Reaching Out: Ministering to America’s Hardship City

Reaching Out: Ministering to America’s Hardship City

July 25, 2005

As America's number one hardship city, Santa Ana, California, has experienced better days. Located in the heart of affluent Orange County, crowded homes, low income households, gangs, and violence skim only the surface of the its problems.

With a declining average household income of $15,000 and an average of 18-20 people per residence, reaching out to Santa Ana would be an uninviting challenge for many. However, for Rev. El Roy Pankow, ministering to this community is a call from God.

It all began when, "as a young child my parents were always hosting visiting pastors, evangelists, and missionaries in our home, and over and over these visitors would lay hands on me saying that God would call me to ministry and use me for his glory," says El Roy of his youth.

Still in college, El Roy felt uncomfortable when he was told he would be called to ministry. With plans to become a music teacher because it was all he felt he was gifted with and trained to do, El Roy "tried" North American Baptist Seminary at the insistence of his pastor, Aaron Buhler.

"I thought this was crazy because I was not a 'preacher' but a musician," he added. "It's amazing how God takes and uses us."

Coming to North American Baptist Seminary in Sioux Falls, SD, gave El Roy, a native of California, the chance to grow and become his own person. It was this very shaping and training that prepared him for his future ministry service.

In September of 2000, El Roy and his wife, Joyce, accepted the call to join senior pastor, Rev. Bob Orr, at a restart of First Baptist Church of Santa Ana. Over 130 years old, its congregation had declined to only 80 members. In a community that was drastically changing to reflect first generation immigrants from around the world, these Anglo senior adults were practicing high church to the accompaniment of an 83-rank pipe organ.

More than just another position, El Roy's ministry and call have been for the people of Santa Ana. Now serving as the executive pastor, he coordinates services in Spanish, Korean, and Vietnamese languages as well as traditional and contemporary family worship. In addition, he has taken a secular preschool, kindergarten, and after-school program for students through seventh grade and transformed it into a Christian school. This is just the beginning of Pankow's extensive ministry outreach. With 89 identified gangs and an estimated 250,000 plus undocumented residents within the city, incidents of rape, incest, and crime are rampant.

"We see our church as a hospital for sinners," says El Roy. "We do a huge outreach event a few times a year, and our church hosts one of the largest Narcotics Anonymous groups in Orange County."

First Baptist's campus Christian Education building is also home to Summit Par, an alternative school for students who have been expelled from public education or have been to juvenile hall. Beginning with 50 high school students, Summit Par now serves over 200 students from fifth to twelfth grade. First Baptist�s youth pastor, Jerry Laforteza, and pastor Pankow have been certified by the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) to be huddle coaches. And just this year, the two began an FCA Bible club in the official after-school program. The Bible club then led to involvement with the D.A., police, and gang task force, and they are presently working on creating a community mentoring program for these kids. Several of the students are fourth generation gang members.

When El Roy describes his ministry experience in Santa Ana as most diverse, he means it. According to Pankow, having had a knife put to his neck, bullet holes shot through the church windows and roof, and, on occasion, undercover police in the sanctuary are probably unique to the city. In fact, forty-seven evangelical churches have closed their doors in the city in the last ten years. But not First Baptist.

"We have chosen to stay and minister to this community," he adds. "It's awesome to know that people across the U.S. and around the world are praying for us and our ministry in Santa Ana."

Although First Baptist of Santa Ana would love to see large numbers of people supporting a large budget to do more ministry, Pankow believes that a "Global Evangelism" view is what will count for eternity. We give him all the glory for what is happening in our community and the impact it has as people go back to their homelands around the world."

Choosing to stay and minister, El Roy Pankow is making an impact in a community that many would be scared to face and to which many have turned their backs. Each week he and the church staff speak to individuals and families that have never stepped foot inside a church. El Roy challenges them and invites them to worship.

And, they come and learn of God's forgiveness and grace. God is alive and at work in Santa Ana.