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O.C. RELIGION | GETTING RELIGION / WILLIAM LOBDELL

Faithful Talk About Many Facets of God

March 18, 2000|WILLIAM LOBDELL | William Lobdell, editor of Times Community News, looks at faith as a regular contributor to The Times' Orange County religion page. His e-mail address is bill.lobdell@latimes.com

It's a Christian smorgasbord of speakers. An all-you-can-hear buffet crammed into five days.

There's the couple who talk about how their faith was tested when their son became mentally ill. That's Wednesday evening in Corona del Mar.

There's an astrophysicist who offers up the latest scientific evidence of God's existence. That's Tuesday night in Irvine.

And there's a former gang member who talks about rebuilding troubled kids' lives in Santa Ana. That's Thursday night in Laguna Beach.

The eclectic group is part of the 36th annual Orange Coast Christian Outreach Week, which begins Monday and features 50 speakers in homes along the coast, from Huntington Beach to San Clemente. The volunteer-run event is free, requires no reservations and is open to the public. Organizers expect the weekday talks--held throughout the day and evening--to draw more than 3,000 people.

"You'll see how faith works," said Mary Beth Molnar, a Laguna Niguel resident and the event's co-chair for the past three years. "We try to find speakers who challenge people to live their faith in a very real way."

Molnar got hooked on Christian Outreach Week six years ago when she heard a dying mother talk about how she had come to trust God to care for the 12-year-old daughter she was leaving behind.

"It was just so powerful to me," said Molnar, who had a child the same age. "I just thought, 'Wow, what is this? This outreach really means something.' "

The testimonies are intensely personal and often dramatic: The mom who lost her husband and child. The superstar sports agent who rededicated his life to God after a near-death experience. The Hollywood producers who are trying to reach the "unreached tribe of Hollywood."

Julie Makimaa, who works on anti-abortion issues for the Michigan-based Family Research Council, will give a talk on "My Father Was a Rapist."

At age 7, Makimaa was told she was adopted. At 20, she met her birth mother, who told her the news: You were given up for adoption because your father--a man from work--raped me.

"I was raised in a Christian home and was taught each of us has a special plan and purpose in life," Makimaa said. "I didn't realize how important that was until I found my birth mother and the circumstances of my conception."

Makimaa, 36, struggled with many conflicting emotions that came from suddenly knowing her birth was a result of a rape.

"Even I, as a pro-life person, had to determine in my mind whether abortion was right or wrong," Makimaa said. "I had to decide, yes, my life is valuable. I was unwanted and unplanned in the beginning, but I became a very loved and wanted child."

Makimaa said her story isn't just to make people think twice about abortion.

"I share my personal story as a way to reach out to say God is faithful and he's been that way in my life," Makimaa said. "He wants to bring something good out of the struggles we face in our lives."

The outreach week features national speakers such as Makimaa, but most are just ordinary people from Orange County who feel called to share their stories.

People like Laurie Zagon, a Messianic Jew and Dana Point artist who this summer plans to open a San Juan Capistrano arts school founded on Judeo-Christian values and serving, among others, underprivileged children.

"I'm not someone who goes out and talks about my faith that much," Zagon said. "But there's a lot of people out there who can transform their lives through God."

At 39, Zagon says she was successful but profoundly unhappy.

"I just lived in despair," Zagon, 50, said. "But no one knew it because I could really perform well."

She had a dramatic conversion experience after an Old Testament Bible study series at Coast Hills Church. While sitting in her kitchen one morning, she had a vision of Jesus, herself as an 8-year-old girl and a black panther who had haunted her dreams. Jesus gently took the panther outside and came back to hold the little girl's hand.

"The change in me [after accepting Christ] was so dramatic," Zagon said. "My self-centeredness had gotten in the way of everything I'd ever done."

In addition to starting an arts school for underprivileged kids, Zagon also teaches art to the terminally ill.

"I am joyous today," Zagon said. "My life is full. It's different for me today. I think about other people who have pain in their lives--it's not hopeless. God can transform their lives like they did mine. It's never too late."

A complete list of speakers for Christian Outreach Week is available online at www.coasthillschurch.org. Information: (949) 262-1882.

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