Chapter 2 of La Mesa: Glory Days
A city on a hill…
There are seven of them. They pile their shoes just inside the front door, they scatter their toys behind and under and on top of the living room furniture, they sometimes have too much homework and they sometimes work late. They watch football when they can, wash dirty clothes when they have to and don’t see anything strange about the circumstances that took them 3,000 miles from one very average family life to another.
If you were to know anything about the Uhrich family of La Mesa, California, this is what they would like for you to know—that they are extraordinarily ordinary.
“We’re just regular people,” says Jen Uhrich, “who just kept praying and praying and telling God, ‘Show us what it is you want us to do, and whatever that is, we’ll do it.’”
The best you-must-be-crazy stories often begin with prayers like that.
Not every missionary is a pastor. The Uhrich family is proof of that.
It started before Bob and Jen Uhrich even realized it, in 2016, when they were living in Wake Forest, North Carolina. To this day, they still can’t keep from laughing when they tell the story of how they first met Jimmy Steele.
“Our kids were in the same class, and we were at a school event together,” Jen says. “We got to talking and right off—we started trying to witness to each other. We figured out pretty quickly we were both Christians, so we were like, ‘Oh, never mind.’” Bob chuckles and says, “I was a little disappointed.”
That was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Several months after their first witnessing-not-witnessing encounter, the Steeles and Uhriches crossed paths again when they both joined Open Door Church in Raleigh. Then just a few weeks later, the church placed them in the same small group.
“At that point, we didn’t know each other very well,” says Bob. “But we started praying together, doing ministry together and growing together. And when you do that, anything can happen.”
Jimmy Steele and his wife Julie knew God was calling them to move somewhere outside the Bible Belt and start a church.
Back then, Jimmy Steele was a man with a plan. In 2016, around the time he and his wife Julie met Bob and Jen Uhrich, Jimmy was finishing seminary, working at Open Door Church and trying to see into the future. He knew what he was supposed to do. He just didn’t know where he was supposed to do it.
“When I was in seminary, God had directed our hearts toward church planting,” he says. “And to do that, we knew we wanted to get out of the Bible Belt. And we knew we wanted to go somewhere with a lot of diverse people. So, I just started visiting different cities to try and get an idea of where God might want us to go.”
Just like Jimmy and Julie Steele, Bob and Jen Uhrich were also trying to figure out what would come next. It’d started with Jen’s “whatever God wants, we’ll do” prayer. Then they saw Jimmy and Julie researching, praying and getting ready to move away and start a church somewhere else. And then finally, at Open Door Church, they began learning a new, I-haven’t-thought-of-that-before definition of the word “missionary”.
“My mission-mindedness had always been ‘What can God do through me?’” says Bob. “But I started reading those missionary passages in the Bible in a whole new light. Lots of times when God says ‘you’, that’s a plural ‘you.’ And I thought, ‘Wow, missions is not just what we’re supposed to do individually, but it’s what all of us in the church are supposed to do together.”
It was that discovery that led Bob and Jen Uhrich to do something crazy.
San Diego, California, “America’s Greatest City,” is also one of the most unchurched cities in North America.<//span>
No one thought it would be San Diego. Certainly not Jimmy. “We don’t surf,” he says. “So, when we first visited we thought, ‘It’s not right for us.’”
Bob and Jen never thought it would be San Diego either. Before Jimmy’s scouting trip to California, they’d made the decision to pack up their lives in North Carolina and follow the Steeles and several other families to whatever city God called them to.
“Jimmy came back and he was like, ‘It’s San Diego. That’s where God’s calling us,’” Bob says. “And our initial reaction was, ‘Oh, great, the most expensive place in the country. How are we going to do this?”
That was only their first question. Bob and Jen had many more when Jimmy told them how he believed God might be calling them not to plant a new church in San Diego, but instead to replant with an existing church. “Replanting was a totally new concept for us. It wasn’t what we were geared up for,” Bob says. “But then we came out here and met the people. And that got us excited.”
It took several months, but Bob Uhrich eventually found work in San Diego as a school teacher.
There are seven of them. They left schools and jobs and friends and family. They sold their old house. Eventually. And they found new jobs. Finally.
“It’s not easy to get a job in San Diego that supports a family of seven,” Bob says. “At one point, our two oldest kids both said, ‘We can get part-time jobs after school to help.’ That really broke my heart in a good way.”
Nevertheless, for the Uhriches and the handful of other families who moved to California with the Steeles, replanting would give them plenty to be excited about—plenty more, even, than had they come to San Diego to plant a church from scratch.
“We heard the hearts of the people at Windsor Hills. They were already here, and they wanted to get the gospel out, but they just needed help. When we realized that, we truly knew that Christ had called us together and that He would make us into a family.”
The Uhrich family, along with the Steeles and a handful of other people, all moved to San Diego in 2017 and began building friendships with the people of Windsor Hills.
There are seven of them. Seven plus many more. The Uhriches, the Steeles, the rest of their church replant team and the people of Windsor Hills Community Church. They would become a family only God can make. Only God.
It would be too hard a job for anyone else.