What if we could create a place where the residents of Orange County could come when they are in need of basic resources and assistance? What if they could not only receive fresh groceries, but career counseling, legal information for family and immigration issues, attend support groups, and get other necessary care? This dream is now a reality! Today, under a bright blue sky, Pastor Rick, the mayor of Lake Forest, other dignitaries and the staff of Saddleback Church attended the ribbon cutting and grand opening ceremony for Saddleback Church’s historic PEACE Center. Pastor Tommy Hilliker, whose team has led the charge in developing the PEACE Center, spoke about the vision of Saddleback Church and The PEACE Center. “‘It is the dream of a place where the hurting, the depressed, the frustrated, the confused can find love, acceptance, help, hope, forgiveness, guidance, and encouragement,’” said Hilliker, quoting from Pastor Rick’s sermon at Saddleback’s inaugural service more than 30 years ago. “‘It is the dream of a place of sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with hundreds of thousands of residents of south Orange County.’”
“Today is a very special day for Orange County, the city of Lake Forest, and Saddleback Church,” he continued. “As these PEACE Center doors open today, this building and the ministry that will take place inside these walls is a continued fulfillment of Saddleback’s vision to reach its community for Jesus Christ, not just in words, but in tangible real deeds that meet people at their deepest point of hurt and help them emotionally, physically, and spiritually. The PEACE center is the gift of love and service to Orange County.”
The PEACE Center is the first of its kind in our county. The Center’s purpose is to bring together the myriad ministries and resources of the church in to one, central location. Saddleback Church offers more than 400 ministires to the community, yet many of these resources were located in different places on the Lake Forest campus and surrounding areas. But now, the PEACE Center is like a beacon to those in need - a singular place that is easy to find and that gives guidance and direction once found.
What is the PEACE Center?
“Quite simply,” said Hilliker, “it is a place of hope. What you see before you is what we call 'PEACE Center 1.0'. The first step towards a much larger building with a greater extension of ministry that will not just touch Orange County but touch the world.”
The PEACE Center currently houses Saddleback’s Food Pantry which has been serving food to the community since May of 2009. Since its inception, the pantry has served over 72,000 in south Orange County, processed over 1.4 million pounds of food and been kept afloat by more than 42,000 hours of service given by Saddleback members, volunteers and staff. And the most exciting statistic is that, in the last year and a half alone, more than 1,100 come to faith in Christ through the Food Pantry.
In addition to the Food Pantry, the Center offers HIV & AIDS support, classes and seminars, and support groups. In January of 2012, the Center will begin a partnership with the Orange County Healthcare Agency in giving out MSI insurance applications for those at or below the poverty level. In the spring of 2012, the PEACE Center will expand to include legal information for the community in the areas of family law, immigration, and bankruptcy, English as a Second Language (ESL) classes, personal finance training and after school tutoring. Then, in the Summer of 2012 the PEACE Center will have a medical clinic, staffed by trained volunteer and paid staff who will diagnose and care for individuals free of charge and offer free AIDS testing.
Why does Orange County need the PEACE Center?
“I have been the pastor of Saddleback for 30 years,” said Pastor Rick. “I have counseled, and sat at bedsides, and listened to the hurts of the people of Orange County. I know what Orange County thinks and I know where Orange County hurts. And we are serious about helping people through this recession.”
“Jesus said that the church is to minister to the community and to the world,” continued Pastor Rick. “You know, our full name is actually Saddleback Valley Community Church. And this new PEACE Center puts the ‘community’ in Saddleback Valley Community Church.”
The vision for the PEACE Center began just six weeks ago. Pastor Rick brainstormed about the idea with his leadership team and gave them the green light to make it happen. “Peace Center 1.0” is housed in a renovated portable building at the front of the property, with plans to build a new PEACE Center building in the future.
A walk through the PEACE Center reveals a clean, fresh building that is welcoming, practical and convenient. Visitors are greeted by friendly volunteers as soon as they enter the building. Food Pantry shoppers are then personally taken to the food pantry area where volunteers connect with shoppers while filling their immediate need for food. The rest of the building features office spaces, meeting rooms, future medical space and class rooms ready and waiting to be used.
“‘Remember the past, challenge the future’ is the motto of the city of Lake Forest,” said Dave Arnold, Pastor of Development. “Boy, does that sound like something Saddleback would come up with!” Arnold affirmed that, while the PEACE Center is the first of its kind in our county, the plan also extends beyond our county borders - to the world. “We want to make this a reality at churches we train around the world,” said Arnold. “It took a village to begin this, but this is just the beginning.”
“The city of Lake Forest and Saddleback Church share many of the same values,” said Lake Forest Mayor Peter Herzog, “ to improve the quality of life for Lake Forest and South Orange County. This is a true partnership and we look forward to the next 20 years. The city will be here to continue to bring help to the PEACE Center 2.0.” Mayor Herzog presented Pastor Rick with a commendation for Saddleback for the formation of the PEACE Center.
“You are what makes America great,” said Mayor Pro Tem Scott Voigts as he lookedout over the staff and volunteers of Saddleback Church who attended the ceremonies. "You are what makes our city great. People of faith are changing our world.”
As the opening ceremonies came to a close, families from the community began to walk up the steps to the PEACE Center. They were the first customers of the newly-opened PEACE Center’s Food Pantry. Their presence was a clear sign that this is not a building that will stand unused. It is already at the heartbeat of Saddleback’s constant mission to reach, connect to, and serve the community of south Orange County.
“May God bless all who enter here, and may they go out in joy and go forth in peace.”
For more information about the PEACE Center, click here.