“Keep the party going”

Building my heart for homeless neighbors

Van Tarpley
  • Van Tarpley

First Baptist Church of Bostonia

Contact: 1025 N 2nd St, El Cajon 619-444-1374 www.firstbaptistchurchofbostonia.weebly.com

Membership: 150

Pastor: Van Tarpley 

Age: 46

Born: Baltimore, MD

Formation: Johns Hopkins, Baltimore; Indiana University, Claremont school of Theology, San Diego State University

Years Ordained: 3

San Diego Reader: Why did you become a minister?

Pastor Van Tarpley: I grew up in the mission fields of Nigeria and West Africa. I’ve also been in the former Soviet Union. I’ve always been around loving, committed Christian people in diverse settings throughout my entire life. I was on track to become a historian specializing in Russian history (and still teach one class a semester at San Diego State University). But I was also doing all kinds of lay ministry, college ministry and other kinds of ministry along the way. I love working on the day-to-day journey of faith and helping people understand and see God in the long journey. I basically felt called to do that as a vocation, and I love it.

SDR: What is the mission of your church?

PT: God loves you—you grow as you serve—church should be joyful.

SDR: What work of literature has influenced your life as a pastor?

PT: I do love Dostoevsky—I’m more of a Chekov guy than a Dostoevsky guy, but don’t get me wrong, Dostoevsky can write. But the work that does the most for me is The Twelve Chairs by Ilf and Petrov, a satirical Russian novel set in the early Soviet period. It’s a wonderful book for showing the power of hope and the danger of false hope. The main character is a con artist – but a funny con artist. He convinces this town on the Volga River that they’re going to be the new center of the chess universe and helps them raise money for a new chess tournament, which of course he steals. So the people of this town are seeking something to believe in, and hope is powerful but also dangerous.

SDR: Where’s the strangest place you found God?

PT: I was visiting Kate, now my wife, when we had just become engaged. We threw a big party for friends and because we were not experienced in entertaining, we made way too much food. There I was scraping leftover chicken and mashed potatoes into Tupperware, saying, “We’re going to be having leftovers for a couple days.” That’s when I had a strong sense of God saying, “Keep the party going.” This is not common for me – I don’t get a lot of clear messages from God. He speaks to me a lot, but it’s usually much more subtle. I thought and prayed about it, and realized we were supposed to take these leftovers to homeless neighbors and give it out. And so we made up plates, covered them with foil and we did. That was an early step for building my heart for homeless neighbors here in San Diego.

SDR: Where do you go when you die?

PT: I believe Christ comes to save and believers go to be with God, participating in the love and relationship at the heart of the Trinity. Heaven is being with God and with the community of other people who are there. I also believe that for those who don’t believe, there’s a possibility of separation from God, and we call that hell. I emphasize the call saving grace of God, but there is this other reality, well testified to in scripture, this separation from God, and we can’t discount or underplay that reality.

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