The dream of a City Harvest Church in the United States has become a reality, with the launch of City Harvest Church USA in Irvine, California over the Easter weekend. City News talks to Derek Dunn, senior pastor of CHC USA.
By The City News Team
It was on a sombre note in December 2011 that Derek Dunn, the then-executive pastor of City Harvest Church Singapore, bade farewell to the church he had been a part of for over 16 years.
An urgent family crisis had required him to return to his hometown in Atlanta, Georgia for an indefinite period. He had made the difficult decision of uprooting his wife, Susan and their three children to relocate to the US.
But now, 16 months after their move, the Dunns are fulfilling a vision they have had for seven years: the launch of City Harvest Church USA in Irvine, a city in Orange County, California.
With the family matter now under control, the Dunns moved to Irvine late last year to set up base for the new church. In a few short months, they were all set up and launched CHC USA with their first service on Easter Sunday, March 31, 2013.
Every Sunday, CHC USA conducts service out of a movie theater within the University of California. A number of CHC members from Singapore who used to be under Dunn’s pastoral care flew up to the US for a few weeks to support in the set up and running of the services. CHC Singapore will be sending teams to help CHC USA when needed.
CHC Singapore supported not only financially but also by sending up worship leader Annabel Soh and musician Daniel Chew to train CHC USA’s music team for three weeks, and to help conduct praise and worship at the service. (See Box Story 2).
Dunn shares that the congregation is a mix of Asians, Caucasians, Hispanics and blacks, and that one Singaporean who has lived in the US for 12 years received salvation at the first service on Easter.
City News talks to him about CHC’s latest affiliate church.
City News: How did the idea of CHC USA come about? Was it something that had already been brewing in your heart and mind when you went back to the US?
Derek Dunn: Seven years ago when I was in the US attending a conference in Orange County, the Lord spoke to me that He would one day call me back to plant a church in Irvine, California. As we experienced a family crisis with my extended family in 2011, it became a catalyst to our relocation back to the USA. After nine months, things stabilized and we began to focus on church planting in Southern California at the end of 2012.
Why Orange County?
This was the place that God had laid in our hearts. Through the years of having the Challenge Conference in Orange County, people are familiar with CHC Singapore and were responsive to us. (The Challenge Conference is an annual conference organized by Lionsgate Leadership And Missions Institute headed by Troy and Anwen Marshall, CHC’s Bible school in Santa Ana, California. CHC’s senior pastor Kong Hee is a speaker every year, and past speakers have included John Bevere, Les Bowling and Jentezen Franklin.)
What gave you the impetus and courage to start the church?
Due to the clear Word we had received and the confirmations that came from various ministers of God through the years, we had faith that this was truly a vision from God. For example, CHC’s advisory pastor, Phil Pringle called Susan and I out during a service in November 2010 and prophesied over us that we would be ministering in the West Coast of the USA. Pastor Kong and Sun also confirmed the timing and gave us their encouragement and blessing.
We are currently still looking for a warehouse that we can use seven days a week and are raising support for a long term lease. We are leasing a movie theater on Sundays now, which is located right in the heart of the University of California, Irvine campus.
Who are the sort of people who CHC USA is reaching out to? What is the community like?
CHC USA has something for everyone! At the same time, we believe that one of CHC’s strengths is reaching out to the next generation.
Irvine’s demographics are as follows:
- There are 10 universities within 20 minutes of where we plan to plant the church. Irvine is home to the University of California, Irvine (UCI), Concordia University, Irvine Valley College, the Orange County Center of the University of Southern California (USC), Brandman University, and the satellite campuses of Alliant International University, California State University Fullerton (CSUF), University of La Verne, Chicago School of Professional Psychology-Irvine and Pepperdine University.)
- 67 percent of the population are under 44 years of age.
- Irvine is a multicultural city and 39 percent of its residents are of Asian decent.
Tell us about the team. Will you be the only preacher?
I will be the main preacher but Susan will take the pulpit from time to time also. We will plan to have guest speakers periodically who will help us to build the church. We hope to have Pastor Kong and Sun to come once we are more established.
Susan is the co-founder and co-Senior Pastor of CHC USA. She is a seasoned platform speaker and preacher – having spoken to audiences both in the religious and secular arena. Susan is especially passionate about the ministry among women. She has a vision to help women navigate through the different seasons of their lives by practically applying the Word of God and leaning on the Holy Spirit.
What is the vision God has given you for the church?
Our missions statement is to Love God, Love People and Love Life. In keeping with our CHC culture, we desire to raise up people who love God wholeheartedly, who love people fervently and who find purpose and fulfillment in their Christian life.
How has response to the services been like?
We are averaging 52 people and eight decisions weekly.
What has encouraged you towards the growth of CHC USA?
The average church in the world has fewer than 100 people. With little advertisment, we are encouraged with the initial response that we have had. Those who have come are very positive after attending our worship services.
City Harvest Church USA is located at 4245 Campus Drive, Irvine, California 92612. Visit http://chcus.org for more information
A Visiting Member Serves At CHC USA
CHC Singapore member Celest Foo volunteered as an usher at CHC USA at its service last weekend. She shares her experience with City News.
“The service was held in the Edwards Cinema, harking back to the days of CHC Singapore in the ’90s when services were held at Hollywood Theatre! As Pastor Derek puts it, it has the “CHC anointing”. I believe this is a sign of greater things to come.
“There were two interns working in the music ministry and the rest were volunteers. The three adorable and friendly greeters were the Dunn children Ethan, Erin and Erika. There were also three members from CHC’s Singapore Aircrew Fellowship helping out as ushers: Rachel Lim, Jules Ruesli and myself. (The Aircrew Fellowship was formerly under Susan Dunn’s pastoral care.)
“The service started at 10am with powerful praise and worship led by CHC Singapore’s worship leader Annabel Soh. Next, Susan shared the mission of the church — Love God, Love People and Love Life — and welcomed the newcomers. It was a great honor to see Pastor Troy Marshall of Lionsgate Leadership and Missions Institute taking the offering message. As Pastor Derek shared his “Faith for the Future” series, I could hear many Amens from the congregation. Pastor spoke on the topic of trials, urging the people to hold on to God’s words in times of challenge. His message was simple, relevant, relatable and brought hope. At the end of the service, he gave an altar call for salvations and blessed the congregation.
“Throughout the service, the presence God was so tangible. One Chinese lady in her mid 40s, who was visiting for the first time told us later that the moment she walked into the theater, she felt like crying! Indeed, the presence of God is in the house.
“Service ended at 12.15 p.m. and the volunteers had to work fast to tear down the set-up, because the first movie screening in that same hall was scheduled for 12.30 p.m. Everyone pitched in, including Pastor Troy who cleared the reception table, tore down the posters and stored away the signages. I was touched by the unity of the volunteers even though the church was only three weeks old.
“The attendees come from all walks of life. There were several working professionals, families, an elderly couple, young adults and students. There was a man in his 50s who came in a wheelchair and said to Pastor Derek, ‘I was here last week and I loved what you shared about positive confession. I enjoyed it and I wanted to come back again this week to hear you share!’
“It was really heart-warming to see physically-disabled people and mothers with infants coming to a new church on a Sunday morning. Despite their physical conditions, people are hungry for the word of God.
“People need God. That is who we are created by and created for. We are all discipled in the Great Commandment and to obey the Great Commission, that is to make disciples of all the nations. Who can stop the work of God and His timing? If there was a time to step up in faith and rise above the situation, that time is now. It is not easy to uproot the entire family and start a church from scratch in a new environment. But as great servants of God, Pastor Derek and Susan have shown their steadfast faith in obeying God’s calling and timing.
“The start of CHC USA might be challenging financially. but by the grace of God, I know that He will see Pastor Derek and his family through. “Though your beginning was small, Yet your latter end would increase abundantly.” (Job 8:7 NKJV). I strongly believe that revival will come into Orange County and its neighboring states.
“For those who are visiting Los Angeles, do drop by CHC USA for an awesome worship experience.”
CHC worship leader Annabel Soh and her husband, a drummer for CHC, Daniel Chew, tells City News what it takes to support an affiliate church practically.
“Worship is the integral part of a church and especially for CHC churches at large. We believe its one of the main pillars of our church,” says Annabel Soh, a worship leader at CHC who recently helped Derek and Susan Dunn at the launch of CHC USA.
“To train up a songleader and musician it can take years. At CHC USA, we practically had to put a band together in three weeks. [We did everything from scratch], [f]rom choosing the instruments at the very start to choosing the right songs and checking for accuracy of the lyrics and chords. We created a weekly to-do list for them to follow, the sequence of events. There were performance items each week on top of a 30-minute praise and worship session. Thus, preparation and multiple rehearsals were required. Vocal training was almost a daily routine.”Chew helped with the coordination and direction of the band. Soh points out that “praise and worship is not a performance by a band, but more about the congregation’s participation in singing. Thus, the band had to learn quickly how to be sensitive, to lead the people into the mood of the song with their playing.”
Soh and Chew also taught the CHC USA music team the logistics of praise and worship, from set up to tearing down, sound check to the technicalities of stage plotting and positioning. “We had to ensure everything worked well before the service began,” explains Soh, “and after each service, we had to evaluate on how things went and how to improve for the next week.”
Chew adds, “To create 30 minutes of awesome praise and worship in CHC takes 15 to 20 years of learning. Whatever we imparted in those three weeks took Annabel and I years of learning and doing at CHC Singapore. No amount of money can buy that kind of experience elsewhere.”
“Pioneering work is never an easy task,” adds Soh. “We needed guidance from God thus prayer meetings and worship were a routine for us. We also helped out with giving out of flyers on the street and at university dorms, and from house to house.”