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FIRST-PERSON: Myths about California

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ONTARIO, Calif. (BP) – As I travel to speak in the Midwest and South, when Southern Baptists learn I am from California, the reactions are predictable, frustrating, and sometimes amusing. The most common response is “I’m sorry for you” – as if living in California is akin to a spiritual prison sentence. Other responses are often phrased as questions, “Why would you want to live in that awful place?” or “How do you put up with California crazies?” are good examples.

The negative mythical perceptions about California are rooted in some realities. There are significant challenges to living here – just as there are in most other places in the world. What always puzzles me is how the same Southern Baptists who decry living in California celebrate missionaries who live in any other part of the world. We affirm those who take on secular and spiritual challenges in other places, but struggle with brothers and sisters who do it in California.

Well, what I am about to write will cause some of these folks to question my sanity – and maybe my salvation! California, particularly Southern California, is my favorite place I have ever lived. It beats out Oregon, Missouri, and even Texas (my Texas relatives, no doubt, are shaking their heads and may disavow me after that comment). Why is this my favorite place?

First, the superficial answers. The weather is awesome. The sports teams are entertaining – and represent every major professional league and college level. The people are warm and welcoming. The economy is booming. Jobs are plentiful. The beach and the mountains are both less than an hour from my house. There are classic cars everywhere. The food scene is creative. Museums are world-class and there is more live entertainment than anyone can possibly get to in a lifetime.

Now, the more substantial answer. Mission opportunities are endless and the freedom to creatively do ministry is boundless. Yes, secular cultural ideas and ideals dominate the mindset – but that’s true in every global mission field. Rampant secularism demands a robust Gospel, not a retreat from declaring the Gospel. The Gospel, believe it or not, actually thrives in our area. While many people consider California a spiritual wasteland, that’s simply not true. Many Christian ministries that have changed the world got their start in Southern California.

One of my hopes for Southern Baptists coming to Anaheim for their annual convention this summer is many will leave with a new understanding of life in the Golden State. Rather than parrot tired myths, come with your spiritual eyes open and learn how God is working in this part of His world.