Planting in The Heart of L.A.
Couple finds a receptive audience for ministry among 20-somethings yearning for family.Even when California implemented strict pandemic-related lockdowns in 2020, Randall Victory Araujo and her husband David Araujo pressed forward with their plan to start a church in Los Angeles.
“We prayed, looked at each other, and said we’re not backing down,” recalls Randall, 32.
Today, The Heart L.A., which launched officially in September 2021, meets in a former nightclub and draws young professionals in the city’s mid-Wilshire district. The church is bearing fruit in a city many people and churches have abandoned.
“We wanted to plant in a place where people weren’t in the habit of going to church and might be harder to reach,” says David, 45.
The Araujos originally met at Champion Center Church in Las Vegas (formerly Mountain View Assembly of God), then pastored by Randall’s parents Tom and Robin Van Kempen — and by Randall herself for a year. Randall also earned a master’s degree in pastoral leadership at Assemblies of God Theological Seminary and a bachelor’s degree in biblical studies at Evangel University, where she played basketball.
While serving at One Church Modesto for three years as children’s pastors (and Randall as executive pastor), the couple sensed a nudge to plant a church somewhere on the West Coast. The AG’s Church Multiplication Network offered critical coaching and funding, and six members of One Church moved with them as part of the church-planting team in August 2020.
But finding a building in Los Angeles when the economy had all but shut down proved challenging.
The group fasted and prayed, Lord, connect us with somebody that loves You. That’s how they found a Christian-owned, second-floor ballroom near the La Brea tar pits and Koreatown, which had once been a popular night spot. The church now holds services there on Sundays and rents the space out during the week for events like bar mitzvahs and musicals to generate more income.
The Araujos credit prayer for God sending the people who have formed the congregation.
“We had to get to the place of total dependency on the Lord,” David says. “That’s why people are here.”
Intending to reach families like their own — the couple have three young children — they found instead that a lot of people in their 20s started attending.
“We pivoted to be a family to those without a family,” Randall says.
Devon N. Waggoner, 32, originally from Spokane, Washington, owns and operates a recording studio near The Heart L.A. He had gone to Hindu temples and Buddhist meditation centers, and studied New Age practices. But then he felt drawn back to the Christianity of his youth. Walking down Wilshire Boulevard one day, the church’s marquee intrigued him, and he attended a service. Within a few weeks, he became one of the first adherents to be baptized in water there.
“I picked up the Holy Bible and as soon as I read it, God gave me eyes to see this is the truth,” says Waggoner. “Through all that time seeking truth, those other things never fed me, but as soon as I went back to the Bible, it fed me that bread.”
It also opened his eyes to the deception that had enveloped him.
“Now I read the Bible and I see all the stuff God says about statues and people bowing to them,” he says. “It blew my mind when I started reading in the Old Testament about people worshipping false idols. People are still doing that to this day.”
Waggoner threw away thousands of dollars’ worth of crystals, Hindu incense burners, and spiritual books. He joined the church’s prayer team, runs the sound board, and helps provide security. In his off time, he goes to parks to hand out food and pray for people. At his music studio, he shares the gospel with young music artists who come in to record, and he plans to start a faith-based music label.
Word about his conversion has spread to other young truth-seekers.
“People hear about me getting baptized and ask about it,” Waggoner says. “A lot of youth are being affected by this New Age deception. There’s an identity crisis, especially in young men. Finding your identity in God is the one message that needs to be spread.”
The Araujos believe God led them to the location for such results. In the second-floor ballroom where they meet, a place once known by locals and police as a drug haven, two giant bars now serve as a coffee bar and a gathering place for kids’ ministry.
“God can redeem lives and buildings,” David says. “Churches have to have the courage to go into dark places and share the gospel.”