The other day, I woke up early and headed over the Bay Bridge to interview a woman named Anna Rochelle Pearl. I'd never met Anna before, but I had heard she was someone who's life had recently undergone a radical change. This change in her life was now affecting the community of West Oakland where she grew up, and I wanted to know how this all came about. As I crossed the San Francisco Bay descending into Oakland, the scenery began to change. Famous bay area imagery had now been replaced with rundown buildings and graffiti. I was headed toward World Impact's West Oakland center where Anna now volunteers. This building also doubles as a World Impact supported "hub church"; part of a new approach to urban church planting. Anna volunteers there 5 days a week!
As I proceeded into the residential area, subtle things like bars on house windows, and gates surrounding front yards caught my eye. I passed a middle aged man sleeping on the sidewalk in a discarded minivan seat. Across the street was a liquor store and the ground was confettied with trash and empty alcohol containers. An elderly woman sat on a milk crate holding a beer can with both hands. As I drove by, she elected to make no eye contact with me.
When I first met Anna she was straightening up the kitchen and helping others with a variety of different things. "This is a very broken community," She explained. "The drugs and alcohol run rampant. Many of these people are at a point where they can't help themselves. They may know God, but they're turning their backs on God. I can speak boldly about this because I was 'them' once." It was clear to me in the first 5 min of meeting her, that she was deeply passionate about her community. Anna resinated as the type of person you go to if you need something done, and done right. Her positive personality and respect for others was quite impressive. I asked Anna how her life had recently changed.
"I was an alcoholic, an addict, out here in the streets selling dope, using dope, drinking alcohol, abusing alcohol, hook'n and crook'n, stealing, destroying lives, upsetting my family and upsetting my kids. But I finally came to the point where I was gonna lose everything. My mother passed away, I lost my job, I was about to lose my house and my kids." Child Protective Services, (C.P.S.) was threatening to take Anna's 2 kids. She explained to me that people in a position like that must admit they have a problem and be willing to change. Her first steps were to check herself into a day treatment program and to comply with CPS's required job search. Also, around that time, Rev. Curtis Flemming would enter her life, but not before she said this prayer:
"Ok God, I give in. Have your way in my life. Shape and mold me into the woman I was created to be. Just use me to the fullest."
World Impact had been in Anna's community for over 20 years. She remembers when it first started in the 90's, but she never got involved. For 2 decades she remained at odds with the ministry over an issue of trust. "It wasn't open all the time like it is now, [World Impact/bay Community church]. Now its open every day and we have people in the community coming in to use computers, get food, clothing, whatever." Anna explained that even while she was a dope dealer, she took issue with the building being closed. She said whenever she saw the gates locked, it sent a message that World Impact didn't really trust or know the people in that community. "Why would I run to something where I don't feel trusted," Anna asked. But now the tables were turned and Anna's life had hit rock bottom. In order to comply with CPS's job search requirements, she found herself needing to use World Impact's computer resource center .
The meeting between Anna and Curtis was not as dramatic as one might expect. it just sorta happened, and Anna couldn't remember the specifics. "I remember I was praying a lot. I would stop by the World Impact computer center each day doing my job search, then go to me my day treatment program. Somehow during that time I met Curtis." Curtis introduced himself to her and said he was trying to get the center's kitchen together to start serving pancakes to the community on Saturdays. This struck a chord in Anna, as custodial work was her specialty. She accepted the offer and prepped the kitchen. This soon lead to pancakes, and also another day the World Impact doors were opened to the community. Anna's life continued to dramatically change. She received multiple job offers from her online applications. So many in fact, she could choose the best one. The streets no longer held authority in her life. Anna now had a full-time job at a Hospital, and a community church she was active in.
World Impact Oakland now functions as a day-center/church that's open everyday. The philosophy is to "call out the church." Bay Area director Paul Chan suggests, "Although we mean well planting a church in an urban community, churches planted by outsiders are not as effective in reaching that community as churches that develop from the inside out." This was the vision God had also given Rev. Curtis, and Bay Community Church is its result. Anna's life is a testimony that God is alive and working in the lives of people everywhere! As my interview with her came to a close, I asked what she now tells people in similar situations from where she came. Anna said "You take one step, God'll take two. You have to stay in the Word and read the Word. Get up under good teaching and a good Pastor. You have to pray about everything. He will give you the answers, but you have to be attentive and open to listen to the Holy Spirit."