Spanning the strait that connects the Pacific Ocean and the San Francisco Bay, the Golden Gate Bridge joins the city of San Francisco and Marin County. Green hills, hiking trails, and mountains lie in natural juxtaposition to the bustling city life of the San Francisco Bay Area. Centrally located in the heart of the Bay is Hayward, a city of more than 150,000 people.
Rhema graduates, Mark and Brenda Thomas, have been pastoring Heart of the Bay Christian Center in
Hayward (HBCC) since 1982. Reaching the lost, healing the hurting, and maturing the believer is at the center of everything they do.
Mark and Brenda met at Rhema Bible Training College, and married shortly after graduating in 1977. After a brief stay in Oklahoma, the couple relocated to Minnesota where they helped Rev. Jim Kaseman pioneer several churches. Mark felt this season coming to an end after pastoring in Willmar, Minnesota, for two years.
During this time, Mark was invited to minister in San Francisco. He spoke at several home Bible studies and at a small church in Hayward. Mark returned to Minnesota feeling called to the Bay Area.
Acting on a simple inward witness, Mark and Brenda began making preparations to move to California. First, they merged their congregation of 125 members with another small church. With most of their possessions in storage, they packed what was left in their Chevy Citation. Intending to start a church in San Francisco, they stepped out in faith and moved to the City by the Bay.
At first, the Thomases held Bible studies in the Bay Area. They also taught at various churches ministering the message of faith to hungry hearts. While driving home after speaking at a church in Oakland, Mark said to Brenda, “Let’s visit that church I preached at when I first came here.”
Little did Mark know when he first ministered there that the congregation was looking for a pastor. After he returned to Minnesota, the small body of believers thought he would be a great pastor for them. But they really felt their new pastor would be someone local. When they learned that Mark and Brenda had moved to California, they asked them to be their pastors. Their first official service was July 4, 1982.
“We thought we were going to pioneer a church in San Francisco,” says Brenda, “but God gave us an amazing group of people. I’ll never forget our first Sunday. We had 125 people—the same number of people we had in Minnesota.”
Whatever path God has laid out before you, there are usually faith battles to fight. Through the years, the Thomases have learned that when they are in deep waters, faith in God will keep them from drowning.
Because real estate is so expensive in California, many churches there don’t own their property. Mark and Brenda leased property from a school district for a number of years.
In 2002, they learned about an old movie theater that was coming on the market. The location couldn’t be better—it was on one of the busiest thoroughfares in the East Bay. The process of purchasing the land, however, was not an easy move.
After Heart of the Bay Christian Center received a conditional use permit, the mayor of Hayward appealed the decision. The City of Hayward had a compelling interest to retain the property for commercial use. This would allow them to collect tax revenue.
Mark knew the Lord was leading them to purchase the land. He sought God’s wisdom as he and Brenda prepared to go before the city council. The day of the hearing, HBCC church members filled the room. One by one they shared how the church had helped them. From children to teens to senior citizens, it was clearly evident that Heart of the Bay Christian Center had impacted many lives.
Before voting started, the mayor spoke up. “I motion that we give this church their permit,” she said. The vote was unanimous in favor of HBCC. What looked like an impossible situation was suddenly turned around!
Sharing Christ’s Love
Heart of the Bay Christian Center continues to touch people in the Bay Area. In addition to Sunday and Wednesday services, they hold a weekly healing clinic and distribute food to those who are in need. And they take the Gospel message outside the four walls of their church.
During the summer of 2015, over 50 church members went to one of the roughest neighborhoods in the San Francisco Bay Area. They joined other believers to participate in San Francisco City Impact, an outreach in the Tenderloin District—an area known for high crime, gang violence, drugs, and where homelessness abounds. Motivated by God’s love, members from HBCC helped distribute food, give haircuts, manicures and pedicures, as well as provide medical attention. There were also games for the children and pet grooming for those who had dogs.
Before the start of school, HBCC holds Operation Outreach—a community event that provides school supplies for families in need. Church members donate backpacks and school supplies. This past August, over 200 backpacks filled with school supplies were given to children in kindergarten through sixth grade. In addition, 110 bags of groceries were given out. There was also a booth where the Gospel of Christ was shared. That day, 135 adults and children received Jesus as Lord!
Christmas for Others is another outreach of HBCC. For the past 15 years, church members have purchased gifts for residents of Women on the Way, a live-in drug and alcohol recovery center. The women don’t work while they’re in the program, so they don’t have finances to buy Christmas gifts for their children. Because of the goodness of God shown to them, many of the women visit Heart of the Bay.
Mark and Brenda and HBCC are reaching the Bay Area with God’s love. They are the hands and feet of Jesus in their city and community. They are “[Going] out into the highways and along the hedges, and [compelling] them to come in, so that my house may be filled [with guests] (Luke 14:23 AMP).
Through the years, Mark and Brenda have encouraged their congregation to attend Rhema Bible Training College. Many have heeded the Thomases’ advice and upon returning have started churches throughout California.
Many of the families that started with the Thomases in 1982 are still with them.
To learn more about Mark and Brenda Thomas visit heartofthebay.org.