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Pastors Tommy and Matthew Barnett of the L.A. Dream Center
Spiritual Life

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Making Dreams Come True in L.A.

By Craig von Buseck Contributing Writer -- Craig von Buseck: You are in the midst of an expansion here at The Dream Center. What has the Lord put on your heart?

Pastor Matthew Barnett: Right now we have 600 people that live at The Dream Center every single day. If you take that number and divide it in half you have 300 people going through drug and alcohol rehabilitation -- from 12-years-of-age all the way up. So we have a whole generation of teen-agers that we're rescuing off the streets from prostitution, drug addiction … kids who have been kicked out of the public school system. We have a waiting list of 175 teens and about 200 adults who are trying to get into the program. So we're trying to build this building up to where we can accommodate about 1,400 people -- 900 going through rehabilitation, and the other 500 would be full-time, one-year volunteers from all over America that will help run the facility.

von Buseck: So they'll live here on the premises?

Pastor Barnett: Yes. The concept of The Dream Center is to be a 24-7 Church -- and it already is. If a guy has a heroine addiction at 3 o'clock in the morning, all he has to do is ring the doorbell and someone will be ready to take him in and help him get off drugs and start the program to recovery of his life. We felt that in a 24-hour city like Los Angeles, where there are strip clubs and bars open all night long, that the Church should be a 24-7 place in the heart of the inner city. A place where people are hungry in the middle of the night and they can get food. The concept is to build this 24-hour hospital where 1,500 people can live.

Pastor Matthew Barnett ministers on the streets of Los AngelesNot only will they be recovering from drugs and alcohol, being born-again, but at the same time, they will be an awesome army that will go back into the streets and clean up the neighborhoods, and clean up the drug problems, and reach thousands of people through medical trucks and food trucks. So it will be a big army that will go out and do medical treatments and food distribution. We have 8,000 children per week coming to 27 different inner-city Sunday School programs in the neighborhoods and housing projects with trucks that fold out to a stage. So we have a vision of really reaching our city and one of the ways we'll do that is through a place where people can be restored, but then restored so they can be sent out at the same time.

von Buseck: Let's go back to the early days. You were in Arizona. How in the world does a pastor's son from Arizona get a vision to go to central L.A. and do something like this.

Pastor Barnett: Well I had this dream when I was 16-years-of-age of coming to L.A. in the inner city. But I never believed it would happen that at 20 the door would open. I thought it would happen at 35 or 40-years-of-age. But then when I was 20-years-of-age, the opportunity came where my Dad asked me to come and help him for a year. So it was supposed to be where we came into this place for one year, because my Dad didn't want to discourage me when we had 18 people and a building off the beaten path that nobody could find. It wasn't the ideal situation to get started.

So I was there for one year, and my Dad said, "You know, you can always leave after one year." And I said, "No, I'll stay for another year." Then I said "I'll stay for another year." It's been nearly eleven years now and I have continued to stay for one more year. Now I desire never to go back again. When I came here I was the only white kid in my neighborhood and my Dad said I looked like a Mormon coming down the street. But when I got here something captivated me … the people did. I came from an area that is so different. I saw kids that didn't have anything. They had no fathers, no mentors. Guys were running the streets. They had nowhere to go. The people captured my heart here. God said, "If you reach the people that nobody wants, then I'll send you the people that everybody wants." Now God has joined together the church and He's given us wealthy people sitting next to the poorest of the poor. We have a whole generation that really cares to reach these kinds of people. The vision came at 16-years-of-age on the hood of my car in Phoenix, Arizona when God showed me that someday I would be in L.A. I never dreamed that at 20-years-of-age the doors would open.

von Buseck: Now this is quite a facility that we're sitting in right now. How do you go from that small kernel to sitting in a building like this?

Pastor Barnett: Well, what happened was, we outgrew the place we were in. We started in a little old building in Bethel Temple -- the first building that was built out of the Azusa Street Revival. We started using that church, whatever we had we used it. It wasn't much, but what God gave us we used it for the people of the community. We ended up buying 16 houses in that old neighborhood and turning them into recovery homes.

But we outgrew that facility and one day I was driving off the freeway and I saw this hospital for sale for 16 million dollars. And Paramount Studios wanted to buy it to make movies out of it. There were all kinds of things that people wanted to do with it. And so the Franciscan Sisters who owned it were getting ready to sell it. And so we sat down and told them, "Look, we don't have 16 million dollars, but we have a dream. And that dream was 24-hour church, rehabilitation for runaway prostitutes, runaway street kids, homeless people, drug addiction -- a facility with over 200 different outreach ministries every single day." The sisters got so excited and said, "This is the kind of legacy we want to leave behind. Make us an offer." So we made them an offer of 3.9 million dollars, when they had an offer on the table for 16 million. They accepted our offer!

von Buseck: That's kingdom of God stuff!

Pastor Barnett: Yeah! Then we had 18 months to raise the money. We had no money in the bank, but we had faith to believe that if God would open this door, He would provide the finances. Through churches and individuals we didn't even know showing up on the campus and making donations it began to happen. Now we're debt free.

Along the way a man offered us a million dollars and said, 'You come to Orange County and I'll give you a million dollars to build you a church. Orange County is wonderful. It's great. But God didn't call us there, He called us to L.A. We turned that down. We said "No, God's called us to a place where everyone has left. All the churches have fled. And we're going to build something here that's going to be stable." This is something that the community and the city can look and say, "These people aren't taking from the community. They're investing a life-long commitment to buy a landmark monument -- a place that has some substance to it, redevelop it, bring it up to fire code, and add rooms to it." And I think that makes a statement to your community when you're investing long term -- not taking from it, but you're pouring all your resources into it. I think God has blessed that. God has such a heart for broken and hurting people in our community.

von Buseck: I'm hearing that a lot of people locally jumped on board. But did you also have help from outside the L.A. community, even nationwide.

Pastor Barnett: Actually most of it has come from outside the L.A. community. Probably 90 percent has come from outside our community. All over America we have 160 Dream Centers now that have been started. We had 8,000 volunteers that came last year just to live in this building for a week and go out into the community and serve. A lot of those people left and went back to their cities to start Dream Centers out of their experience from being here for a week. So people catch the vision really quickly. They understand that it's possible to carry it back to their city. So we receive support from thousands of people across America.

We call it the 'Church that America's Building' because people for people all over America this has been their project, their baby. If something like this can happen in L.A., they believe it can happen all over America.

von Buseck: Tie in for me how the Angelus Temple came into the whole picture?

Pastor Barnett: We were having church in the little gym down here. We'd stuff like 700 chairs into it with no aisles or anything. We were packing it out with several services, having multiple language services -- we have ten services in different languages that meet while we're meeting in the English-speaking service. It was run-down building, not much to look at, but again, it's being faithful with whatever God gives you. And then Angelus Temple needed a pastor. They were going through some transitions in their church. There were only about 25 elderly people left when I came to preach there.

von Buseck: In that massive facility that Aimee Semple McPherson built?

Pastor Barnett: Yes. They said, 'You're Assemblies of God and this is Four Square.' But we talked and we worked out an agreement to where the two organizations can work together. My Dad remained Assemblies of God and I went to Four Square. The Dream Center is under the Assemblies of God and the outreach facility is under the Four Square -- so there is a merging of the two denominations to make it work, which I feel is so important.

von Buseck: And it's spiritually significant, too.

Pastor Barnett: Very significant. It's been a wonderful thing. I went there and preached to 25 elderly people and they really felt like that vision of Sister McPherson's -- we're radical and cutting edge like she was -- to them they felt like it was a revisit of the days of old. They came to us and asked us to take over Angelus Temple and to be the pastors there. We were right down the street already. It was a perfect relationship because a center that was known for reaching so many broken, hurting people is now doing the same thing again. Thousands of people are being reached through they church and when they get saved they have the Dream Center right down the street to go to start a new journey of their life if they need that kind of help.

The seniors of Angelus Temple, the landmark people who have been there since the days of sister McPherson, have been my best friends and supporters of the church. The music is different, the style is different, but the passion to win souls is still the same and that's what drives that great relationship.

von Buseck: Do they ever tell you stories of the golden days?

Pastor Barnett: Oh my goodness…

von Buseck: What kind of stories have stayed with you to show that you're carrying on that legacy?

Pastor Barnett: I think the story they talk about is how that during the Great Depression they were able to provide food for every person in the community. They tell stories of illustrated sermons that were happening where thousands of people got saved. We did one of their illustrated sermons and a thousand people came to the altar. What they feel is the same is the spirit of anticipation when people come to church -- that feeling is back that they expect something great to happen.

I think a lot of people remember Sister McPherson for the great healing crusades, but the thing that really marked her ministry was her social outreach combined with her desire to win people to Christ. She actually went through one whole year when she didn't have prayer for the sick because she felt that people were coming to be healed, but the ministry wasn't reaching the lost. So I think that the passion for the lost and the spirit of expectation, that you never know what's going to happen -- the unpredictability of church services is kind of what drives those feelings.

von Buseck: So do you feel like you have picked up that mantle that she was carrying?

Pastor Barnett: Well, I think so. I've been reading her books. She is the most fascinating character. I never dreamed I'd be in Angelus Temple. I'd read her books and I'd drive by Angelus Temple and just laugh and say, 'Wouldn't it be great if I could be there some day.' But I never thought it would be a reality because of denominational differences and all these kinds of things. And I would just drive back and have a fleeting, passing desire to be there. Now to be in there, is kind of an overwhelming experience and still kind of sticks with me because you realize that the legacy is continuing. And we have a lot of years ahead of us, being young, to fulfill the vision. Very rarely, historically, does a great move of God happen in a place where it's happened before. Like Spurgeon's tabernacle, or a lot of the great churches that are just kind of dead right now. So this is a rare occurrence where something great happened in the 1920s and now it's kind of been revisited eighty years later through a recycling of that kind of spirit and atmosphere.

von Buseck: Where do you see things going? You're getting ready to gear up here at the Dream Center and double your size. What is the Lord speaking to you beyond that?

Pastor Barnett: We really feel that God wants to build Dream Centers all over the City of Los Angeles -- South Central, East L.A., in the troubled, most problematic areas. We feel we are a few years away from launching not only churches, but churches and Dream Centers -- 24/7 churches all over the city of L.A. We really feel that God can set up a whole generation, from north to south to east to west of gang members getting redeemed, lives being changed -- really set up a model of what can happen by doing so.

At this point in the conversation. Matthew Barnett's legendary father, Pastor Tommy Barnett of Phoenix First Assembly of God. Father and son where going to have a staff meeting after our interview and then go to a nearby PGA golf tournament where one of their church members was playing later that day. The younger Pastor Barnett graciously introduced me to the elder Pastor Barnett who said he'd see his son in the staff meeting. After he left Pastor Matt's office -- an unrenovated simple paneled room in the corner of this massive old hospital, I asked Pastor Matt to tell me about the relationship between he and his father.

Pastor Barnett: Well, you know, most pastor's sons love each other, but it's hard for them to work together. But he and I have the most amazing relationship because we are both always giving credit first of all to God -- but then we are trying to push credit onto each other. Because none of us care title or reputation, we just want to see this city reached. We share that same passion. He has special guests that he brings here with him every week to tour the facility and see the vision. He goes all across America and raises funds and then I spend it. But with his influence and friends he's made over the years he's been able to get people to support this cause by really casting the vision worldwide. And I get to oversee all the programs and outreaches, preach the sermons on Sundays, and do all that. It's just an awesome partnership how we work together.

The neat thing is that we never argue about ministry or decisions. I call him on the phone and ask him his opinion and his response is always the same -- 'Awe, you know what you're doing. Just go ahead and do it.' I never met a man in his sixties that values the input of young people more than my dad. He's not one of those guys that says, 'Well, let me tell you how to do it young man.' He feels that young people have a lot to offer. He respects the young people. So therefore, the respect given back to him is just overwhelming. We all value his experience and we ask him for advice. And he'll give it if he really thinks we need it. But he just really believes in people and he releases people. I think our relationship is really the key of keeping this thing together, because of the fact that we are so unified and have such a common vision together.

von Buseck: Do you still have a lot of interaction with the church in Arizona?

Pastor Barnett: They had the opportunity of taking their missions funds and sowing into the Dream Center, but God put a check in their spirit. They said, 'No, we don't want to take away from all the people we're supporting around the world.' So they decided to take all their missions money and give it all over the world and not put any money into the Dream Center. So our relationship with them is really them working together with us, sending people over. But really they are really two self-supporting ministries that operate totally separate from each other. They send people that need help and rehabilitation here. And volunteers and missions teams always go back and forth. So there's a great relationship. But at the same time they've been able to sow into their outreaches all over the world, while this ministry here has been able to be self-sufficient. I think that's what God really wants. Not to take away from one to give to the other.

Check out the L.A. Dream Center

Visit the Angelus Temple

Order Pastor Matthew Barnett's book, 'The Church that Never Sleeps'

More from Craig von Buseck on

Craig von BuseckCraig von Buseck is Director of Ministries for Send him your e-mail comments.


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