It's a warm, bright Saturday down at the intersection of Pico

Boulevard and Western Avenue, just below the bottom edge of Koreatown,

and a kind of joyous street party erupts on all four corners of the

major crossing. The crowd features people across a spectrum of ages, but

with an emphasis on youth. They spill off the sidewalks onto the edges

of the street, waving signs, gesturing wildly and yelling giddily to

passersby, many of whom honk their horns in spontaneous assent.

The festive gathering seems as if it should be connected to a car

wash or bake sale, but in fact this lively aggregation is a celebratory

outreach, an attempt by members of a megachurch called Iglesias de

Restauracion, located a couple miles away at Adams and Crenshaw

boulevards, to reach the “unsaved.”

Unlike the staid, grim-countenanced believers one sees down at Venice

Beach and other tourist spots, holding signs reading “Judgment Day Is

Coming” or “The Wages of Sin Is Death,” these people wear colorful

shirts and elated grins, and hold up endearingly slapdash, homemade

messages scrawled onto jumbo pad paper: “God = (heart sign),” “Christ

died for homosexuals,” “Jesus loves atheists.” The feeling is fuzzy

peace and love, almost a mimicking of the hippie-esque.

“We go to places, we go to different cities, and we preach about God

and the Bible,” says 15-year-old Margie, who lives nearby. “We go to

every corner that we can whenever we can and we scream about God and …

it's a lifestyle. It's not just a religious thing.

“We believe in a relationship with God, and that God is love and that

He always answers our prayers no matter what. I guess it's our choice

if we want to feel better or be a better person, but it's for God.

Everything is for God.”

So just what does that love look like?

“He wants us to be the people we are, but not sin,” says 20-year-old

Vic, who lives near Staples Center. He has the super-short haircut, wiry

build and street attire that undoubtedly get him pigeonholed by cops

and passersby as gangsta. “He wants us to basically not practice what

the world does. You are gonna sin, but not consciously.”

“He takes control of our lives,” declares 19-year-old Jack, sporting a

fashionable Caesar haircut and resembling a cross between Esai Morales

and a young Antonio Banderas. “Other people who don't believe in Jesus,

they tend to do adultery, fornication, there's a lot of sin going on in

the world.”

What about other major sins, like theft, greed, violence, murder,

fraud, destruction of the environment and so forth? “They're all sins,

so God takes them all equally,” Jack says. “He is willing to forgive

each and every person. God doesn't see what people have done. God

doesn't see 'gangbangers.' “

Religions are a complicated ball of wax, with holy books full of

nuances and apparent contradictions. These young people are trying to

sort it out.

“Every human tends to suffer in life, in their house, with their

family, in school, in universities,” says Jack, sounding sensitive and

altruistic, as well as factual. “With Him at our side, the recession

won't exist in our lives, it will not be possible for us to be

suffering. The economy is really bad right now, but if we're faithful to

Him, he will give us a reward. And that reward is economy-wise,

spiritual-wise. …”

Jack makes a point of separating his group from the Florida church

that burned a Koran, insisting that Jesus doesn't hate people from other

religions. He then stoutly proclaims: “We love all the homosexuals, we

love all the lesbians.” One can't help but think his love of lesbians is

probably more truly benevolent and less exploitative than that of

Howard Stern.

“I used to be into hip-hop and kind of like a little gangster, back

in middle school,” says 15-year-old Jeremy from Silver Lake, who looks

like a young Che Guevara-esque hipster. “But then I came to church and

accepted Christ and my whole life changed. I've lost a lot of my old

friends.” His group has done food and aid missions to Mexico, South

America and inner-city L.A., but he speaks most passionately about the

effect of his transformation on him as an individual.

Just how transformative is this belief?

“I never thought that I would be listening to country music,” he

says, with an endearing glint of irony in his eyes. “Anything that

praises God, you know?”

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