As co-founder of the L.A. Dream Center, Matthew Barnett has been serving the homeless population in Los Angeles for more than 26 years. It’s a community that has been hit hard by the coronavirus.
Matthew, who is also the author of One Small Step, is meeting the needs of these vulnerable people by following the nudge of the Holy Spirit, one small step at a time.
His “Dream Center” is working in Los Angeles, where over half of the California deaths from COVID-19 have occurred. During the lockdown, the “Dream Center” has been providing food to families in need at a drive-through “grab-and-go” station.
NUDGES FROM THE HOLY SPIRIT
For twenty-six years, Matthew has lived a life focused on serving others. In 1994, he co-founded The Dream Center in LA with his father, megachurch pastor Tommy Barnett. The center is a volunteer-driven organization located in a 400,000 square foot hospital like building which houses and helps homeless families, veterans, kids who have aged out of foster care system, victims of human trafficking, and people who have addictions – all free of charge. The center is the last stop for many who have nowhere else to go.
Matthew says, “Although helping your neighbor can be a messy business in the me-centered world in which we live,” he believes, “Stepping out is a better option than playing it safe.” When you step out you will be labeled irresponsible, reckless and your motives will be questioned. His advice, “Every day follow the nudge of the Holy Spirit. Step out and do what He is asking you to do.” By being obedient you can make a difference in the world around you.
The challenge to living daily with risk-taking faith means skating on the edge of failure, and after a while, that can wear a person down. As a pastor, he often receives invitations to various events or parties. While this is not his favorite thing to do he wondered why he would dread attending these engagements. Matthew realized he had fallen into a have-to-serve rather than a get-to-serve mindset. God helped him reset his mindset by looking at every encounter an opportunity to worship Him by giving it his best. Matthew says, “Challenge the boundaries of what you prefer for the sake of making life better for others.”
FEAR VS. FAITH
The greatest battle of your life will always be fear versus faith. The Bible says, “We walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7 NKJV). Faith is when you put it on the line. “We will never be useful to God unless we are willing to take risks,” shares Matthew. When the hospital building that became the Dream Center was purchased most people thought they were crazy. At the time he was only taking in $1,500 a week in the offering and the offer on the building was $4 million. Too often, people think you can only do something for God if all the pieces fit together, but sometimes you have to make it up as you go. However, that is not how you determine His will. “You cannot walk by faith and seek security at the same time,” reveals Matthew. If He stirs your heart to do something He will be with you.
For the past four weeks California has been on lockdown with the COVID-19 situation. The Dream Center took a step of faith and decided to help school kids in need of meals by providing a drive-through seven days a week, eleven hours a day. With only one day of food in reserve, Matthew reached out to the community for the needed resources to accomplish this goal. Justin Turner of the Dodgers has been one of the key supporters in this effort. He has hired businesses to provide meals which in turn has kept their businesses going. The Dream Center has received over $1.8 million from the community to aid in this effort.
WORLD MARATHON CHALLENGE
“When you have been called to do something great for God, you do not have the luxury of jumping out with a golden parachute like the CEO of a failing corporation. You must be willing to take life-changing steps with understanding how to survive it,” shares Matthew. The opportunity to take such life-changing steps came in a most unusual way for Matthew. One day he received a text from a friend telling him about the World Marathon Challenge in which participants run seven marathons on seven continents on seven consecutive days. Although Matthew had run a marathon before this was a challenge unlike anything he had ever participated in. His friend suggested it as a fundraiser for the Dream Center. His first sponsor, a man from his church, said if Matthew would undertake this challenge he would give him $100,000. Matthew knew the money could help so many people at the Dream Center. He signed up for the challenge. The campaign was called “Face Yourself” with the idea being that everyone had one great challenge in life that he or she needs to face and to take on. For Matthew, he had to face his fear of blood clots returning. In 2013, he had a tough time breathing after a church softball tournament. When he went to the doctor it turned out he had a pulmonary embolism blocking both of his lungs. As he began training over the next nine months for this grueling task the fear of developing blood clots was a real concern. He worked up to ninety miles a week while fighting calf pain, IT band pain, and hamstring pain.
The World Marathon Challenge started in Antarctica where the temperature was around negative thirty degrees and there were strong winds. Next, he ran in Chile where the weather was beautiful. The third marathon took place in Miami where friends and family cheered him on. It was in Madrid that things began to go downhill. At mile six, a sharp pain developed in his knee. When he stopped at the checkpoint they discovered a tear in his patellar tendon. He immediately thought, “This is over.” The doctor told him it was best to stop because there was no way to finish the rest of the races. After he broke down in tears Matthew began to encourage himself. He decided to lock his leg and use the other muscles in his leg to finish the race. It worked. Matthew limped all the way to the finish line. He decided to fly back to Los Angles the next day. He called the airlines and booked a flight home. Then he heard God say, “Just give Me one more marathon.” Matthew committed to staying the course. The next race was in Morocco. Although he was in extreme pain he kept his eyes on the lampposts lining the marathon route every fifty yards until he made it to the end. Next, he ran in Dubai. For this marathon he ran it barefoot with blisters because his shoe was jamming into his Achilles tendon. Matthew walked, jogged and limped along the course. He realized he was not going to make the finish line on time. He had fallen too far behind to make it in under eight hours. All of a sudden a businessman who had been following Matthew’s story asked if he could join him. The man tended to Matthew’s needs and helped him stretch his muscles or simply talked to him to get his mind off the pain. Matthew finished the race with a few minutes to spare and got on the plane for the final continent, Australia. On the plane, he woke up with an accelerated heartbeat. When the plane landed he went to the hospital and discovered he had suffered a heat stroke and panic attack. When he was released from the hospital he went straight to the start line of the last race. The other runners were shocked to see him return. Matthew was joyful as he crossed the finish line and more excited that the fundraiser for the Dream Center had raised, $1.4 million. Matthew inspired many people by completing the challenge. They learned that if you refuse to stop, you will be in a situation where God can resurrect you.
GOD’S DREAM FOR MATTHEW
Matthew wanted to be a pastor since he was sixteen years old. He had hung around his dad, Pastor Tommy Barnett, for as long as he could remember. As a teenager, God gave Matthew a vision of a city in need – it was Los Angeles. The vision showed Matthew that someday he would be in LA pastoring a church in the heart of the city. In 1994, when Matthew’s dad asked him to help out an impoverished church in the inner city of LA, Matthew agreed to help his dad out — partly because of the vision God had given him, but also because he thought it was only temporary. No one wanted the job. Matthew says, “Failure after failure was the quick reality of this church plant. I always thought that church was about perfectly crafted sermons and good music. The truth is that I had none of that. No staff, no idea how to preach. I had to discover that a broken dream is the pathway to a better one – God’s dream.”
A few days after being on the job, Matthew woke up in the night. He felt God was speaking to him and telling him to walk to Echo Park over near Dodger Stadium. At the time, Echo Park was full of gangs, prostitutes, and many homeless people. The Lord told him, “Matthew, I didn’t bring you to the inner city to build a great church, but to build people…You build the people; I will build the church,” recalls Matthew. After wanting to quit many times God asked Matthew to give him one more day. He did and after twenty-six years, Matthew is grateful to the Lord that he didn’t quit.