingdom. The church was meant to be in the center. We have to steward our influence.”

Blinky Rodriguez accepted Jesus at a Spanish service in the City of San Fernando, even though he didn’t speak Spanish. He got hooked on martial arts at age 11 in a dojo in nearby Granada Hills. By age 14, he was married and working for his uncle plastering pools for $110 a day. He never graduated high school.

He competed in and won Chuck Norris’ nationwide full contact-to-knockout tournament, which led to the formation of a national team kickboxing in Japan. Along with his brother-in-law, Benny “The Jet” Urquidez, he founded and worked the Jet Center Gym in North Hollywood offering training in martial arts.

He was managing pros and choreographing stunts for movies and attending Victory Outreach Church when his eldest son Sonny, 16, was approached by Pacoima gang members and asked the dreaded question: “Where you from?”

Blinky and Lilly Rodriguez

Lilly Urquidez, with Blinky Rodriguez her husband, when they won at the same event.

He had been dabbling in gang dress but wasn’t affiliated. “Nowhere,” Sonny replied, as he sat behind the wheel of the car.

David Carmona, 19, fired point blank into the vehicle, killing the youngster. For his brazen and senseless murder, Carmona was sentenced to 30 years in prison.

To the dismay of the district attorney, Blinky forgave his son’s killer in court and asked for leniency for the guy whose car Carmona and an associate used to perpetrate their violence. He was a victim of circumstance, under the influence of tequila when he loaned his car, Blinky says.

God told Blinky the night before the sentencing: “Tell em to their faces you forgive them.”

Blinky’s wife ministered to the killer’s mother when she saw her break down in the courthouse bathroom.

Blinky didn’t let it die there. He began to reach out to gang members of all affiliations. One night, he visited the site where his son was murdered, and finding young hoodlums there, he witnessed to them about the power of God to transform lives.

Two years went by, and he made connections in the community that brought him into the headlines once again. He organized a meet-up in the park of gang rivals to declare a truce in the gang warfare that was scourging LA everyday.

“There was a vicious spirit of murder over our city,” he says.

In 1993 on Halloween night in a city park, “shot-callers” from 76 gangs met, listened to Blinky’s testimony and the testimony of gang pioneer Donald “Big D” Garcia, and agreed to end the interminable cycle of gang revenge.

It was a stunning achievement in LA, and it lasted two-and-a-half years.

Blinky held weekly meetings in the park, shared the gospel with gang bangers, and staged football tournaments in which rivals threw pigskin instead of gang signs. He trained gang members in his gym.

Ultimately, it only needed one embittered gang member to blow up the whole unheard-of peace treaty with one incident of violence. While the peace treaty didn’t last, the major thrust to end gang warfare largely remained. Read the rest of Blinky Rodriguez brokers peace truce among gangs in San Fernando Valley.

Spanish-speaking black rapper was spit on as a child

propaganda christian hip hopPropaganda always felt like he didn’t belong.

Born in south Los Angeles, the Christian hip hop sensation was raised in the West Covina area where Latinos were predominant and violence prevailed. He couldn’t join the gang because of his color.

“I was the one black kid, being teased because of my color, getting chased home, getting banged on when we’re walking home: ‘Where you from man?’” he says on an I am Second video. “I’d recognize (the) homie. And I’d say, ‘Paco, what are you talking about? I live two streets from you.’”

propagandaThen Propaganda, whose real name is Jason Petty, moved to the suburbs, where he felt like the poor kid among so many Caucasians.

“We were these weird black people that spoke Spanish,” he says. “They didn’t get us.”

His dad had been a Black Panther in the 60s, energized by fighting police brutality. Mom and Dad eventually got divorced.

Propaganda began attending church. Of all the kids, he felt God the most intensely.

propaganda family christian hip hop artist“I was getting convicted,” he says. “I felt like God had split the roof open and was talking to me directly.

Moved by the power of the Word and the Spirit, he was born again.

He was disappointed when his friends didn’t get it. “The guys at my age, I remember them not being affected at all. It tripped me out because I felt like nobody else felt like that. But in my mind, it went back to just the same way I grew up: I’ve been ‘the only’ my whole life. So if I’ve been ‘the only’ there, I’ll be ‘the only’ here.”

He never missed church, and mom forced him to take notes on the sermons. She wanted to make sure he was listening. People saw his sensitivity to God and predicted he’d be a pastor.

propaganda jason pettyBut he wondered about where he would fit in best — with the church boys, the college-bound students, or the tagging street thugs. What he really liked was not the typical man things; he liked art.

From the sixth grade until his junior year in high school, Propaganda examined his life and tried to figure it out.

“I always felt like I don’t belong,” he says. “Whether I was born the wrong color, in the wrong neighborhood, in the wrong decade, to the wrong parents. I was not an alpha male. I was an artist. I would draw all the time. I wrote poetry.”

Finally, his father tipped him off to Jeremiah 1:9 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,” and to Psalm 139:14 “I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” These verses helped Propaganda to accept himself as exceptional and different from everybody else, a unique gift from God to the world.

“It was there that I finally realized my value is not determined by some innate, particular quality that I have,” he says. “No, your value is because God was willing to pay the cost of his Son for you.” Read the rest of the story Propaganda hip hop

Revival in public schools through Christians in athletics

Football Linemen UCLA 2018 Fellowship of Christian AthletesWhenever Christians complain about declining attendance in established churches, Josh Brodt pipes up about the thousands of kids who accept Jesus every year. Revival is happening in our public schools, he says.

“We’ve seen quite a revival taking place in the San Fernando Valley,” says Josh, 34. “Students are hungry for something real, something more than what the world offers. It’s clear to me that students need genuine faith in something more than themselves, and they’re searching for that.

“It’s been phenomenal to see.”

FCA San Fernando Valley Revival ChristianityJosh works for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, which coordinates with students to bring professional and college athletes to talk to high school sports teams. He personally meets with coaches and students at 15 high schools.

Last academic year, FCA workers in the San Fernando Valley, a part of Los Angeles that holds about half its population, saw 459 kids get saved, and they gave away 2,000 Bibles. The year prior, 900 students accepted Jesus, he says.

“A lot of students feel like outsiders, like they don’t have a place to belong, a place to call their own.” Josh says. “FCA is a place where people can belong, a spiritual community where students can feel comfortable.”

“On campuses people are desperate for God, they’re desperate for Jesus,” he adds. “A lot of them are recognizing that, and they’re making decisions towards that end.”

Revival high school athleticsMedia and sociological reports harp on declining memberships in established protestant churches and the growth of “nones,” people who report to Census and other surveys as having no religion.

But these depressing numbers don’t tell the whole story. While “established” churches may be declining and closing, those same surveys don’t catch the number of new churches opening simply because they don’t register them.

And while the number of “nones” grows significantly, the hopelessness of a meaningless and moral-less worldview make for a ripe harvest field. Read more about revival in public schools.

MS-13 turning to Jesus by the 1,000s

Revival in Mara Salvatrucha MS gangWhile National Geographic calls MS-13 “America’s deadliest gang” and Trump calls them “animals,” Christian revival has broken out among the youths who tattoo their faces, and hundreds are turning to Jesus.

“Every day in this country, dozens of men are leaving the rank and file of the gang and looking for the right path, the arms of the Lord,” says Pastor William Arias, who is a converted ex-MS. He’s pastored for six years in San Salvador, El Salvador, in a neighborhood so taken over by the gang that public service employees are afraid to enter.

only nine of 71 years in prisonIronically the MS — and fierce rivals 18th St gang — got their start in Los Angeles, according to The Guardian documentary video. During El Salvador’s guerilla war, thousands headed to the U.S. fleeing the carnage in the 1980s. Many settled in the poorest neighborhoods of L.A., where they found themselves caught between African American and Mexican gangs.

To stand up for themselves, they formed the MS — or Mara Salvatrucha — and became fierce rivals. Crackdowns on gangs in L.A. largely tamed warfare between Mexican Americans and African Americans, but the Salvadorans got deported.

wilfredo gomezWhen they returned to their native land, they brought the gang with them.

That’s the story of Wilfredo Gomez, of 18. After being deported to El Salvador, he was arrested for armed robbery in El Salvador.

It was in jail that he found God.

“We are not your typical Christians. We have done a lot of bad things,” Wilfredo says.

When he finished his sentence, he had no family, no friends and nowhere to go.

Pastor William Arias ex MS 13 memberSo he was surprised when the guards told him that “friends” had come to pick him up when he was released. Who could those “friends” be? he wondered.

As he peeked out of the prison, he spied them timidly. They were church members, and they took him in and fed him and gave him a place to live while he transitioned to freedom and could stand on his own two feet.

“We heard what God is doing in there and we’re here to help you. I was like, ‘Whoa, I never had a family. I never had nobody waiting for me when I got out of prison,’ he says. “The way they received me inspired me and gave me strength to continue on the right path.”

Today, Wilfredo is a pastor with the Eben-Ezer church and runs a halfway house for ex-gang members. The youth get a mat on the floor in a common room and three meals a day. They have strict rules against drugs and crime. Wilfredo runs a bread bakery to give them work and pay for the house.

When Wilfredo got saved, he estimated there were 90 or so ex-gang members that had become Christians in the nation. Today, he says there are 1,500. Read the rest about revival in the MS-13 gang and the 18 Street gang.

Marijuana-smoking Shiva devotee could only get free from weed through Jesus

IMG_6354From a very young age, Nepal-born Surya Bhandari had a fervent desire to please the Hindu god Shiva. Because Shiva smoked marijuana, Surya sought to please him by smoking weed himself — starting at age 8.

Then in the sixth grade he learned about the dangers of tuberculosis and cancer from smoking and began to question the wisdom of the god. Also, kids at school started pointing at him as a “bad kid” for his cannabis consumption.

“In my little mind, I started thinking, ‘Why do they call me bad?’” Surya remembers. “‘This great god Shiva smokes marijuana. Why would they call me bad? Is it really bad? If I am bad, then this god Shiva is bad. If he is bad, is he really a god?’”

Surya's as a boy

Surya as a young man

He belonged to the priestly Brahman class, but he turned his back on Hinduism, called himself an “atheist,” started using other drugs and alcohol.

“This Shiva destroyed my life,” he reasoned. “I’m not able to quit smoking marijuana. Someday I’m going to get TB or cancer and I’m going to die, and this god is responsible.

“I became so angry.”

One day he had a dream of being chased by a tall figure clad in a white gown. He thought it was a ghost. It scared him so badly that he didn’t want to go to his usual taekwondo that morning and instead decided to distract himself by reading one of his older brother’s books.

His older brother had either left home or been kicked out — he wasn’t really sure — because he had secretly become a Christian and was attending underground meetings somewhere downtown.

As Surya thumbed through the volumes on the bookcase, he happened to pull out a slim volume, opened it and saw — to his utter surprise — a picture of the same white-clad figure. Suddenly his fear abated, and he continued to read eagerly. “It was God, not a ghost,” he concluded.

Nepalese refugees

Surya with his family today in Los Angeles

From that moment on, he wanted to become a Christian. But attending a church was no easy matter in those days in Nepal. Carrying a Bible was a crime worse than drug trafficking.

But Surya was determined. He begged an old friend of his brother to tell him where he could find the underground church that his brother attended. The young man was backslidden at the time and didn’t want to say anything. But after days of begging, Surya got him to relent and give him some rough directions.

The first chance he got he went eight miles away from his village to Pokhara. He liked the songs and listened intently without understanding much of the sermon. To his surprise after the service, nobody approached him or talked to him to explain things, and he was too shy to ask.

christianity nepal

Revival in Nepal

Maybe people were afraid of the strict anti-proselytizing laws. They could get into a lot of trouble if they were perceived as trying to convert someone. Also, some may have been cautious, because a newcomer might be a spy from the police.

But Surya didn’t understand all of this at the time. It seemed to him that God’s people were indifferent. The next time Surya went to church it was the same. Nobody talked to him. So he quit going.

Then he did something that brought great shame on his family. He flunked out of school. His parents scolded him constantly and his brothers beat him.

So he took to the streets. He would leave before anybody woke up. He would come home, entering through the window, after everybody was in bed. HIs grandmother always saved him some food.

He tried but found that he couldn’t quit drugs. Everybody in town called him a bad kid. Even the principal of the school saw fit to take him aside and rebuke him for bringing shame on his family.

All this was too much for Suryam and he began to contemplate suicide.

“I loved my father so much. I did not want to bring shame on my father,” he says, reasoning to himself at the time: “If I can’t bring a good name for him, I have no right to live.”

He decided to throw himself off a cliff and into a river near his town. Read the rest of Chrisitanity in Nepal

Born-again Palestinian pastor holds hope for Israel, Palestine

Sameer.DabitAs a Palestinian born-again pastor in Los Angeles, Sameer Dabit sees himself as a bridge-maker.

“My dad grew up with a lot of wounds, so I grew up with the mindset of hating Jews and hating Muslims,” Sameer says. “When I got saved at age 16 and started reading scriptures for myself and learning more about God and history, I started to realize, ‘Hey wait a minute. I shouldn’t hate anybody.’”

palestinian pastorSlowly, he began to form his own convictions about what he believes.

Sameer’s Arab father was born in Palestine in 1948 and was forced to move when the Jews took over the newly formed nation of Israel. So he resented the Jews.

But as an orthodox Christian, he also resented the Muslim Palestinians who subjected him to cruel jeering and constant antagonism in school, Sameer says.

When he came of age, dad decided to leave behind the nightmare of the Middle East, move to the United States, study and make his life in L.A. He worked hard at the front desk of a hotel, saved his money and bought properties.

Sameer got to know the simmering anger in his father for the injustices suffered, but he identified himself first and foremost as an American. He changed his name to Sam so that it was easier for classmates and elicited fewer questions about his origins. He loved football.

“I assimilated to America,” he says. “I identified myself more as American than Palestinian.”

kingdom reality LAThen he did something that went beyond his newfound cultural identification. He accepted Jesus into his heart.

At a basketball clinic run by a church, he liked the dynamic music, heard about the forgiveness of sins and wound up wondering why this environment was drastically different from the reverence and mysticism of his family’s religious practice.

Joining the born-again Christians in America created conflict with his dad, who wondered why his son left their church, got re-baptized and hung out with evangelicals who supported Zionism.

“It started to bring an interesting conflict between my dad and me,” says Sameer, now 31. “I was trying to help him understand that I understood where he was coming from. Whatever someone had done to him or his family, I don’t agree with. He was abused. But at the same time, I believe everyone has a right to a place to live, and at the time, the Jewish people were distributed around the world and suffered the Holocaust. That wasn’t right as well. They did need a place to live. Israel needed to be established again, and obviously that was Biblical.

“It was an interesting balance that I had to help him understand,” he says. “That’s why my perspective is interesting because I love the Palestinian people. I love the Jewish people. I love the Muslim people. I love the Christian people. I love that place.

“I desire to see Jesus restore it all. I know ultimately He will when He returns, but I believe He’s preparing His bride to receive Him in Israel as well as everywhere around the world.” Read the rest about Palestinian pastor thinks peace in Middle East possible through Jesus.

This changes everything in missionology

reaching parachute students for ChristWhen Howon Chun showed up at Lighthouse Christian Academy in Santa Monica, he was a confirmed atheist.

“I thought religion is for those who are weak psychologically,” said the Korean foreign exchange student. “Christianity was just one of many religions, and I was not really interested at all. I thought Christians were unstable and just wasting their time going to church. I thought the church was corrupt and only wanted to get their money.”

His perspective changed after a year of hearing Bible class and then voluntarily attending a Bible conference in Tucson with his host dad (who happened to also be his principal and teacher).

evangelizing parachute studentsHe was surprised by the thousands of people whose joy was evident. He decided he should at least re-evaluate his atheism.

If this many people believe they are saved by Jesus, how can I ignore what they believe? he thought.

“I liked their energy. I wanted to have a purpose in life like them. I learned that Christians weren’t weird. They have a loving community. They weren’t corrupt.”

Howon wound up hanging around for three more years at Lighthouse. He just graduated, acing the SAT math with a perfect score, and enrolled in Cal Poly San Luis Obispo to study business. Part of his college choice based on accompanying his host dad, who is planting a church nearby Pismo Beach.

Howon’s story upends the traditional missionary model of sending workers into the foreign field. Here’s a vein of gold. The Christian Examiner reported that 300,000 Chinese students alone enrolled in American schools in 2016, and they prefer Christian schools, regardless of their government’s atheistic values.

There’s much discussion about how the surge in foreign students, who pay higher tuition than natives, has been a blessing to struggling private schools (public schools have strict limits on the amount of foreign students they can receive).

But there is precious little discussion about making a concerted effort to evangelize them. Read the rest about evangelizing parachute students.

Famous cardiologist convinced of God upon reading dietary law in Leviticus

dr lawrence czer cardiologistThose same stipulations in Leviticus that make most Christians’ eyes glaze over are the very ones that convinced Dr. Lawrence Czer that God was real — specifically the dietary restrictions that must have seemed arbitrary and pointless in the unscientific ancient world.

“As I began to read the Bible, especially the books of Moses and specifically in Leviticus, I was noticing that God was telling the people of Israel to basically trim the fat off the meat that they were offering Him and to offer the fat to Him,” Dr. Czer said. “And I thought, ‘Wow, God’s a cardiologist.’ They’re eating really healthy meat because they trim off all the fat, and God really knows what He’s doing here.”

dr lawrence czer medical mission africaDr. Czer is an internationally recognized cardiologist. He is the medical director of the Heart Transplant Program at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. He was a pioneering researcher in the use of stem cell treatment as an alternative to invasive surgery.

For him, another convincing dietary restriction was the prohibition of eating blood, a “very, very safe practice because a lot of bacteria and viruses can be in the blood and you certainly don’t want to eat uncooked meat or poorly cooked meat,” Czer continues. “He was saying to drain all the blood out of the animal and to cook it well.

dr lawrence czer family“So I thought, ‘Well, He’s very health conscious too! He knows what He’s talking about. He’ll prevent transmission of infectious diseases. It’ll keep the priest healthy; he won’t eat too much fat. And you know, they’ll have a long life.”

So while atheists who revere science examine Leviticus for laws that appear nonsensical, Dr. Czer discovered that God knew about science before even science did and His dietary requiements made perfect sense.

“I thought, ‘This is really neat. It’s not just a whimsical or arbitrary set of rules. He’s asking the priest to do this in faith not knowing the reason.’ But obviously He knew the reasons. We kind of know the reasons now. Looking in retrospect, God was just looking out for his people. I thought, ‘These are rules for good reason, not just arbitrary rules, and He knows what He’s doing.’” Read the rest of Famed cardiologist convinced of God upon reading dietary law of Leviticus.

She taught my dad, now me, in Independent Study Program at Los Angeles Christian school

UCLA-fans-santa-monicaBy Tailoni Jenkins, LCA sophomore –

Mrs. Payton has been a teacher at the Lighthouse for 27 years. In fact the first class she ever taught was my dad’s 4th grade class.

I’m a second generation Payton pupil, and she still looks as young as she did in my dad’s day.

Mrs. Payton has been the teacher for the “Pace” Program at our Santa Monica Christian high school for 4 years. Through booklets, this Independent Studies Program allows students to finish their school work “at their own pace.”

They progressively work their way through the course material on an individual basis. They are not expected to keep up with the teacher (or be held back by the teacher). It’s not only good for at risk students; it helps geniuses to get through faster than a plodding class.

The booklets give explanatory material and then asks questions to check for reading comprehension. At the end, the student takes a test. It’s been good for a lot of kids who don’t flourish in a traditional setting.

“Mrs.Payton lets us have fun while she makes sure that we get our work done,” freshman Josie Bowen said.

Mrs.Payton not only teaches Pace but she also mentors many of us students.

“Mrs.Payton speaks words of wisdom and the truth,” Josie said. Read the rest about Independent Study Program Los Angeles Christian school.

A water roller coaster

no-bullies-christian-high-schoolMost people think of camping as something they would never want to experience: Sleeping on the dank ground, eating only unsavory camp food, days without showering and nothing to do. But going on a trip at Lighthouse Christian Academy will change that.

I came to the Lighthouse when I was in seventh grade. They also offer the rafting trip to the students who attend our gradeschool counterpart the Lighthouse Church School, but it wasn’t until my freshman year that I decided to go on the rafting trip. What shocked me was the lack of people that wanted to go. With the urging of Mrs. Lisa Clancy, I decided to go and had a great time.

rafting-tripNow during my sophomore year, the trip rolled around and no one seemed like they wanted to go. Granted some people had other engagements but the group of people that went was small.

Even though the group was small, it was a fun time. The drive to the campsite seemed short because you bonded with the people in the car — or slept. When we arrived at the campsite, all of us from the Santa Monica Christian school were all taken aback by the breathtaking nature around us.

The campsite that the school goes to every year was better than any campsite I had been to before. There was indoor plumbing, a pool, and a small shop if you wanted to buy snacks. This made the camping part of the trip so much easier.

The rafting part of the trip was both frightening and entertaining. We rafted one of the more harder rivers, and though some people had a better time than others, the scared feeling before you rafted is worth it. There is an adrenaline rush you feel when you’re riding a literal water roller coaster. Read the rest of the rafting trip story.

I wanted conjugations. The wanted pasiones.

high-school-telenovela-spanish-class-projectTrina Gratton always liked Spanish soap operas – called telenovelas – and watched them with her mother and grandmother.

“They’re addicting – all the drama, the characters and their backgrounds,” Trina said.

So when at the end of Spanish 2 at the teacher showed “Betty La Fea,” it occurred to Trina that she could propose filming a mini telenovela – all in Spanish – with her classmates to get some extra points.

The 9-minute product was “Las Llamaradas de Nuestras Pasiones” – a toxic and hilarious mixture of love, betrayal and murder acted by Lighthouse Christian Academy students.

If the scripting, acting and editing looks hastily contrived and arranged, that’s because the students didn’t have much time at the end of the semester to get it together. It’s hard to determine whether the students are spoofing the genre or themselves, which adds to the charming drollery of the unpolished short.

Trina is the brains – and the beauty – behind the production. Not only did she pour into the program her zest for soaps. She also poured in her passion for film-making and her natural spunkiness. The fun-loving jokesters and pranksters of Spanish 2 drained their own zaniness into the project.

“I love the crazy stuff, crazy ideas,” said Will Clancy, a senior who played Alejandro, the main love interest. “A regular assignment would have been too easy to get extra credit. I wanted to spike things up.”

Alejandro died at the end. “I’m a little sad to have died, but it was satisfying and fulfilling,” he quipped. Read the rest of the article by clicking: Learn Spanish in Los Angeles private school

LCA relinquish romantic role of underdog in win against Pilgrim School

alex-cervantes-santa-monica-christian-school-soccerLighthouse returned to its winning ways Tuesday with a 4-0 shutout of Pilgrim School.

There is something romantic, something poetic about slugging it out in a losing battle — if you don’t succumb to cynicism. Parents cheer on their players, who bravely mount a futile fight. Coaches teach the sport to beginners. You are playing competitive league, learning about teamwork, effort and excellence. It’s a game, so even if you lose, it’s better than doing homework. The odds are just overwhelmingly against you.

It is a poetry that Lighthouse Christian Academy, with historically low enrollments, knows well — on the football field, on the volleyball court and on the soccer field.

But on Tuesday, the romance of being the underdog didn’t belong Lighthouse. It belonged to Pilgrim, which staged an epic fight and skirmished rousingly but ultimately buckled before bigger guns.

The Saints saw themselves, for once, in the dominant role.

With the fleet-footed Turkish star, junior Erhan Meric, and with the big basketball star sophomore Justin Berry in goal swatting down shots like flies, with soccer machine junior Alex Cervantes and with danger-creating freshman Hosea Ashcraft serving up through-balls likes pancakes, LCA’s 2017 iteration is actually a menacing squad.

The Santa Monica Christian school’s team was powerful enough to compete against last year’s league champions, Newbury Park. On Jan. 19, they Saints shocked the big kids on the block, upending their hegemony with a quite unexpected 2-1 from tireless toiling, vision and belief.

Then with the rush of the mouse that roared, the Saints played against Einstein Academy Friday and saw their dynamism, their teamwork and their unbeaten record evaporate. It’s not far from the truth to say that Einstein crushed the overconfident Saints.

Tuesday was a chance to turnaround. To finish the article, click here.

Granada Hills methane leak and people who are not good at math

Porter-Ranch-Gas-Leak-Image-Location-1-MapSouthern California Edison decided in 1979 it would be CHEAPER to remove instead of replace a safety valve at the bottom of a well in a methane storage facility just north of Granada Hills of Los Angeles because it wasn’t close to homes, according to LA Weekly. After an estimated 97,000 tons of pressured gas (stored in preparation for winter) escaped into the atmosphere, Edison is facing cleanups and lawsuits — not to mention the loss of their product — that will total into the millions of dollars.

The site, the second largest such storage facility in the U.S., is a huge underground cavern that was left over after oil was pumped out by J.Paul Getty. It has about 115 wells, once used for oil, that can pump in and out methane for distribution to 21 million customers and 14 power plants. As a public utility, Edison must argue rate increases in order to pay for refurbishment. Sometimes, it’s just easier to scrimp.

relo

Or so Edison officials thought. The aging wells leak regularly, but when well SS-25 was found leaking on Oct. 23, 2015, they couldn’t stop the gas from barreling out — until February  when a parallel well was drilled and they intercepted it at the point of leakage and stopped it up. Meanwhile, neighbors moved out as the poisonous benzene in the methane wafted through the community provoking bloody noses, nausea and pet deaths. Edison was forced to pay hotels for 100s of people and now is paying clean up of the homes (a toxic film was left on everything inside and out of the houses). The lawsuits will be, doubtless, awarding millions of dollars to the plaintiffs.

So much for finding the easier, cheaper way of doing things.

This disaster, which is near where I grew up in Chatsworth, reminds of others who are bad at math: namely, people who can’t calculate eternity, people who think they have cast enough doubt on the afterlife to justify the gamble of living for self and sin in this short existence on earth.

Actually, Edison’s fiasco will be absurdly insignificant compared to your miscalculation if you don’t make Heaven.

Can’t keep Jack in the box

jack and nicoleneJack Mefford, principal of Lighthouse Christian Academy, doesn’t only teach. He preaches, administrates, swims, plays water polo, coaches soccer, makes movies, raises four kids and…

Maybe it would be shorter to list the things he cannot do. Did I say he double-minored and played trumpet in UCLA marching band?

IMG_9010The debonair summa cum laude graduate has a long resume typical of Ivy League graduates who command top pay at top jobs. So what is he doing leading LCA with its (less than) ordinary pay scale?

“Money doesn’t mean anything,” he said. “When I was a youth and didn’t know God and prayed to see if he was real, the first thing I asked Him was for love and the second was a purpose in life. He has given me both – my purpose is here serving the kids.”

lighthouse christian academy“Meff” – as LCA kids call him – accepts anyone who has made a mistake in life and wants a second chance. He believes everyone is entitled to one.

Raised in a farm town called Dinuba near Fresno, California, Mefford learned from his air force dad to work hard, be disciplined, value family and to achieve. He didn’t learn about God until he reached early adulthood.

The early trappings of success didn’t satisfy. “I had everything the world had to offer, and I felt something missing. I was doing everything they told me to do. I was following the script, and it was not enough,” he said. “I felt there had to be something more, something eternal.”

He began attending a church and later got linked up with Pastor George Neos at UCLA. Neos was pioneering a church at UCLA on campus. Mefford received a flyer and decided to attend only because his car broke down.

He was quickly impressed with Pastor George Neos’s over-the-top earnestness and how Christianity affected his life.

The on-campus church migrated to Yale Street, Santa Monica, and Jack came along with his sweetheart, Nicolene. They married and when they graduated, they didn’t go where their careers would lead – they stayed where their God had led.

Instead of scooping up a lucrative job, Jack immediately began teaching in the Lighthouse Church School (which is LCA’s older brother, having kindergarten to middle school). He would also join his pastor on mission trips to Guatemala.

When Pastor George accepted a new assignment as the Hesperia pastor, Jack took over administration of the LCA.

Sadly, Mefford struggled with an inner sadness that he shared with not many; his wife couldn’t have children. His dream of having a large family was floundering from early marriage. Nicolene suffered four consecutive miscarriages until, after a lot of praying, God finally granted a miracle.

He has now been blessed with four kids. Mefford’s first daughter, Emma is six years old, his second, Jackson is four, Ethan is two and Weston is 11 months. He claims all children are miracles and is thankful to God everyday for his offspring.

Man of many abilities, Jack Mefford has done many wonderful things for Lighthouse.

Editor’s Note: This article was first published here. It was written by Petrina Gratton, my journalism student at the Lighthouse Christian Academy.

Startled tastebuds

terroni restaurant

It’s a hipster restaurant, so the bread comes in brown paper bags. Rebekah and Hosea show the best way to eat the bread.

My tastebuds were startled.

I always avoided Italian restaurants. Why pay for pasta and tomato sauce when you can do that at home? But Dianna’s company party dashed my mantra. It was at Terroni in Downtown Los Angeles.

pizza terroni

I’d never tasted anything like it, and we followed up with a family outing to the one in the Melrose District. (We usually don’t go to pricey restaurants — or much to even restaurants because of our family budget, but this was time to celebrate.)

Rebekah described the tiramisu as a spoonful of Heaven, and, yes, delightful spoonfuls is what I am expecting in Heaven. (You should too. Make your reservation in Heaven today by accepting Jesus into your heart.)

terroni pastaThe pizza is super-thin crust thick on ingredients. The pasta surprises with tantalizing taste. Yummy salads and beef. The ingredients are from Calabria, Italy, where the founder is originally from (his restaurant chain is based in Toronto). I had never heard of Calabria.

Anytime I learn something new or try something new, I experience delight. I think this is a key to my writing and my outlook in life. There will be endless delights in Heaven.

Jordan Payton and Kate Sommer: record breakers, classmates, friends

JordanPrays

Jordan Payton thanks God after a touchdown.

They were born together, played together, studied together and competed against each other. Whether it was Olympic Day or dodge ball, Jordan Payton, growing tall and strong even as a kid, always beat Kate Sommer.

Now at age 21, Kate finally beat Jordan.

Both students playing Div. 1 sports have broken their respective universities’ records – Kate for digs on women’s volleyball and Jordan for receptions on football. And though they broke records almost at the same time, Kate hit the new high first.

kate sommer on court

“She got me on this one,” Jordan said after practice recently. “She definitely did.”

Kate hit gold in mid-October with four years of digs for Washington State University, spiking the previous high mark of 1,744.

Jordan caught his 194th pass on Nov. 21 – about three weeks later.

“It’s crazy that we both broke records at the same time,” Kate said. “I would always some in second. He would always win. I was always behind him. I actually wanted to beat him.”

Jordan Payton Kate SommerThe feat is indeed extraordinary, in part, because both record-busters came from a tiny school, Lighthouse, which averages 100 enrollment with its primary, middle and high school combined.

But not only did they both go to the same school, they were in the same classroom, which oscillated between 10 and 12 students year-to-year. After middle school, Jordan attended Oaks Christian for its high profile football program – and so inseparable friends started to wend separate paths into the world.

The story of Jordan’s and Kate’s friendship literally started in the womb. Both are youngest children, so their parents became friends as their older brothers and sisters played together in sports, in the Lighthouse Church and in the schools. Read the rest of this fascinating account about record breakers in this Christian school Los Angeles.

Whisked from the Gambia River shore, they now play football on Christian middle school in Los Angeles

Christian middle school los angeles

Mosie and Josie pose with coaches for the Lighthouse Church School team in West Los Angeles area.

They were born in The Gambia, the sliver nation centered around the mighty West African river by the same name. Adopted by missionaries, they knew only soccer.

Now, twins Mosie and Josie Bowen are playing football – flag football – as sixth graders at the Lighthouse Church School. After 20 years abroad, their adopting parents returned to Santa Monica to the church that sustained them on the mission field.

“In football you can block, you can catch balls,” said Mosie, who caught his first pass during a game on Oct. 20. “In soccer you just use your feet. Only the goalie can kick it and catch it.”

At first, both Bowen boys struggled with football’s roughness and toughness. They played both defensive and offensive line. More than once, they found themselves shoved to the turf or bulldozed.

Learning has been both physical and mental. Continuing reading about junior high flag football.