Reverend Chineta Goodjoin is a new kind of pastor — and she's shaking up Orange County by turning her ministry at New Hope Presbyterian Church into a social action network.
Reverend Goodjoin and her family experienced racism when she started the church back in 2007 in the city of Orange, where African Americans make up just 2 percent of the population.
"The police were often called on my husband. He would come to the church at night to get music together for choir practice," she said.
This only made Reverend Goodjoin more determined to make her church a success.
Before long, she'd built her congregation from just 25 to 100. Her multicultural team spread out into the community to speak out against injustice and lend a hand to those in need.
"Insuring the needs of the poor, the hurting, the widows and those who have been victimized — I don't see how this church can do anything but that," she said.
Reverend Goodjoin said her passion for helping was inspired by her own experience as a victim of rape when she was in college.
"We must use our brokenness as a springboard for purpose, for growth, for greater wisdom and for making a greater impact in the community," she said.
But it was the 2015 racially-motivated shooting of nine people at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina that pushed Reverend Goodjoin into high gear. The college friend she leaned on after her assault, Sharonda Coleman Singleton, was among the victims.
"I didn't know how to process that," Reverend Goodjoin said. "It was awful."
She turned her tears into triumph by inspiring her church to take action.
The church's Social Justice Committee is organizing a town-hall meeting on gun violence, inspired by Reverend Goodjoin's personal tragedies.
"To contextualize that suffering and experience into a message and a life of forgiveness and love, that's a choice we can all make, and that's a choice that she makes," said Chris Mears of the Social Justice Committee.
When her church is criticized for its political activism, Reverend Goodjoin said she feels the spirit of her dear friend Sharonda reminding her to follow her heart.
"No matter what happens in life, all shall be well," she said. "I believe she's with us, and she's guiding all these things that are happening."
The town hall meeting on gun violence will take place from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday at New Hope Presbyterian Church in Orange.