(The following is an excerpt take from a memoir written by Dominic Balli)
“There’s too many people in this stinking church!” The Carpinteria Fire Marshal was fed up.
Reality Carpinteria (affectionately known as Reality Carp) had been busting at the seems every week and in violation of our CUP. In early 2008, we were turning people away at the door in order to be compliant, and knew we needed a solution. Enter, Reality Ventura. The idea of a video campus still strange and risky, but with limited options, and a sense of God’s hand on it, after a year of weekly prayer meetings and construction, Reality Ventura launched on Sept. 6, 2009.
At the time Reality Ventura shared staff with Reality Carp. However, there was four brave souls who would made up the first ever Reality Ventura staff. Campus Pastor and Elder, Chad Amico; Worship Pastor and Elder, Dominic Balli; Kid’s Ministry Director, Jen Waltz, and Intern Sean Naus.
But the origins of Reality go back further.
It was before dawn in April of 2003 when Britt Merrick and his wife Kate woke up at the exact same time and looked wide eyed at each other. Almost in unison, they said “I think we’re supposed to start a church in Carpinteria.” They had both grown up in the small beach town, but had been ministering to college kids in Santa Barbara for the last five years through the Friday night college ministry at Calvary Chapel Santa Barbara. The college ministry was called Reality.
A few months later, on September 7, 2003, Britt and Kate, along with several others, started a church, and Reality Carpinteria held its first gathering in an empty warehouse on 6th street, a block off of Linden, Carpinteria’s small downtown strip. Businessmen and women, blue collared workers, families, surfers, skateboarders, and college kids, all packed into the room that first Sunday — over five hundred of them. It was immediately the largest church gathering that the small town of 15,000 had ever seen, and every person in attendance sensed that something something special had just begun.
For me, and my wife Emily, the origins of Reality are closely tied to our story. While Reality was launching in Carpinteria in September of 2003, two hundred miles away in the small town of Ramona in the eastern hills of San Diego County, we were sensing that God would soon be calling us to leave where we where. We were aware that new, vibrant churches were sprouting up with young passionate preachers and leaders all across Southern California. It seemed as if there was something new that God was doing, and we felt called to be a part of it in some way, but had no clue how.
At the time, Emily and I were both working at a church, and although the church was fairly large and established, we always felt like there was more for us. So we began to pray. Well, Emily began to pray. One evening in September of 2003, we arrived at home after attending a church gathering near San Diego state, and Emily, both frustrated and expectant, said, “I just need to pray.” She grabbed her Bible, went into the bedroom, and shut the door. I grabbed the remote, sat on the couch, and turned on the TV. An hour later, she emerged from the room almost glowing, smiling from ear to ear. I quickly turned off the TV and asked, “What happened in there?” “God just spoke to me”, she said. “About what?“, I asked. “He told me where we’re supposed to move.” “Tell me!”, I said. “NO!”, she said, “I want God to speak to you too.”
The next morning, as I was praying with my eyes closed, I saw the words Isaiah 42. I immediately sensed the peace and presence of God and knew He was speaking to me. When I turned to Isaiah 42, my eyes immediately fell to this word: Coastlands. And then again, a couple of verses later, Coastlands. As I continued to pray and read the chapter, it felt as if the words were jumping off the page as I sensed God speaking to me: “I’m starting a new work in the coastlands Dominic, and I want you and Emily to be a part of it.” My eyes welled with tears, as I sensed a new move of God in our lives. Freaking out and excited, I went and found Emily, “Em, God just spoke to me.” “How?”, she asked. “In the Bible.” Her interest was peaked, “What book? “Isaiah”, I said. Her eyes got huge with anticipation, “What CHAPTER in Isaiah?” I could sense that whatever came out of my mouth next was either going to make or break this moment. “42”, I said, reluctantly confident. “Coastlands…?”, she whispered. I could only get one word out, as I nodded my head in agreement, “Yes”. She opened her journal and showed it to me. The night before, she had written Sept, 7, 2003. Fear not. New, big things. Coastlands. Isaiah 42. We hugged, and laughed, and danced, and thanked God. He had finally spoken to us! And then it hit us: “Wait a minute… where the heck is the Coastlands?”
What we didn’t know at the time, was that 200 miles away, on that same exact same Sunday, Sept 7, 2003, a new work of God was beginning in this little tiny coastal town of Carpinteria, and that God had also spoken to them from Isaiah 42 about the new work He was going to do in the Coastlands.
The extent our vision, in the beginning, was “the youth of Carpinteria”. No one could have imagined that God would have something far more than that in mind. Two years after God made it clear that there was a call on Reality to plant other churches and to participate in what He was doing outside of the US, we sent our first missionaries to the nations, and slowly and strategically began planting churches in specific cities around the world; Los Angeles, Stockton, San Fransisco, Boston, London, Honolulu, and video campuses in Ventura and Santa Barbara that would eventually also become autonomous churches.
In the coming years, we would experience some of the highest of highs and lowest of lows.
Much has changed over the years, and there will be more to change, I’m sure. But through all of the valleys and mountain tops — through all the change, there has been one constant: The never-changing ONE. Jesus, the chief shepherd of the church has been faithful. He has been who He said He would be, and He has done what He said He would do, even as He spoke in Isaiah 42 that He would go forth like a mighty Warrior and would prevail against His enemies, and the Coastlands would declare His praise.