Switching Generational Gears
For the past four years, Gary D. Floyd has been lead pastor of Yuma Foothills Assembly of God. The predominantly white suburban church is located in a retirement community. In fact, the church opened in 1978 solely as a place for winter snowbirds to worship.
Eventually, Yuma Foothills AG started staying open year-round, but senior citizens still dominate the congregation of 175. Floyd says the median age of adherents is 60.
Almost since he arrived in Yuma, Floyd has wondered how to best reach a younger demographic. The quest has intensified as more younger families move to the city in connection with Marine Corps Air Station Yuma and the U.S. Border Patrol. The median age of Yuma residents is 31, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Yuma is a city of 95,548, only 10 miles from the Mexico border.
A year ago, Yuma Foothills AG cast a vision to eventually plant a congregation to reach younger adults in the metro area. The church has started a second contemporary worship service to go along with the existing traditional service.
In January, Art and Samantha Navarro joined the staff as associate pastors. Along with Floyd, the couple attended a Church Multiplication Network Launch training event the same month.
“The church will continue to reach senior adults, but Art and Samantha’s job is to help grow the second service by reaching the community of diverse ages,” says Floyd. The new campus is expected to launch next year.
The bearded, tattooed, and exceedingly polite Art Navarro has the background to reach all sorts of people. He is a former drug addict, drug dealer, and gang member from the San Joaquin Valley city of Porterville, California.
Navarro grew up in an environment in which relatives considered illicit drug use and gang life normal. Soon after Art’s birth, his father left such nefarious activities behind. But in an effort to provide for his family, Navarro’s father traveled the West Coast as general manager of casino properties. His absence from home left a gaping hole in his son’s crucial early teenage years.
“I told myself growing up that I would break the cycle and not do drugs,” remembers Navarro, now 31. “But I became lonely, and slowly that lifestyle became appealing to me.”
The drug use started at 14 with marijuana. It escalated to ecstasy, psilocybin, and cocaine. Navarro proceeded to dealing cocaine. He also overdosed on the euphoric stimulant.
Navarro dropped out of high school at 18. The next year, he reconnected with former classmate Samantha on the social networking site Myspace. Samantha had issues of her own. Her father, a Pentecostal minister, died of brain cancer when Samantha was 16. A gradual downward spiral accelerated when Samantha developed a dependency on prescription pain pills following knee surgery. She also drank alcohol to excess. Art pulled her into his world of more dangerous and addictive drugs.
Nevertheless, Samantha kept up appearances and attended church and Bible study every week. She invited Art to a barbecue gathering at her mom’s house. After the meal, a young man started playing a guitar and another man opened a Bible and began preaching. Art left immediately.
Even so, Art accepted Samantha’s invitation to church the following Sunday. For the next two years, he kept going, typically showing up high or hungover, not really caring about the message. He enjoyed the free meal that always followed the service.
Church also served as a place of safety.
“I was afraid of being killed, but I understood nobody would know me at church,” Navarro remembers. “I figured I might die walking out of the place.”
After being an active gang member for three years and a heavy drug user for six years, Navarro found himself at a crossroads.
“I didn’t want to be a drug dealer and gang member anymore, but I realized I could be killed if I quit,” Navarro says.
Sitting in the back row, the 20-year-old Navarro says he audibly heard God’s voice: Everything is going to be all right, My son.
He started weeping, walked the aisle to the altar, and surrendered his life to Jesus.
It proved to be a transformative moment.
“The Holy Spirit had been working on me,” Navarro says. “At that point I didn’t have any desire for drugs anymore.” Likewise, the appeal of alcohol, pornography, and swearing left him. Samantha experienced a similar deliverance.
Yet Navarro knew he needed to escape the toxic environment of the Central Valley. The only person he knew who lived outside California was his father. Art fled to Arizona, later joined by Samantha. They wed in 2011.
They landed at Abundant Grace Assembly of God in Lake Havasu City, Arizona. Then-youth pastor Dean T. Wiles and his wife, Lori, mentored them. After obtaining his credentials through the Arizona Ministry Network in 2019, Navarro began serving as full-time youth director at Abundant Grace, succeeding Wiles, who is now lead pastor.
SEEK AND SAVE KICKOFF
In March, the national Assemblies of God launched its Seek and Save initiative, making Yuma the first of four targeted cities.
The General Treasurer’s Office, in conjunction with AG U.S. Missions, conducted a three-day evangelism outreach campaign in Yuma in March that mobilized church volunteers, F.R.E.E. International, Chi Alpha Campus Ministries team members, Youth Alive missionaries, and Convoy of Hope workers. AG General Treasurer Wilfredo “Choco” De Jesús is part of the CMN lead team.
Teams searched for missing children in the area, distributed 5,000 bags of groceries, and evangelized in neighborhoods. Over three days, 84 people made decisions to follow Jesus.
The Navarros have another advantage in appealing to diverse demographics as Yuma Foothills AG prepares to launch an urban campus. They are an Interracial couple: Samantha is white, Art is Hispanic. And they have young children. Brooklyn, 7, Russell, 2, and Zoe, almost 1.