I am an Angelino, having spent most of my first 32 years in the Los Angeles area, although I was born in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1939. My family moved to South Gate-Huntington Park in 1942, where my widowed mother Iris worked in a defense plant during World War II. My two older sisters and I began primary school in Lynwood (South-Central LA) and finished in Baldwin Park (a citrus-belt town in the San Gabriel Valley), where I also began Junior High School before moving to Compton in 1950. I finished secondary school in Compton at Roosevelt Jr. High and then attended Compton High School (1954-1956) before dropping out in the middle of my senior year and joining the U.S. Air Force in December 1956. I finished the requirements for my high school diploma during my military service and graduated from Compton High School in 1958. Yes, Compton--I was a Tarbabe and proud of it!
During my high school years I attended the First Baptist Church of Compton, where I made a profession of faith in Jesus Christ in August 1953 during an evening service. I became active in the church's youth group, became a song leader, and later became president of the youth group during the 11th grade; I was also president of Campus Christian Fellowship at Compton High School during at the same time. Religion became a very important part of my adolescent life, after hardly ever going to church previously, although I had been baptized as a young child in a Methodist church in Cabot, Arksansas, where my parents lived.
The 1950s in the Los Angeles area was a time of religious revival when most of the Protestant churches were growing and their worship services, Sunday School and youth activities were well attended. Occasionally, after the Sunday morning worship service in Compton, a few of my friends and I would drive south (or take the Pacific Electric Red Car) to the Long Beach Municipal Auditorium to attend "The Old Fashioned Revival Hour" with Dr. Charles E. Fuller, which was broadcast live on radio around the nation and around the world. Most of the time, however, we just listened to that program on radio station KGER from Long Beach, along with dozens of other popular radio programs, such as the "High Noon Bible Class" with Dr. J. Vernon McGee, pastor of the Church of the Open Door (1949-1970) in downtown Los Angeles at 5th and Hope Streets. Every summer a number of world-famous traveling evangelists (such as Merv Rosell) came to the Los Angeles area and held week-long "revival meetings" or "evangelistic crusades" in a large tent with thousands of people in attendance.
Although a Baptist, I had a lot of friends in high school who attended other local churches: Presbyterian, Lutheran, Methodist, Nazarene and Assemblies of God. In 1953, the First Baptist Church of Compton was affiliated with the American Baptist Churches in the USA, but later, after a pastoral change, joined the Conservative Baptist Association. In those days being a "Fundamentalist" was the preferred label; I didn't even know any "Liberals!" However, some of the churches and organizations associated with Fuller Theological Seminary (FTS) in Pasadena began to call themselves "Evangelicals" during the 1950's. My friend Ed Miller and I drove up to Pasadena one afternoon to hear Dr. Bernard Ramm discuss his new book, "The Christian View of Science and Scripture" (Eerdsmans, 1956) in a FTS classroom. After seeing the FTS campus, I told Ed that I thought that I would like to attend that school some day!
That dream was realized in 1968 when I entered the School of World Mission at FTS as part of the first group of a dozen students in the Master's of Missiology program, directed by Dr. Donald McGavran. I majored in cultural anthropology and church growth studies. But it took a long time to get to Fuller Seminary.
After finishing my tour of duty in the USAF in 1960, I decided to apply for admission to Moody Bible Institute (MBI) in Chicago in the two-year Pre-Aviation program. After being accepted at MBI, my wife Linda and I drove our 1954 Ford from Los Angeles to Chicago via Route 66--Did I mention that we had a six-month-old son, Rick, who also enjoyed the ride! Rick was born at St. Francis Hospital in Lynwood in 1961, and we lived in an apartment a few blocks away. I worked for a year in electronics at North American Aviation in Downey, while living in Paramount.
Although I didn't become a missionary bush pilot as hoped, I did finish the three-year diploma program in Bible and Christian Education. Our second child, Suzan, was born at Wesley Memorial Hospital in Chicago in 1962. After my graduation from MBI in 1964, my wife and I agreed to return to Southern California where I had received an invitation to serve as Director of Christian Education at Bethel Baptist Church in Anaheim. After a year or so at Bethel, I worked in the same position at Sunkist Baptist Church in east Anaheim; these were sister churches of the North American Baptist Association (NABA, formerly German Baptists).
With a desire to continue my education, I started taking classes at nearby Fullerton Junion College for a year, while working night shift at Hughes Ground Systems in Fullerton as an electronics technician. Then I continued for my final year of undergraduate studies at BIOLA University in La Mirada, where I graduated with a B.A. in General Bible in 1967. Soon thereafter I was knocking on the door of Dr. McGavran at FTS in Pasadena in the hope of becoming a student in his new School of World Mission (now renamed the School of Intercultural Studies).
During my first year at FTS, my family and I lived in nearby Altadena, where I served as the Assistant Pastor at Altadena Baptist Church, affiliated with the Baptist General Conference (formely Swedish Baptists). A year later I was back at work as an electronics technician on the night shift at Resdel Engineering in Pasadena, while attending classes at FTS during the day. The following year I began serving as an Associate Pastor of Visitation at Lake Avenue Congregational Church in Pasadena, where I remained until April 1972 when my family and I moved to Costa Rica to serve as missionaries with the nondenominational Latin America Mission.
While studying at FTS, my thesis advisor, Dr. Ralph Winter (a former Presbyterian missionary in Guatemala), encouraged me to pursue my dream of doing a church growth study of Hispanic churches in the Los Angeles area, since I was planning on going to Latin America as a missionary anyway. After two years of fieldwork in Los Angeles and Orange counties, driving and walking through every known Hispanic barrio and interviewing Hispanic pastors and denominational leaders, I wrote my Master's thesis on "The Religious Dimension in Hispanic Los Angeles: A Protestant Case Study" (550 pages, published by Wm. Carey Libary in 1974). It was while doing research for this study that I really got to know Los Angeles from almost every angle, literary and visual, conceptual and geographical, with all of its ethnic and religious diversity.
This book, despite some of its limitations, became a "must read" for newer generations of students interested in Hispanic churches and ministry throughout the USA, and it is still being used as a textbook in some university and seminary classrooms. The research opened my eyes and mind to the reality of a "parallel universe" of ethnic communities with a variety of worldviews that coexisted within Los Angeles and Orange counties, where I had lived, studied and worked for most of my life. I discovered that the metropolis of Los Angeles had become, and was becoming, a multiethnic, multicultural and multinational reality--now considered to be the most culturally-diverse major city in the nation, the new major port of entry for new immigrants to the US since 1965.
Now, after living and serving in Latin America from 1972 until the present, predominantly as a missionary researcher and educator, I consider myself a bilingual and bicultural person. I have experienced a similar transition from being an immigrant to Costa Rica and learning the predominant language of that country, Spanish, to begin thinking, feeling and acting as a Costa Rican while becoming a legal permanent resident. Now, I more completely understand what new immigrants to the US experience and the process of my own acculturation and my children's enculturation in Costa Rica.
The role of religion in the life of immigrants is often a vital part of what holds their lives together during this important cultural transition; it becomes the focus of their own self-identify. That transition from immigrant to citizen is made easier by become bilingual and bicultural and maintaining one's ties to the ethnic community and to one's traditional religion. Moreover, many new immigrants have the freedom for the first time in their lives to choose where they want to live and work, who they want to marry, and where they want to attend church. Although some immigrants tend to become less religious after their first decade in the US when their lives have become more stable, others freely choose to become associated with a new religious group that seems to satisfy their own spiritual and social needs. Therefore, many immigrants change their religion during the first decade after their arrival in the US. Others remain loyal and dedicated to the religion of their ancestors for the rest of their lives, at least nominally.
In the pages that follow I have attempted to paint a portrait of the new ethnic, cultural and religious mosaic of the Greater Los Angeles Metro Area (GLAMA), defined as Los Angeles and Orange Counties, by tracing the historical development of the various ethnic communities and religious groups that now call this region their home. It is a voyage of discovery and enlightenment.
-- Clifton L. Holland