Dear church family,

We miss you!

Thank you for the prayers, texts, phone calls and financial gifts. We have felt your love and commitment.

There is so much that has taken place over the last couple of months since leaving The Sanctuary that it’s tough to know where to begin.

Let me start by assuring you that Diane and I are doing well. This is our 30th year of being married and we are savoring the decades of God’s goodness to us. We love each other deeply and are inspired by the adventure of serving the Lord together.

We still live in Canyon Country and hope to move to Ojai this summer. Diane just finished teaching 5th graders at a school in Van Nuys. She had an incredible year full of drama, sorrow, joy, and triumph. If you want to hear some “juicy” stories from the classroom, buy her a cup of coffee. Over the last couple of weeks Diane has applied to school districts in and around Ojai. We are praying that she gets a job teaching elementary school up there. Your partnership in prayer would be greatly appreciated.

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I am working full time as an electrician for Ojai Electric and am enjoying the work. I leave the house at 6:00am and get home very tired around 6:30pm. The 90-minute commute along the 126 highway is as pretty of a commute as one can have. I’ve found myself praying, worshipping, and connecting with friends and family who live in earlier time zones.

It has been a challenge to jump back into the trades at 52 years of age, especially in light of having a “desk job” for the last 14 years. My hands are often sore due to working with them and the nicks and cuts that happen in construction. I’m re-learning how to be an electrician because codes and practices have changed. At times, I feel clumsy and disoriented in the work. But by God’s grace and just showing up every day, I think I’m going to get it; at least my boss seems to think so. 

Occasionally, I’ll run into people around the SCV from The Sanctuary and they’ll often ask, “How is the church in Ojai doing?” For that reason, I wanted to take a moment to share (1) where things are at and (2) how we are going about the things God has called us to. As shared in services leading up to our departure from The Sanctuary, our denomination (Foursquare) owns a church campus/building in Ojai that was built in the 80’s that is fully paid for. The congregation that originally built the building no longer meets together. The building actually sat vacant for a couple of years until another congregation in town began to rent it from our denomination. They continue to do so at this moment as we are walking out, what we believe, is our calling from the Lord - to grow or develop a new Foursquare congregation. The best way to understand our approach as church planters is to think of us as “missionaries” to Ojai. As such, the first step has been God sending us to the community (with your help). The second step will be to then further His purposes in Ojai through genuine friendships with people who do not know Him within the community.

Recently, I came across some material that gave me language to articulate this approach and process. There are four stages of planting a church by being a missionary.

1.     Leave. The missionary must leave their community/people for a new community/people. This is not an easy stage because it’s difficult to reestablish one’s self financially, relationally and practically. Though we have left The Sanctuary and my job at the church, we are still in this stage.

2.     Live with. The missionary must live with the people they have been sent to. They must identify with the people and the people with them. We’ve begun to move into this stage through my work for Ojai Electric.

3.     Listen. We have Good News to share, but we must earn the right to be heard. Living with and listening to others is the most direct route to sharing. Our goal in the coming months and years is to develop genuine friendships with all kinds of people by sharing cups of coffee, meals and activities.

4.     Love. Leaving allows us to live with and listen to the people we are sent to. Living with and listening to them causes compassion to grow in us. It is through compassion that love begins to form. And genuine love is the most fruitful manner to share our hope in Christ with others.

Starting a church in Ojai is a process that will require patience, fortitude and commitment. We have just begun the process by being in stages one and two. We regularly have to remind ourselves that we can’t rush the process. Getting to stage four requires moving through stages one through three.

Early on in this process, the Lord gave us Jeremiah 29:4-7 as a path into Ojai:

This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, says to all the captives he has exiled to Babylon from Jerusalem: “Build homes, and plan to stay. Plant gardens, and eat the food they produce. Marry and have children. Then find spouses for them so that you may have many grandchildren. Multiply! Do not dwindle away! And work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare.”

So, please continue to pray for Ojai and us. Don’t forget us. We need you and your support.

Love,

The Tottens

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