At Eastlake Business Park in Chula Vista, an “Awaken Church ” sign hovers between Lolita’s Mexican Restaurant and Skyzone Trampoline Park, with a muscular, armed guard in Kevlar at the door.
Remodeling is underway inside, so services on this Sunday in July are conducted a couple doors down at an events center known as The Venue.
A woman near the entrance in Chula Vista hands out flyers for an upcoming church happening – “Take Our Elections Back” – featuring Mike Lindell, the MyPillow guy, and other presidential election deniers.
“We need you guys,” the woman says to several church-goers. “You’re part of the RMNNT, so you know.”
The RMNNT (pronounced “remnant”) is an arm of Awaken Church dedicated to raising “a bold and passionate army to effectively influence politics.” It draws its names from Biblical passages about a small group of people spared by God.
The Venue, still decorated from a recent quinceanera, is nearly dark inside. Giant floral wreaths hang from the ceiling along with crystal chandeliers and colored streamers.
Folks mill and sip free coffee.
Christian pop music plays from speakers. A huge video screen over the stage shows images of Jurgen Matthesius, Awaken’s founder and senior pastor, preaching and promoting upcoming events such as water baptisms.
“Book of Miracles”
A clock ticks down the seconds to service time.
Congregants greet one another with smiles and hugs. On stage, a band assembles as mist curls up through lights aimed at the ceiling, creating a celestial aura.
The band begins to play: I’ll take you at your word. If you said it, I’ll believe it.
Church-goers sway to the music, some dancing with hands overhead.
A Dolly Parton-like singer pours out lyrics to inspire and unify, backed by video images. A second song is accompanied by scenes of a path leading through a dark forest. The lyrics – Protector, you never, never, never let me go. No darkness nor evil will tease or torment me – are displayed on the overhead screen.
A third song is accompanied by photos of a fog-shrouded valley.
The chorus — Fear will never conquer me. I belong to Jesus – is repeated in an endless loop as the crowd, now over 200 strong, joins in and cheers loudly at the end.
Prayer requests come in, miracles flow out.”-The Rev. Gladys Batiz
Music continues softly as a lay pastor, Gladys Batiz, appears on stage holding up what she calls “The Book of Miracles.” The video screen shows a number that congregants can text for help: “Prayer requests come in, miracles flow out.”
Batiz tells of a lady who was losing her vision until she recently asked church members to pray for her.
“Now she can see,” Batiz says, “and that is the God that we serve.”
Pastor: God rewards those who tithe
After more video promotions, a youth pastor steps on stage to ask for tithes.
He relates the Biblical story of a woman who had only two coins, but donated them to the temple.
Those with similar faith enter a “miracle zone,” the pastor explained, where God rewards them with even more money than they donated.
Finally, the Rev. Mike Yeager takes the stage and launches into an engaging, sometimes humorous sermon explaining that only born-again Christians will see the kingdom of God.
That precept, based on The Book of John, Chapter 3, may seem simple, Yeager said, but it is a fundamental of faith just as practicing free-throws was a fundamental of sports for the late Kobe Bryant, a star basketball player for the Los Angeles Lakers.
Yeager, who plans to be co-pastor at Awaken’s new campus in Coronado, cites the New Testament passage wherein a religious scholar in Israel interrogated Jesus about how to get to heaven. Jesus told him, “…Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”
Reborn to join God in heaven
Yeager says as a young man he ridiculed born-again Christians who would ask others, “Do you know that Jesus Christ is your Lord and personal savior?”
But he came to realize God created an entry requirement for eternal salvation, just as elite universities establish admission standards for prospective students. (Yeager, who has a civilian job as an engineer, noted that he was rejected by MIT.)
While the faithful must be reborn to join God in heaven, Yeager says, they also have a responsibility to live what he calls “a transformative life… It means you go out into the world and you succeed and you’re a person of influence.”
Toward the end of the sermon, the band softly resumes instrumental music and the pastor’s voice rises.
“You are entitled to the power that comes from submitting yourself to Jesus…” he declares. “And there is nothing like inner peace.”
The congregation stands, and Yeager asks all to bow their heads and count to three.
Then he urges those who are not yet reborn to raise their hands for the Holy Spirit. Several arms lift into the air. The church erupts in applause.
I was very broken…And then I came here, and it really changed my life.”-Olivia Rodriguez of Bonita on Awaken Church.
Afterward, as members hug and chat outside, Olivia Rodriguez, 52, of Bonita, introduces herself to a stranger and starts talking about personal redemption.
“I was very broken,” she says. “And then I came here, and it really changed my life.”
Coming Next: Part 3 From Down Under to San Diego.