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I met Chuck Smith on a tractor at Murrieta Hot Springs.

It was 1996, and I had just moved to California from my home state of New Mexico. I had been offered a job at the hot springs to work landscaping and help to restore the property the year after it was purchased by Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa. The place was a mess. There were abandoned buildings, an old bar (later to become The Overflowing Cup coffee shop), hundreds of random rubble piles, and even a few ghosts roaming around.[1]

The forty-six-acre property was not even close to looking the way that it would in the years to follow. There was a lot of work to be done to transform it into the haven for ministry and Biblical education that it would become.

I relocated to California due to some difficulties I was experiencing in my hometown. My dad, in collaboration with his Calvary Chapel friend, arranged for me to work at the hot springs, doing landscaping in exchange for room and board. It didn’t seem like a good deal at the time, but it was the only option for me since I was in a bad situation getting worse.

That’s a story for another time. All I knew was that as an eighteen-year-old in ’96, I was glad to be in a new place, and I was looking forward to new opportunities. I had no idea that God would use the experience over the next three years to redirect me onto a path of ministry in Calvary Chapel, and to give me one of the greatest examples of servant leadership that I have seen: Chuck Smith.

The first thing I noticed when I saw Pastor Chuck was his smile. It was big, bright, and impossible to miss. You could see it from a mile away. He had that bald head with gray hair on the sides, and the smile went ear to ear.

It seemed a little out of place, especially for a construction worker. Yes, I thought Chuck Smith was one of the construction crew. The first day he pulled up on the tractor, I didn’t know him as “Pastor” Chuck. I assumed he was one of the workers. A very happy worker.

I was only a few weeks into my job. Me and a few others were digging trenches for the new irrigation system, and it was a hot day. Pastor Chuck was driving around the property with Karl Benz, the head of construction. They were assessing damage, stopping to pick up trash, and doing other small projects. When they pulled up to where we were working, they stopped, and Pastor Chuck got out.

“Uhm, ohh, you fellas need to get some water. Why don’t you take a break and get something to drink?”

Those were the first words I heard him say. There was something about this guy that impressed me. It wasn’t just the smile; it was a sense that this was a man of God. I got the feeling like he knew something I didn’t, and that he was special in some way.

I didn’t know who he was at the time. But later, the other guys were going on about how he was the big boss, and how I should’ve been more attentive when he was talking. But he didn’t act like any “big boss” that I’d ever seen. What kind of big boss smiles at the little people and cares for the common workers? What kind of big boss drives around picking up trash, and digging holes, and carrying rocks, and the hundreds of other tasks I saw him do?

The answer is that it’s a boss who follows Jesus. And Chuck Smith was a man who followed Jesus.

“Whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve”[2]

Pastor Chuck spent a lot of time at the property during the construction and renovations. I didn’t really get to know him personally, but I was able to observe him regularly. I saw the way he worked when no one was looking. I saw the care he put into trimming the rose bushes near the top of the springs. I saw the friendliness he showed to everyone there, including myself. I also saw him back a tractor into one of the cars in the parking lot, but I never told anyone about that.

He was a regular guy just like the rest of us. But there was something unique about him. Years later, after I recommitted my life to Christ, I realized what was so special about Chuck Smith. It was his close personal relationship with the Lord. He really knew and loved Jesus. Everything else that we admire about him came from his relationship with God.

As time went on, I went from working landscaping to attending Bible college. The campus had changed from being a mess to being a place of peace. CCBC moved down from Twin Peaks, and I started attending classes. I met my wife there. We have such wonderful memories. Murrieta Hot Springs had been transformed, and so had I.

Twelve years later I attended a pastors’ conference at Murrieta Hot Springs. I visited the rose garden above the springs, and I saw Pastor Chuck walking with a few of the other pastors. The Lord brought back all the memories of those early days. It was a special moment.

He looked over at me with that big smile and said hello. He didn’t know then the impact that he had on me as a young man—and the hundreds of others like me—but he does now. Those early years were very formative, and I will always be thankful for the example that I was given in Chuck Smith.


[1] That’s not a joke about the ghosts. To be more accurate, they were demons. You can talk to some of the old Calvary Chapel pastors who visited the property in those early days to pray and cast the demons out of several of the buildings on site. The hot springs were formerly a very dark place, and there were spiritual renovations taking place at the same time as the physical renovations.
[2] Matthew 20:26–28 (NKJV)

For the past twenty years Brian has been involved in church planting and mission work in East Africa, New Zealand, and the United States. Brian has a passion for planting churches and has hands-on experience seeing churches grow from the ground up. He recently planted a church in Bradenton, Florida—WestChurch—where he serves as lead pastor. Brian and his wife Lynne have three children.