Pastor Dave and Patty Baker spent nearly 17 years with their church in Marysville, California. They’d married and begun their ministry together at this church. For each of their three children, this church home was their first. And up until the close of 1999, they’d planned to never leave. “The Lord put it in our hearts to come to Vacaville,” says Pastor Dave. “I told Superintendent James Braddy I was feeling the direction of the Lord to take this storefront church, and I’ll never forget what he told me,” he smiles. “Follow the voice of the Lord.”
Ice Cream and Impalas
In February of 2000, the Baker family packed up their home and drove an hour south to lead Harvest Church in Vacaville. Immediately, they began to introduce unique forms of outreach to their congregation. “One of the first things we did was purchase an ice cream truck,” says Pastor Dave. The truck scuttled around town, singing lively tunes from Veggie Tales and KLOVE and, of course, sharing lots of free ice cream. They also bought a 1964 Impala as a means of literally showcasing the Gospel. “It was going to be our ‘Bible wagon,’” Pastor Dave laughs. “There would be pictures from one fender all the way around it that would tell the story of the Gospel.” In those first several months, the Bakers settled in and enjoyed their new community. But in the years that followed, planning turned to coping, and the joys of ice cream and Impalas were lost.
The Baker’s string of misfortune began at the church when they discovered a friend on staff had been embezzling money. They quickly sold the ice cream truck and “Bible wagon” to help cover their losses. Then, the trials hit home. “Simultaneously, my oldest daughter, Brooke, was diagnosed with cancer,” he says. Then, Dave and Patty’s son became severely ill. “Three days after we took him to the doctor, my wife bursts into my office and says DJ has a very aggressive form of leukemia,” he pauses. “So, two children with cancer.” Later, the Baker’s discovered that their 4-year-old grandson, Jayden, had acquired a rare disease which affects only one in 10 million children globally. They were told he’d never walk again. In that first decade at Harvest, Pastor Dave reached and grasped and grew tired as his hopes for his church and his family drifted farther and farther from sight.
Through this challenging season, Pastor Dave’s discontent had become an ever-present burden. In early 2000, he left a life, a home, and a church he dearly loved to follow the Lord’s voice. But each passing year seemed to carry more pain than the one before. Even his dreams for growth at Harvest had yet to develop. The church was hidden in a strip mall, bordered by one-way streets, beauty salons, and antique shops. Out of sight. Out of mind. One afternoon, Pastor Dave arrived at his church, distraught and frustrated, and stared at the empty building. “Is this all I’ve got?” he cried out. He slipped out of his truck and walked towards the church, the soles of his shoes slapping the asphalt. As he stepped into the dark sanctuary, Superintendent Braddy’s words rang in his ears. “Follow the voice of the Lord.” In that moment, Pastor Dave knew God was near. He’d always been. So he chose to quiet himself, to calm his heated heart, and listen. Be thankful. “He talked to me like a parent would, sternly correcting a child,” Pastor Dave smiles. “I asked the Lord to forgive me, and He began to turn my heart.”
A Newfound Zeal
Following this encounter, Pastor Dave began to serve with a newfound zeal. He continued to explore unusual yet effective outreach methods, and the congregation followed suit. “Shortly after that is when we turned our sanctuary into a skate park,” he says. “That has probably been the single greatest outreach we’ve ever done. I’ve seen as many as 200 kids in our sanctuary skating. The church’s youth ministry, Uprising, has also grown significantly in the last several years. During one of their more popular events, Rise 24, dozens of students complete service projects throughout Vacaville for 24 hours. They’ve given breakfast to police officers, gift baskets to families in the hospital, and even mattresses to single moms. Beyond ministry growth, the Bakers have also gained answers to their many prayers for healing. Brooke received a much-needed kidney transplant from her husband, who—doctors say—could only have been a closer match had he been a sibling. Together, they lead Harvest Church’s youth ministry. In addition, DJ is also miraculously free of cancer. He is active in the church worship band and is preparing for a new season of life in college. And Jayden, now 11 years-old, runs!
In 2014, Pastor Dave heard the voice of the Lord yet again, answering a dream he’d prayed over for many years. Go look for a building. Harvest had recently climbed out of debt, but only had $5,000 in the bank. Nonetheless, Pastor Dave knew God was leading, so, once again, he followed. A year later, Harvest Church held its first service in their new home—a building that had once belonged to the Father’s House, the most active and successful church in the city. With $150,000 from Harvest’s congregation and through ministry partnerships with CEP and the Father’s House, Harvest Church gained a home that would finally facilitate growth.
Since the move, the church has added nearly 200 members. But as Pastor Dave looks ahead, there’s another number that excites him even more. “One of the first things the Lord asked me to do when we came here was memorize the population sign—96,735,” recites Pastor Dave. “The number I avidly look at is not the number we’re running but the number of people we have yet to reach.” Pastor Dave has clung to this conviction for more than 15 years. He has learned first-hand the value that comes from truly following the Lord’s voice, from trusting His plan. So when he enters Harvest Church and stands in its crowded sanctuary, Pastor Dave remembers to be thankful. And in the presence of the Lord, he chooses to quiet himself, to calm his fiery heart, and listen.