By Desmond White
It’s Saturday night, you’re starving on Del Playa, and a quesorrito at Freebirds just doesn’t seem worth the ten bucks. What do you do? Or maybe a better question is, “What Would Jesus Do?” The answer isn’t as blasphemous as it sounds. He’d probably head over to 6686 Del Playa, a location better known in Isla Vista as the Jesus Burgers house.
Jesus Burgers is a Christian ministry that operates in Isla Vista, and which hosts barbecues in the front yard of 6686 on Saturday nights, starting around 10 PM. Here it’s BYOC, or Bring Your Own Cheese, with burgers provided for free by the church’s members. Anybody is welcome to swing by, grab a Jesus burger, and hang out. Sometimes guitars and hand drums are pulled out for an impromptu late-night jam. And if you want more substance, the ministry also provides a prayer and guidance in the ‘prayer shed,’ a Christian version of Sydney Fife’s Man Cave, which is located in the backyard.
I myself cruised by Jesus Burgers last Saturday night. While waiting in line for the grill, I stood between a gaggle of sorority chicks and a bunch of intoxicated Norwegian students who kept busting out into Britney Spears. Nearby, people were roasting their hands by the fire pit, and inside the house some peeps were playing cards. The line was long and slow, but the food looked good and the company was so remarkably chill that pretty soon I found myself relaxing and enjoying my surroundings. And when I finally received my burger, the smiles on the cooks’ faces really solidified the tranquil aura of the place for me.
I guess I should not have been surprised. Jesus Burgers has developed a great reputation for being honest about its ministry. “People step onto the property knowing that when friends get out of line,” says Jason Lomelino, the current pastor of Isla Vista Church, “that people shout ‘hey, this is Jesus Burgers!'”
It was not always this easy. The ministry began as a college bible study that met in Santa Barbara when everyone else was out partying. The Isla Vista party scene was much rowdier back then, with more couch burnings and fights. Their early outreach attempts consisted of prayer walks and street evangelizing, which some nights could be dangerous. Ultimately, they decided they needed a home base in Isla Vista, or as Lomelino puts it, “a light in the darkness.”
In 2002, Jesus Burgers’ first church services were held in the front yard of 6686, with plenty of bands and burgers to draw people in. “Our first year was really hard,” says Derika Brendsel, a Jesus Burgers veteran who runs a blog at www.derikabrendsel.blogspot.com, “People were skeptical. A few thought our burgers must be laced with poison. They were combative. But then they saw that people lived at 6686, skating, surfing, going to class. They started realizing we were just like anybody else.” Brendsel recalls one Halloween when a couple dressed up as hamburger saints and came as â€œJesus Burgers.”
“As the ministry’s reputation grew, so did its support. Since its founding, Shalhoob Meat Company, a local family owned business, has supplied its patties and only recently handed that role over to the Salvation Army because of the current economic recession. Jesus Burgers is very popular with the local Isla Vista community, evidenced by the regularity with which people show up. “If there’s any problem,” claims Kim Ramos, a third-year Aquatic Biology major, “it’s that I wish their line wasn’t so long so I could eat faster.”
“Jesus Burgers is great. They encourage people to get to know each other,” says Alyssa Williams, a third-year Theater major, “and they really try to get people to see the love of Christ in a good way.”
Personally, I agree. Jesus Burgers represents a Christianity I can relate with. Their gospel is not fire insurance, but peace, love, and hospitality. And every bite of their juicy Jesus burgers is a holy hand grenade of flavor and taste. This place is not just a burger joint or a ministry, but a gift, and we are lucky to have it.