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The Church a Building Could Not Contain

Barb has been a Christian for most of her long life. She has been actively involved in churchs from many different denominations.

The Reunion Cake

This cake was served at our church reunion.

This cake was served at our church reunion.

Crenshaw Christian Reformed Church Reunions Prove a Church Can Survive Separation

Crenshaw Christian Reformed Church was conceived in the hearts of George and Mary Lau several years before I arrived at the CCRC (How I shall refer to Crenshaw Christian Reformed Church throughout the rest of the this lens.) It began as an effort to minister to the Chinese closer to where they lived in the Crenshaw area and was independent. According to records at the national headquarters of the Christian Reformed Church, it joined the denomination in 1963. It closed its doors on the first Sunday of 1995. In the years between, many people have entered through its doors and into its heart. Some came from across the street, and others from across oceans to get through those doors. Many took what they found at CCRC back across oceans to share with others.

During the short life of CCRC, it knew six pastors: the founder, George Lau, and the others who served for long or interim periods -- Cliff Christians, John Hollebeek, Stephen Jung, Gordon Van Enk, Dale Chin, and Michael Brands. There were many long periods when this church at 48th St and 8th Avenue in Los Angeles, had no pastor at all. It is possibly this one characteristic that enabled this church to survive an an organism, if not as a congregation that meets in a building every week to worship together. More than any other church home I've had, this church has been the family of God in my life and in the lives of many others.

They'll Know We Are Christians by Our Love

This song expresses what most of us at CCRC felt and tried to live. Out of all the versions available on You Tube, this one seemed the closest to the truth of the Gospel.

The Crenshaw Christian Reformed Church Extended Family at its Reunion, - August 6, 2011

Dansen and I took most of the photos at this reunion and he said I could share his in this article along with mine.

Dansen and I took most of the photos at this reunion and he said I could share his in this article along with mine.

Who's in that Photo Above?

Everyone in this picture has a relationship to CCRC. In this picture are former pastors and children who have grown up in the church, married, and had families of their own, and brought them to the reunion. There are also adults I worked with in the church, and many who came after I had moved away. There were many conflicting events on August 6 that kept many from coming, and this picture could have been twice as populated as it is, but maybe all would not have fit if everyone had showed up. When this picture was taken, many who arrived later had not yet come. I believe there were about 100 people in all who participated at this reunion.

Look closely at the faces to see who we are. To the left on the front row are our hosts, one of our former pastors and his wife, Gordon and Barbara Van Enk. Also at the front are two important people in yellow. Jane Lim is on the right end. She was at CCRC from before my time, and she was head of the junior department of the Sunday School when I arrived in 1967 to take my place teaching sixth grade girls. Behind Jane is Dale Chin, one of the planners of the reunion and the last interim pastor. I might add that he was one of the students in the junior department Jane and I taught in back around 1970.

Dale Chin Explains How the Reunion Came About

Dale was one of the first children to enter the Sunday School long before I came. He doesn't remember who knocked on his door and talked his parents into letting him and his brother come. Dale stayed until 1985, and then returned as interim pastor in 1992. As an adult he taught in the same Sunday school department I'd taught in when he was a student there. When I asked what kept him in the church, he said he stayed because there were a lot of kids and many of the adults helped supply transportation each week. Dale graduated to Heaven in January 2019.

Music Expresses the Soul of a Church

When cultures and generations mingle, a variety of music styles will be a part of the gatherings of the people of that church -- both for formal worship and for small groups. We sang many styles of music, from the old hymns and Psalms to the newer music of the Gaithers and some of he contemporary music composed within the Catholic Church.

The more traditional music we sang during worship. The more contemporary music was used during Sunday school and youth events. We loved singing rounds and songs with parts, and we also liked melody and rhythm. One song that I will never forget is "Amen" the way it was sung at Sunday school the Easter Sunday morning we invited the parents of all the juniors to join us. My friend Larry Jung was playing the guitar and even the parents, most of whom went to other churches or no church, sang their hearts out, as it was a song everyone knew the chorus to. I captured the spirit of the church. You can download this more professional version from Amazon.

The Christian Ambassadors

The Christian Ambassadors were the college group when we arrived at the church, only three years after getting our degrees ourselves. Since we were recruited to act as the group's advisers shortly after we arrived on the scene, this is the group we became closest to. They have been with us through thick and thin, traveling a long distance to attend our son's memorial service. I'm glad when our daughter died, they did not need to travel so far, but they some were there. Eugene Au, who took many of the black and white photos I have used here with permission, is in many of the photos. He is the one on the far right end of the photo I took at Forest Lawn the day of my daughter's service.

These people have remained our friends through the years, though we live so far apart now we rarely see each other except at reunions, weddings and memorial services.

Member Impressions of CCRC

George and Mary Lau

George and Mary Lau

Lasting Impressions of CCRC Members

George and Mary Lau, The Founders of the Church

The picture above is of George and Mary Lau, who founded CCRC. Vicki Young wanted everyone to see it. It was taken in 2000, about six years before Mary went to Heaven. Her memorial service was in 2006. George recently married an old girl friend, Marion, who just recently lost her husband, and we had the privilege of taking them to this reunion, since we live the farthest away and they were also quite far, but on our way. We are very glad that George will be able to spend his last years with someone he loves, instead of being lonely. God cares about these things.

In the rest of this section I will relay what some of our CCRC family have said in response to an email request to share their CCRC memories. Not everyone is brave enough to do an interview for my video camera, and there just wasn't time to interview all those I wanted to. Others were not able to come to the reunion this year because of schedule conflicts. One of these is Vicki Tong Young.

Vicki Tong Young's Comments

We invited Eric's junior high kids to attend our wedding, because we wanted to do what the "elders of the church" had done for us: model love, live it out, live life sacrificially, and PASS IT ON. Who can think of Crenshaw without thinking of"... Mary and George Lau, who knocked on my door to invite me to have a new life and a new heart; Gary and Jane Lim raising their family in a drafty, inner city house next door to their home church, to be closer to ministry and to have a house of love and light; the many years Aileen Hoy headed up the Sunday School, which was about 6 times larger than the adults in the service; Danny Bhang faithfully teaching the young; Tena Mason loving all the young people and mentoring us; Dick Lipock, bringing his whole family to church and making sure to take the time to talk to the kids whose parents didn't go to church; all the loving pastors, like George, Cliff Christians, Stephen Jung, Pastor John Hollebeek, and Gordon, who lived their lives with passion and purpose.

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Eric and I wanted to show the young people what it would be like to know that God would faithfully provide just the right mate for each of them, and to share in the joy that is shared in heaven when 2 people who love Jesus love each other enough to want to be together for eternity!

Crenshaw showed us what heaven will be like. If it wasn't for Crenshaw church, we might not know heaven at all. Thank you, Jesus, for Crenshaw church! Thank you , Jesus, for giving us heaven on earth!

Jane Lim's Words

Since Jane and Gary Lim were mentioned here, I will introduce Jane next. They both meant a lot to us when we came to CCRC. Jane lost Gary to cancer when he was still quite young, and his memorial service was, I believe, the first we attended for someone from CCRC. I'm going to include the interview just as it was written -- both questions and answers. These are the same questions I asked everyone to respond to, but Vicki did not have them when she gave her impressions above. Jane's words are in italics.

1. What about your experience at Crenshaw made the most lasting impression on you? Social inclusiveness. Jesus' example of compassion and justice.

2. In what way did your time at CCRC make a difference in your life? (25 years) With the small church encouragement and opportunities for leadership, I saw growth in individual lives that extended to life goals for both Gary and me.

3. If you could go back and do something differently than you did at CCRC, what would it be? special time and place.... there's no going back

4. Was there a particular person at CCRC who made a difference in your life? Who, and in what way did the relationship impact your life? Gary, my kids - and the parenting of a whole congregation in encouraging my family's Christian decisions and lives.

5. How was your experience at CCRC different than your experiences at other churches you have attended or joined? I must admit... there is effort required in personal church experiences - and I have been very choosy. There is the comfort of an Asian Christian church. (background and old friends).... there is the sharing of a pew with my kids and grandkids.(but I really don't like the music) ... there is the personal uplifting of a megachurch that my late husband was comfortable in (but I really don't want a new social circle), and there's a personal commitment to Bible Study Fellowship which demands daily work, a leadership morning, and a group facilitation.

So, answer, there is a season to each of our growth - God's Grace in it all.

Jeff Lim's Answers

Jane's son Jeff, who was very young when we came to CCRC, also agreed to be interviewed. I asked him how it felt to grow up next to the church, how and when he became a Christian, how he met his wife, when he left CCRC and why, and if he found a new church home. Here's what he said:

We moved from the house next to the church when I was 3 or 4. The memories I have from that time are all good. From my earliest memories I have always believed in God. I recall playing in the sanctuary, and falling asleep under the organ after playing with the pedals. I cannot give you an age that I became a believer, I have always been.

My wife is Pastor Gordon Van Enk's daughter Joy. I met her the first night she came from Madison WI to Los Angeles with her family. She was 13 and I was 15. Our family was designated to greet the new pastor's family the night they arrived.

Joy and I left CCRC to attend college in San Diego and then law school in Oklahoma. We returned and attended CCRC from 1991 to 1995. In 1995 we moved to Santa Barbara and attended the Calvary Chapel in Santa Barbara. Our pastor was Ricky Ryan. Upon returning to the southbay in 2005 we started attending Kings Harbor Church. I am currently a deacon in our church.

Both Calvary Chapel and Kings Harbor are fairly large churches compared to CCRC. We miss the family atmosphere of a small church, but like the worship services and resources that our larger churches provide. We are part of a life group that gives us accountability and fellowship on a personal level.

Barbara Van Enk's Answers

Barbara Van Enk shares her thoughts in answer to some questions I asked. I have edited out the numbers of the questions she was answering. These are all her words below.

What has made a lasting impression on me about the Censhaw Church is that people from MANY cultures embraced and supported each other, and they did so across age boundaries, as well. That impression took away the stereotypes I had of other cultures and facilitated my appreciation for other cultures. The experience also created opportunities for me to hear the pain that discrimination has caused. One example is that I somehow never heard anything about the Japanese internment camps here in the US until 1979 when I first came to Crenshaw and heard two Japanese women referring to their experiences at the camps as children!

Crenshaw was different than other churches in that they gave of their time, talent, and resources so readily and without judgment to help those who came to the church, and they did so across racial and age boundaries. That's the difference about Crenshaw: nearly EVERONE there impacted my life. I felt embraced bynearly EVERYONE. They listened, gave guidance, and accepted me just as I am. I felt like I didn't measure up in other churches I've attended.

In reflecting, I forgot another boundary that was crossed: race, age, and GENDER. I felt that the males accepted the females as equals. They treated us with respect, they listened and valued our opinions on a one-to-one basis, and they proved their respect by their willingness to give women positions in the governing body, and on a couple occasions gave a woman the opportunity to preach, going against the denomination's ruling, because they felt it was the right thing to do.

Those Who Have Graduated to Heaven

There are three more people I wish I could have interviewed, but they have all gone to Heaven ahead of us. They are Tena Mason, Danny Bhang, and Paul Higa. All of these three served faithfully in the church from as far back as I can remember. Tena was the rock of the junior high Sunday school. Danny nurtured those of high school age. Paul Higa came out of Danny's high school group and began to serve.

I don't have pictures of any of them to share, unfortunately. Maybe someone reading this will have one to share and send it to me with permission to include it. In those days, we didn't have cell phones with cameras -- or cell phones at all. As one of my close friends said, you don't really need a picture to remember someone, since you have all the pictures you need in your head. I'm hoping those of you who want to share how these people influenced you will do so in the comments at the bottom.

The only one of these I worked closely with was Paul. We worked in the junior high youth group together at one point in time. He later married and he and his wife served the youth together after we left. I would like to link to my memories of Paul as I shared them in a blog post I wrote after we attended his memorial service. As I was searching for this link, I ran across a video that might speak to those of you who never knew Paul after he moved to Santa Barbara. I will share it below.

Paul Higa Speaks at a Conference

I assume this was a training conference for those who would be working with youth, possibly in the probation system Paul was heading up in Los Angeles. The video doesn't say much about the conference. I thought I'd listen, maybe just to hear Paul's voice again. I wasn't sure if what he would say would be useful to a general audience. But as I listened, I saw a mature Paul who had taken the gifts God gave him and tried to use them to salvage the youth society had pretty much thrown away. I recognized the Paul I knew in this video, bad as the video quality is. I think you will recognize him, too.

The Church at Ease

Part of a typical gathering in our home around 1969

Part of a typical gathering in our home around 1969

CCRC Depended More On Lay People than Paid Staff.

My perspecitve

It was a small church when we were there, but it had a very active laity. It had to have. We were without a pastor much of the time. With only sixteen families, everyone had to work together to keep the Sunday school and the youth programs staffed. There were no paid staff except the pastor, and at some times, a part time janitor/gardener.

When we arrived in 1967, at the beginning of summer, a very successful Daily Vacation Bible School partially staffed by summer helpers from other Christian Reformed Churches had brought the Sunday school up to 200 students, mostly from the neighborhood surrounding the church. By my third week at the church I had been recruited to teach in the junior department, and I remained there almost as long as I remained in the church.

I think we'd only been there for a few weeks when my husband and I were asked to attend a retreat planned by the college group. We were needed as chaperones, not program directors. The retreat was also a way for us to get to know the group, also known as the Christian Ambassadors, since the real plan was for us to advise that group. Those who were college students then were the core of the group we are still close to, even though many of us live far apart and attend different churches now. This college group saw that the junior high students had no group, so they stepped in to set it up and advise it.

At at time when in most churches paid youth directors to plan and direct all the youth activities, our youth helped each other and also taught and helped the younger children. Some started teaching Sunday school when they were in high school or college. When I start quoting some of those who were in the Sunday school and the youth groups from that time period, you will see how much unpaid volunteers influenced those who later became strong Christians. It is important to note that the parents of those in the Sunday School were hardly ever seen back then.

There were, of course, always some very active adults teaching Sunday school. Aileen Hoy was Sunday School Superintendent for as long as I can remember. Jane and Gary Lim, Tena Mason, and Danny Bhang also had a great impact on the lives of young people . The last three of these are now in Heaven.

So, we were a small church with an active laity and youth groups which were used for discipling, rather than entertaining, youth. In this congregation, only a minority (during the years I was there) came just for Sunday services and didn't interact with others in the church until the next Sunday.

Many members opened their homes to visitors, members, and young people for fellowhip over food or a pot of tea. Much informal counseling was conducted over a cup of tea in a home, and the counselors were trusted friends. Members continued to have this kind of fellowship long after they had married and moved to new locations and new churches far away from each other.

Sometimes invitations were extended to church visitors to come over for lunch after church. We were invited to have lunch with a seminarian and his wife on our first Sunday. It didn't take long before the Woos invited us over and they became close friends. We even went camping and celebrated some holidays and special occasions together. I know we were not the only ones form CCRC who enjoyed the hospitality of the Woo family.

The Woos are only one family who opened their home to others. When Mikio and Sandy Mukae were married, they also opened their home, and there are probably plenty of others who did likewise. We just weren't aware of all of them because our own home was often full, too. This is another example of lay people ministering to each other.

I just read something today worth posting the link to, since it deals with why churches fail and the importance of small groups.

Why Do Churches Fail

Is lay ministry just as important in a church as pastoral ministry.

At CCRC, we depended a lot on lay ministry in our Sunday school and youth groups. There were also numerous unofficial small group Bible studies and unstructured gatherings going on as members ministered to each other or just enjoyed each other's company.

In other churches we've been in, we haven't seen so much of this. For us it might have been that we were young and had no children and that most of the people we gathered with unofficially were students or single adults. Maybe that's why when we moved on to other churches we never experienced the same "family" closeness again as we did at CCRC. On the other hand the adults who already had families back then also continue to keep in touch to this day, and many have also noted the uniqueness of the Crenshaw experience.

Crenshaw Christian Reformed Church Reunion, September, 2008.

CCRC Reunion, September, 2008.

CCRC Reunion, September, 2008.

Contrasting the Two Reunions

If you look carefully at this picture, you will notice a lot of the faces don't match those in the larger reunion picture in 2011. Most of the people in this picture were unable to come in 2011.

I want to introduce one of those, Danny Bhang. He is wearing a white shirt in the middle of the front row. He faithfully taught the high school Sunday school for as long as I can remember. When my brother worked as a janitor / gardener for a few months, although he did not attend any church, he did attend some of those high school classes Danny taught. My brother was still searching, and was pretty skeptical about most Christians and the sincerity of their faith -- especially if they were ministers.

Danny, of course, was a layman. He was by profession a commercial artist. When I worked at Logos of Westwood, he donated a scroll of Isiah 53 he had made for us to put in our window for Passover. My brother always had great respect for Danny Bhang and the genuineness of his faith. He drove clear from Bellfower to attend those classes, and I'm quite sure Danny was instrumental in showing him there were some sincere Christians who believed what they taught. Danny is now in Heaven. That's probably the only reason he wasn't at the 2011 reunion.

In this picture, I count only about half who also attended the 2011 reunion. This reunion was hosted by Aileen and Eugene Hoy. They are also in the picture but are hard to point out. Aileen, who was Sunday school superintendent for most of the time I was at CCRC, is almost invisible in pale yellow in the second row. Her daughter, who was in my Sunday school class, is in the front row in black , just in front of her mom. Her husband is to the left of the tallest man in the the back row, who, incidentally, was another regular visitor at the Woo home. We shared many a pot of tea together with Don and his wife there.

I will introduce some other CCRC "celebrities" later in other sections, even though they are also in this picture. The thing to remember is that this reunion was planned by laymen when there was no official church left to sponsor it. It was a reunion of a large group, but many in this picture were in regular contact with a few others they had worshipped with at CCRC.

Those at this reunion were many of those on an email list that is activated whenever a message needs to get out. It carries prayer requests and announcements that bring us together, among other things, to say goodbye to those who have graduated to Heaven. The people that mail those emails get their news in person or from email messages they get and pass on. They are the "hearts" of the groups they keep in touch with.

Interview with Sujin( Lipock) Testa

Sujin has always been special to me. Like many others at this reunion, she was in my sixth grade girls Sunday school class. She was also in a small group of girls who met with me every Wednesday over a period of several weeks to learn more about the Christian life, when she was in junior high. Because she lived so far away, we had a lot of time to talk when I was driving her home. In this video, she gives her impressions as one who practically grew up in the church, coming long before I arrived. She came all the way from Virgina, where she has lived a very long time, to attend the reunion.

What Sujin Rmembers

Charity as Sung at Reunion

Keep in mind that although those playing instruments may have had a chance to practice together before the reunion, those leading singing may not have had that chance. This was also the first song as everyone was warming up and getting used to each other again. Everyone knew the song, but we had all sung it at different points in the church's history, with different accompaniment and different song leaders.

What amazes me most about this video is that Dale and the men playing instruments grew from the same younger boys who barely opened their mouths to sing back in their Sunday school days. Left to right in the clip above are Bruce Tong, Calvin Joe, Dale Chin, and Reggie Guidry. I don't know if Reggie sang when he was a sixth grader or not, since he came to CCRC after I had left. Out of sight to the left is John Lue, and you will see him playing as the video goes on.

Music We Sang at the Reunion