In the 1990s, Akira Chang was not yet a pastor, but he was starting to get to know God. He was living in San Francisco, regularly studying the Bible with an older gentleman, when his mother came to visit from Taiwan. She shared that she, too, had been studying the Bible, with the wife of a Seventh-day Adventist pastor.
Later, Chang shared this with the elder with whom he was studying, and the man got a very odd look on his face and admitted that he, too, was an Adventist. Chang was floored.
“I asked him how his religion could be so stubborn as to hold onto old traditions like going to church on Saturday,” Chang recalled. “He simply asked me when, in our six months of studying the Bible together, we had ever come across the word Sunday. I searched the Bible from beginning to end and couldn’t find it anywhere.”
In 1998, after attending seminary, Chang became a Seventh-day Adventist pastor. For the past three years, Chang has been a pastor in the SECC, and in February 2021 he was ordained at the Loma Linda Chinese Church.
Chang leads his congregation with his family alongside him—his wife, Huiling, and his children, Andrew (19) and Anna (15). His vision for LLCC is that it will become a church that is focused on community outreach.
“I want us to truly internalize that we are not just here for ourselves or immigrants coming to study at Loma Linda Medical School, but we are here for our community,” he said. “We may be a church established by the first generation of Chinese Adventists in the area, but we have a purpose far beyond that.”
“I was trying to do everything else to find purpose and satisfaction,” said Pastor Kayla Malit, who was ordained at Bonita Valley church in January 2021, “and the only time anything totally clicked and felt right was when I admitted to myself that ministry was something I wanted to be part of for life, not just as an extracurricular.”
Malit finds joy in being someone with whom others feel comfortable being vulnerable. It’s the relationship-building she finds so fulfilling in her ministry.
“When people decide they’re going to let someone in, it’s a journey,” she explained. “I’m so honored and I get so energized when someone decides to journey with me.”
As her first full-time church, the Bonita Valley church made a collective investment in her, as she did in them, and Malit said their relationship is endearing and supportive.
“They have allowed me to come into my own in my ministry,” she explained. “They let me be who I am, and they are the epitome of what it means to be a true community of faith.”
This was demonstrated beautifully during Malit’s ordination, which, since it took place during the pandemic, she and the conference jokingly called her “coronation”—a coronavirus ordination.
“It was of course in jest, but it demonstrated that my administrators saw and affirmed me, and I truly appreciated that,” Malit said. “It sent the message that our call can be lived out in so many different ways.”
As Malit’s was the first ordination ever taking place at the Bonita Valley church, she felt it was an ordination of not only herself but also the community that built her.
“It wasn’t because I as a pastor have achieved a thing,” she said, “but it was an incredible moment in which we were able to publicly declare that God has done something divine and sacred in His people.”
Pastor Moises Estrada leads a two-church district in Corona, and he started in early 2020. He was introduced to his new churches and had two weeks at each one before the entire country shut down due to COVID.
“The only preparation you have for something like that is blind faith,” he said with a laugh.
Over the years, he has seen many times how things make more sense when he follows God’s lead, even when he can’t see where they’re going.
“The thing about following Jesus is that it’s a mystery,” Estrada said. “It’s a thrill, that journey of unknowns; I never know what’s next, but in the aftermath I see what He was doing, and that’s exciting to me. A lot of times it’s when I try to follow my own agenda or plan that things don’t seem to work out.”
During his ordination in April 2021 at the Corona Main Spanish Church, the speaker talked about the call to God being very closely tied to solidarity with the poor. This struck Estrada.
“I don’t think that means just the poor financially but also those who are marginalized—outsiders and outcasts,” he explained. “That really shook me and left me contemplating what my ministry ought to look like.”
Estrada serves the Lord with his wife, Sylvia, and their children, Levi (4) and Izel (8 months).
“I regularly re-learn the lesson outlined in Proverbs 3:5-6,” Estrada added. “I must trust the Lord with all my heart and not rely on my own understanding. He makes my paths straight and shows me the way, and I’m ready, wherever that path takes me.”
By Becky St. Clair