Missionary Spotlight: the Sanders [City Heights]

last weekend at church one of our teaching pastors gave his testimony of God calling him from our church to serve + be on mission at a church in San Francisco  CA.  He talked all about how it happened, how God had softened his heart and given him a passion for the city the past 4 years and ultimately how him and his family decided to be obedient to Gods call.  It was really refreshing, inspiring, and it made me think of my friends Joel & Dana.I think most times we think missionaries are only the people we know who live + serve in another country.  but truth is, if you are a christ follower – YOU are a missionary.  we all have our own god given mission.  our pastor said last week, “not one of us has been born without a grand exciting purpose”.  so what is your grand exciting purpose?

well, let me introduce you to my friends Joel & Dana.  We all went to Baylor together and it’s been fun to recconect with them the past few years.  They live & serve in City Heights [San Diego, CA].  Well, I”ll just let them say it in their words:

“We are honored to partner with God by living and ministering in City Heights, an inner city area of San Diego, California.  We love the uniqueness and diversity of this area, that at many times makes us wonder if we live in another country.  We love our church family & we are so thankful that God has called us to labor alongside our friends and the staff at All Peoples Church.  Joel spends most of his time on college campuses as the College Pastor and also, leads the weekly outreaches with the School of Transformation.  Dana spends her days with Gunnar and discipling women in the church.”


When did you know, that the grand exciting purpose for yalls family was serving in City Heights? 

Joel moved out to San Diego 4 years ago this January with a team from Antioch Community Church to plant All Peoples Church in City Heights.  I was still at Baylor University at the time but moved home after graduating in the Spring of 2008.  Over the next year I got involved at All Peoples.  The fall of 2009 Joel and I were both a part of the first class of the School of Transformation (then called, the All Peoples Training School).  It’s a nine month program designed to encounter God, be transformed in the deepest places and to learn how to partner with the Kingdom of God.  At the end of the first semester two big things happened – Joel and I started to date and this desire was birthed in me to live among the poor.  There was not mistaking that God was doing something.  The entire first semester I was struggling with the money that was sitting in my savings account.  One day I would want to give it all away and live by faith and the next I wanted to hoard in just in case God called me to do something crazy.  In January I felt like God said to tithe on all of it, to write a check to the church for 10% of the sum.  Within days of being obedient I felt like God gave me the next step, buy a house.  Within just a few more days I had come across a house near the church, among the poor and going through a short-sale.  Joel and I still laugh about the conversation we had the day before I went to see the house.  You have to remember we had been dating only a couple of months, but I wanted to marry this guy and didn’t want to buy a house that he didn’t like and in an area that wasn’t the natural choice to live and raise a family in.  The benefit of the short-sale is that it can take a really long time, which gave us a lot of time to process, pray and seek wise counsel.  It wasn’t an easy decision.  Joel wanted to give his family a safe and beautiful place to live.  He didn’t want our kids to have the struggles he had growing up in a poorer area outside of Dallas.  But that’s when it happened, that’s when we started our adventure here in City Heights.  We felt like God had a purpose for us here and what an honor it has been to be a part of what He’s doing!

What is it about living in City Heights that makes it feel like living in a different country to you? [even though it’s the same city you grew up in]

Over 80 different languages are spoken in City Heights!  This area of the city has refugees from all over the world and neighborhoods/streets where people from different countries have congregated.  Within 5 miles from our house there are places like Somalian Corner where you notice the orange beards during Ramadan, LIttle Saigon where there’s an annual lantern lighting festival and probably the most authentic cuisine from around the world.  There was one Sunday Joel and I were driving home from church down some of the backstreets and couldn’t help but smile; as we were bouncing around, due to such bad street upkeep, a lady in her African kitange with her groceries on her head crossed the street…are we sure we’re in San Diego?  Let’s just say people in East County, where I grew up, never carry there groceries on their head.

What is the biggest challenge of living + serving in the inner city?

If you asked Joel he may have a different answer, but for me it’s continually resting in the promise that God will protect and provide for us.  I can’t say that we live in the worst area of San Diego, but I can say that there is gang activity, drug deals on our street and the occasional, heartbreaking stabbing or shooting.  From a super young age I struggled with fear.  So much so that I slept more nights than I can count on the floor of my parent’s room after waking up from a nightmare or laying in bed paralyzed by fear.  This is an area that I have truly met God in, but still a gap in my armor where the enemy know he can jab at from time to time.  Since Gunnar was born, 9 months ago now, I’ve had to deal with it at a whole different level.  It’s one thing to fear for what could happen to ME, it’s an entirely different animal when it’s this little boy that I’ve nurtured and fallen crazy in love with.  It’s a daily, and sometimes more often, choice to trust in God and to rest in His goodness and faithfulness.

What have been some defining moments as a result of yall living in city heights?  

For the past three years our church has had an annual Halloween Festival in the parking lot of the middle school where we met up until this fall.  This past year there were several hundred people there, playing games, eating free food and then watching our dance, drama and presentation of the gospel.  As Robert, our lead pastor, told everyone about the love of Jesus it was translated into Vietnamese and Spanish by two young men from our church.  This was a defining and honestly super emotional moment for me because the young man translating in Spanish is our neighbor and sweet friend Christian.  Two years ago, our first Christmas in our house, we met Christian and his family when we passed out cookies and church invites to all of our neighbors.  At the time he didn’t know Jesus and had pretty recently finished serving time for assault.  His family moved to our street to get out of an even worse area of town where he was caught up in a gang and all that entails.  Months after meeting him he came to church with us and then later that week gave his life to Jesus.  Today he is a completely transformed person.  He is weekly leading people to Jesus, feeding the homeless and now hoping to attend our training school and church plant to Latin America.  That day at the Halloween Festival as I watched him preach the gospel with passion and a pure heart it felt like our purpose here was fulfilled.  Even now as I share this story in tears for the umpteenth time, I’m overwhelmed and honored that God would use us.  There is obviously more for us here as long as we live in this house and wherever we go next, but that one life has made it all worth it.  Praise Jesus! 

halloween festival

Christian [on left] baptizing

I hope people get to know yall + see THEIR everydays differently.  see that they too can be on mission everyday right where they are.  So thank you for sharing your story with us!

What would you say to encourage those people?

Whether you’re in the inner city or not God has a purpose for you to touch peoples lives!  Sometimes I wonder if God put us here for me to learn how to live missionally even when not on a “mission trip”.  I’m sure many of you know that feeling when you’re on an outreach trip that you could say or do anything to tell people about Jesus, well I believe God wants us to live in that freedom and purpose wherever we are.  Now you don’t have to sit on your front porch all day today and tell every person that walks by about Jesus (you could though and it would bless God’s heart!), but you can take a step towards living missionally or another step if you’re already on that journey.  I’m preaching to the choir here to, this is a daily choice that I have to make too and sometimes fail.  But today, let’s do something!  That could be bringing cookies to a neighbor, asking the store clerk how you can pray for them or talking to that person that you just can’t help but feel like you’re suppose to approach and love on.

and how can this community love, pray for and support yall?

Pray that God would continue to use our family and our church to touch this city.  This past Sunday 10 people made a commitments to follow Jesus for the first time!  Yes, this is so exciting, but it’s also a picture of how many people in San Diego need to know Jesus.  Pray that our church and the other churches here can reach out to all those that don’t know Jesus or need healing and restoration.  If you would like to give, we receive about 15% of our income from the church and the rest by individual support.  God has been so faithful to provide for us and people have been generous.  This summer we are leading a college/young adults outreach to Mongolia to partner with a church plant for 3 weeks.  If you would like to give toward our family or our summer trip you can do that at our church website, www.allpeopleschurch.org.  If you want to keep hearing about what God is doing here in San Diego we would love to include you in our monthly update.  Email me at dana@allpeopleschurch.org if you would like to be added to the list.

Dana + Joel can be contacted: 

All Peoples Church [site here]

Dana’s blog : http://herecomestheda.blogspot.se/

Hey, I'm Wynne!

Hi, friend! First, I truly am so giddy that you are here. I want you to know I believe in you and all the ways you are growing towards living a more intentional life.  I genuinely hope you are encouraged from our time together here.

A little about me, I’m a type 7 on the enneagram, a total extrovert + people lover, entrepreneur, connector, storyteller, people gatherer, and passionate wife, mama + friend. I feel most alive when I’m exploring new places and surrounded by people I love. Give me a day in the outdoors disconnected from wifi, and I am a happy girl. I run on oat milk lattes, Jesus, gratitude journaling and kitchen dance parties with my four kids.
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