2013-06-14 / Faith

Trial by fire molds pastor’s message

By Sylvie Belmond

UNBREAKABLE BOND—Members of the Johnston family—Johnny, Ashley, Mark, Lynette, David Jr. and David Sr.—have supported each other through difficult times. 
SYLVIE BELMOND/Acorn Newspapers UNBREAKABLE BOND—Members of the Johnston family—Johnny, Ashley, Mark, Lynette, David Jr. and David Sr.—have supported each other through difficult times. SYLVIE BELMOND/Acorn Newspapers A faith that hasn’t been tested is a faith that cannot be trusted, says David Johnston, who established a new church in Calabasas last month to spread God’s word and redeeming powers.

The father of three boys who’ve all battled heroin addiction, Johnston knows firsthand what tribulations are and how personal difficulties can strengthen a Christian soul.

“One thing that God showed me is the question is not ‘why’ but ‘what.’ What does God want to teach me? He cares more about my character than he does my comfort,” he said.

The new Calvary Chapel Calabasas is affiliated with Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa, a Biblebased congregation founded by Chuck Smith in the 1960s.

The path to ministry

The son of a preacher, Johnston was called to the pulpit 25 years ago.

He began his ministry as an assistant pastor at Calvary Chapel of Antelope Valley and Calvary Chapel of San Jose, and was senior pastor of Calvary Chapel Santa Cruz from 2000 to 2010.

Under Johnston’s leadership, the church in Santa Cruz grew from a dozen people to several hundred. His father, Johnny, is an assistant pastor for the same congregation.

Trial by fire

Calvary Chapel Santa Cruz was thriving in 2009 and had just moved to a larger facility when Johnston became gravely ill after a minor surgery to remove gallstones.

After the surgeon punctured Johnston’s pancreas during the procedure, the preacher went into a coma for 17 days. He was in and out of the hospital for a variety of health problems for eight months.

“They didn’t know if I was going to live. I ended up having almost 60 surgeries,” said Johnston, adding that the ordeal was particularly difficult for his sons, who were teenagers at the time.

“My boys had already started to make some bad choices. . . . When I got sick and got shipped to the hospital in San Francisco and almost died, that’s when my oldest son really went sideways,” he said.

Johnston and his wife, Lynette, have four children, including a daughter, Ashley, 24, who is married to a youth pastor.

Their sons, Johnny, David and Mark, all turned to drugs, including heroin, while their father was ill.

The younger David Johnston was high on a variety of substances when he and a fellow user robbed the home of an acquaintance to get money for drugs.

In 2010, less than a month before high school graduation and with no previous criminal record, the teen, who had ties to the church and dreams of football stardom, was convicted of firstdegree residential burglary and sentenced to a year in county jail.

The arrest, which made front page news in Santa Cruz, occurred on the day David Johnston Sr. returned home after a series of hospitalizations.

It prompted Johnston to step down from his post as senior pastor in Santa Cruz and, later, move his family away.

“I know if I brought them back to the same environment and surrounded with the same friends, we would have the same problems,” Johnston said, adding that the challenges were a lesson in humility and empathy.

The family found refuge at Calvary Chapel GodSpeak in Newbury Park, where its pastor, Rob McCoy—an old friend of Johnston’s—gave them an opportunity to start anew.

“That church was an oasis for my family. When we came down, I had almost died, we were wiped out financially and (two of) my sons had been in jail. That church has welcomed us and loved us,” Johnston said.

Johnston’s sons are all on a path of recovery, he said.

David, 21, is in Bible College in Santa Barbara and is involved with the children’s ministry at Calvary Chapel Calabasas.

Mark, 19, recently returned from discipleship school in Maine and is also serving at the local church. Johnny, 22, who has served time in jail, is completing a rehabilitation program at U-Turn for Christ in Riverside County.

“Your test becomes your testimony,” Johnston said. “God allows us to go through suffering that he may comfort us in our suffering that we may then comfort others in the comfort we have received.”

A new start in Calabasas

Calvary Chapel Calabasas will be the fruit of the Newbury Park chapel, preaching the word and loving the people without compromise.

“Too many churches today are preaching a man-centered gospel, taking the word of God and watering it down to make man comfortable,” said Johnston, who has maintained a full-time job selling advertising for AT&T’s Yellow Pages through most of his ministering career.

The new congregation in Calabasas meets at 6 p.m. every Sunday at the Agoura Hills/ Calabasas Community Center on Malibu Hills Road in Calabasas.

Child care and children’s ministry are provided at Sunday meetings, and Johnston is working to establish a midweek Bible study program focusing on the Old Testament.

McCoy said Calabasas and the Conejo Valley are blessed to have one of the finest “expositors of Scripture in the country.”

“In a world where people are going through real life struggles, David is a man who can relate to them and minister to them,” McCoy said, “and we’re talking struggles of the highest caliber.

“He’s very simplistic in his teachings, but it’s also very profound. If I wasn’t a pastor of a church I would attend his church.”

For more information, visit www.cccalabasas.com.

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