Bianca Juarez Olthoff has a big dream.
“Everyone knows Billy Graham, but Billy Graham had a mentor and a discipler that made him who he was,” she says. “I’m not trying to be Billy Graham. I’m trying to grow 20 Billy Grahams.”
Olthoff—who founded and co-pastors The Father’s House OC in Orange Country, California, with her husband—has a heart for mentoring the next generation, particularly young women entering ministry. She says she never intended to start a church, and even revealed on the most recent episode of the Charisma News podcast that she hopes someone else will be leading the church in 10 years. She’s not interested in building one single church building as much as building God’s global church and equipping the next generation to lead it. In this Q&A, Olthoff shares her testimony, her dreams for the church and her heart for the next generation of leaders.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity. Listen to the full interview in the embedded podcast.
Berglund: Can you share your testimony?
Olthoff: I grew up in the church. My dad is a church planter and has served the local church currently for 30 years in East Los Angeles, California. I love the church. I love the call on my dad’s life. But I always said I would never work in a church, and I would never marry a pastor, and I would never church plant. So the best way to make God laugh is just to tell Him your plans.
My faith journey, growing up in a faith-filled house, was so fun. I got to see my parents express their faith and their walk. But my dad always said, “One day, you will make a decision on whether or not my God is your God.”
I never understood that because I was like, “Well, of course your God is my God.”
Around the age of 22 or 23, I had come out of a devastating three-year relationship. My mom was diagnosed with two forms of cancer. One of them was brain cancer. And I’d lost my grandmother. It just felt like everything was up in flames in life. And in full candor and disclosure, I was really upset with God. We had loved God, we served God, we did all the right things; therefore, our life should be OK. I thought, My mom shouldn’t be diagnosed with brain cancer, she should get a yacht and a six-month vacation in Europe. Don’t give cancer to my mom.
I had professed my faith at a young age, and I made a cognizant decision at 13 that God was my God. But I think at the age of 23, it was a pivot point of faith, where I realized that I have to put my faith through the fire and let the impurities and the dross rise to the surface so that only the purest thing remains. That’s exactly what my mom’s battle with cancer did. It was just a really crazy season. I had to come to a realization where, like, either I believe God is who He says He is and can do what He said He can do, or this is all for naught. That was my “come to Jesus” moment. That was when my faith became very real to me, and my faith became my own.
Since then, it’s been this adventure of daily fighting to discover a little glimpse of God more and more each day. Even my faith journey of just walking in the fullness of His Spirit has been such an adventure that I don’t take lightly. And it’s an honor every single day to tell people and point people to Jesus.
Berglund: You mentioned that you never wanted to become a pastor—and here you are. So tell me about how you got that call to ministry, and about your church today.
Olthoff: I think I’m a lot like a spiritual Gideon or a spiritual Jonah. I really want to be Paul. I want to be Deborah. But I think I’m the kid who just loves to have fun and run away from God’s call. And I always come back, and God is so faithful, and He’s so patient. He’s so gracious. So I think in this season of my life, I’m running headfirst into the full gales of wind saying, “OK, I’m just going to do it the first time that God asks me to do it.”
But long story short, I was working for an anti-human trafficking organization called A21 under Christine Caine, and I had worked alongside her for 6 1/2 years. And I felt like this nudge and call to go into prison. It felt foreign. It felt weird. Why would I want to leave the covering of Nick and Christine? And it wasn’t like a lead; it was like I felt this holy hunch, this Holy Spirit nudge, that I had to go into prison. I had no idea what that looked like. But God used that as my stepping out and stepping into, because there was even a greater sense of freedom. I wanted to bring spiritual freedom to the incarcerated.
I realized, living in Orange County, California, that there are people who are not in physical prisons but are in spiritual oppression. My husband and I were just hosting Sunday night dinners at our house to whomever: my gym instructor, people he met at restaurants. We’d say, “Hey, do you need community? Come to our house.”
The ambition was never to start a church. In fact, it was the farthest thing from my heart and mind. I just love cooking. We love hosting and entertaining. And we would have people come and sit around the dinner table, and we’d have some of the most life-changing conversations around the dinner table. I began to look at the life of Jesus, specifically in the book of Luke. Jesus was either coming to a party, going to a party or at a party in the entire book of Luke. And I realized, “Wait a minute, throwing dinner parties is ministry.”
One night, as he crawled into bed, my husband said, “Hey, I think we’re starting a church.” And I said, “I think you’re crazy. We are not starting a church. We are starting dinner parties.” And slowly but surely, we started seeing God do some amazing things in the life of people just having honest, earnest, simple conversations around the dinner table. And slowly but surely, the Sunday night dinner crew just began to grow from 10 to 12 to 30 to 50. We realized we couldn’t meet in our house anymore.
I travel and teach at conferences and churches. I was up in Northern California, speaking at a women’s conference, and I stayed through the weekend to preach at this very big church up in Vacaville, California. I’d never heard of Vacaville. I’d never heard of this church. But I still connected with the senior pastor. And before I was set to preach for the first Sunday morning service—I’d preached the whole weekend to the women’s conference—the pastor gets in front of this huge congregation and says, “I want us to welcome Bianca Olthoff. She’s going to be preaching with us. She and her husband are church planters in Orange County, California.” And I remember sitting with my Bible and my notes and thinking, Hold up. Pump the brakes. This guy’s a heretic. I’m not a church planter.
I flew home that night, and I was laughing. I was talking to my husband about it. I said, laughing, “Can you believe it? He said we’re church planters.”
And as serious as a heart attack, he said, “Bianca, we are church planters, and we’re planting a church.”
And my response wasn’t elation. It wasn’t a holy praise party. You know what it was? I cried. I said, “I think you’re right. We are starting a church.” And that is how our church was birthed: through laughter, through crying and through a prophetic word. So it’s all the gamuts of a crazy Latina woman. You laugh, you cry, you don’t know what’s going on, but you love to have a good party.
And those are still the values of the house. We laugh, we cry, we worship God and we love to throw a good party. And God has been faithful.
We have had some of the most crazy, insane church planting stories, like discovering a homeless person living in our venue for four months. … Some churches can say that they’re a home for the homeless, but we literally are a home for the homeless. We rent a venue for our Sundays, but we can’t control who’s there on Saturday. And we’ve had magic shows, or some adult entertainment like the Thunder From Down Under. So we come in on those Sunday mornings, and we pray over the venue with anointing oil and bleach. We just take claim over our venue.
But we’ve had some amazing, life-transforming stories, and we feel privileged to join the ranks of other church planters, bringing the Gospel to literally the least of these. So it’s been fun.
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SOURCE: Charisma News