The death of Chuck Smith recently stirs a lot of memories, since Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa was the first church I attended. It’s a wild story how I ended up there and got to experience some of that famed Jesus People Revival:
I’d gotten heavily into surfing in my early teen years. Hitchhiking was pretty common back in those days, so my friends and I would often thumb a ride to the beach since we weren’t driving yet. Taking the bus was a bummer, it didn’t seem to know that the shortest distance between two points was a straight line—stopping at every shopping mall with hordes of people getting on was no fun—plus there was little room for surfboards.
We were hitchhiking one day when a really spacey dude pulled over; he was dazed and spaced out, but we really needed a ride so we all jumped in. It went downhill fast from there since it became clear he was tripping on acid —those types of drugs were everywhere back then—and acting reckless.
|Bryan Marleaux as a young teen|
This guy was totally stoned and was going 80 and 90 mph on Beach Blvd. and then all of a sudden would just fly into a supermarket parking lot without slowing down, driving through it at breakneck speeds, almost hitting pedestrians who were jumping out of the way, and not even watching where he was going. Then he started yelling: “I put a job application in at that supermarket and they never called me back, those jerks!” We all couldn’t help laughing, “Gee, I wonder why that would be…”
After a few minutes in the car with him, my friends and I said: “Hey, we need to get out right here ‘cause actually, we need to go to the store.” The guy, however, kept rambling: “But you all have surfboards and wetsuits! I thought we were going to spend the day at the beach together.” We were looking at each other thinking, “Ok, we definitely got into the wrong car…”
He finally let us get out of the car after we begged him: one friend said he was sick, pretended to cry, and said he needed to go home. We jumped out when he pulled over and quickly ducked into an alley and got away from that scene, then walked to the closest bus stop and waited for the next bus to get to the beach.
But the dude somehow found us at the beach later—we must have told him where we were going to surf—and showed up and started making a public scene, yelling at the top of his lungs, “You said you were going home! I knew you were going surfing!” “Wow, what gave us away, was it the surfboards?” one of the guys yelled at him, and he started running towards us. We just ran a bit and jumped in the water to get away, watching in amusement as he ran off, stoned out of his brain and completely out of touch with reality, screaming, “What kind of bro’s are you! You didn’t even bring the sandwiches we made to the beach.”
After that experience, we were going, “We gotta find an easier way.” The bus was a bummer and hitchhiking, well, you just read what can happen. So we got whatever money we could scrounge up one summer and rented a tiny apartment in Huntington Beach and shared it. It was a couple of blocks from the shore and we were all stoked to be at the beach where we could just walk down the block to go surfing, rather than hitchhike or be crammed between shopping bags and tattooed home boys who wanted to brawl with the surfers on the bus.
We’d hang out at the dingy little apartment and surf all day. I found a job at a little market in the neighborhood, where I earned some money for occasional food (not a priority in those days) and some rent money. I had started working and fending for myself at a very young age, ever since my parents had gotten divorced some years earlier. After my parents split, everyone in my family just seemed to take off in different directions and did their own thing.
The little apartment turned into a surf rat pad pretty quick, with no furniture to speak of and just surfboards and wetsuits everywhere. There was never any food in the fridge, and if anyone dared to leave anything in it, it would be eaten the moment you turned your back. Guys would sometimes leave stuff just to see if someone would eat it. One guy once left some old rabbit meat as a joke to see if someone would actually eat it, and someone actually ate the thing.
More people somehow were trickling in and staying there than originally planned, and it was getting kind of cramped. They seemed to just kind of assume they were living there too now and it turned into a real hippie crash pad, with guys just showing up every night and crashing wherever they found some space on the floor. People were always coming and going and it was normal to just go surf or head somewhere with whoever happened to be around that day.
One day a guy popped in and said, “Hey, I’m heading to a real cool concert. You guys want to go?” So me and some other guys who were hanging out all jumped into his car.
He started driving way across town and was going pretty far, first through Newport and then up towards Costa Mesa. Someone in the car said, “Hey, where is your friend taking us?” “My friend?” I said, “I thought he was your friend!” “Then who is this guy?” “Oh man, I hope he’s not another acid tripper!” “Man, we’re in a car with another acid tripper!” The complaints started flying: “Hey dude, where on earth are we going?” He tried calming everyone down by telling us, “Everything’s cool, nothing to worry about, it is going to be an awesome concert and the best part is that it’s free.” “Yeah, how good can it be then?” one guy grumbled.
We started pulling into the parking lot of what looked like a church, which I would later come to find out was Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa. One guy in the car started complaining, “Ugh, this is a church. You said we were going to a concert, man.” Another guy added, “Oh man, he’s a Jesus Freak. That’s just as bad as an acid freak!” Someone else said: “Great! We get to listen to a bunch of church music, whoop-de-do, how exciting! They probably have a pipe organ, accordions and a harp, far out man!” The sarcastic complaints kept flying.
It did look like a church but lots of young people with long hair and sandals seemed to be going in anyway, including lots of young ladies, so the guy didn’t have to do too much coaxing to get everyone to come in after that.
I’d only been to church twice in my life before this, and neither had been a stimulating experience, to say the least. My parents dragged my brothers and I into some church down the street from our house for Christmas once or twice. They wanted to leave as soon as we got there, my dad figured we were missing sports on TV and this was just too boring. Once or twice in a lifetime was enough according to them; you’ve punched in your time card, now hopefully it’s enough for heaven, if it exists at all anyway.
My friends and I hesitantly walked into the place and were surprised to hear a rock band playing. Then some hippie dude got up and started talking. He didn’t start screaming and yelling, however, like some of the religious dudes that would come down to Huntington Pier in the middle of the hot summer dressed in three piece suits and ties with accordions and bullhorns. Instead, this hippie guy on stage started sharing some wild stories that quickly pulled us all in. Instead of holding up a lighter like at a typical rock concert some people were sticking their index fingers up in the air—maybe it’s some old acid trip thing hung over from the past, I thought.
So the hippie guy shared some cool stories and then invited people to come up and receive Jesus. The guy who had brought us asked me if I wanted to go up. I answered, to his surprise, “Well, I did that already on the radio.” It so happened that I received Christ as a white Orange County surf dude by somehow “mistakenly” tuning onto a black Pentecostal LA radio station. I got caught up in the stories of the black Pentecostal preacher who was really funny, and ended up saying the sinner’s prayer at the end of one of his messages (a longer story for another time--click here if you want to know more). But I kept it to myself and didn’t tell others about my conversion.
I was stoked to experience not only that revival but the next revival that would start in Calvary Chapel Yorba Linda, later to become The Vineyard, where Frisbee again would be a catalytic figure, central to what happened. It was a blessing at Calvary Costa Mesa to come into a place that accepted people as they were, even if they had long hair and bare feet. Praise God for those who have gone before us, who were willing to just preach the Gospel and buck man-made traditions, even if it meant suffering the slings and arrows of persecution from the establishment for doing so.
So I was a CIA Christian—a Christian who is Invisible and Anonymous. After receiving Christ on the radio I basically had “death insurance” now, so if I died I got to go to heaven, and I had also stopped partying and smoking pot, but that was about the end of it. I didn’t have a church since I didn’t know of any, and the two times we’d been to one growing up were pretty boring, so I wasn’t looking forward to one, but I did think the black Pentecostal preacher was cool, so maybe it actually could be different than what I had experienced those couple times growing up.
I didn’t have a Bible of my own; we just had a family one back at home that someone gave my parents when they got married. From the dust all over it, it looked like the last time it was opened was probably on the day of their wedding. Also, I was afraid to have my mom catch me reading it, since it was viewed as more of a decoration, and like most decorations, kids handling them was not encouraged—you might break it or rip a page. The one time when I tried checking it out in that old King James language, I came across the phrase “the whore of Babylon” and asked my mom if she knew what that meant, which got the reply: “Where the #&%@ are you learning words like that?” “The Bible,” I said. “Well, stop reading it then. You’re learning bad words.”
So here was a new experience: a church with surfed out looking hippie people all around, even preaching from the pulpit, and cool music to go with it. It actually could be different than I had experienced those two times growing up, and it was. So I started going now and then to the Saturday night concerts and evangelistic services when I could find a way to get there.
I also started going to Calvary Chapel Bible studies when transportation was available, official ones at the church in Costa Mesa as well as ones that took place in people’s homes. They gave me a Bible and some cool comic-book-style booklets with Bible verses, so I was stoked because the concerts were always fun and the Bible studies were a blessing as well. Those studies initiated the beginnings of building a biblical foundation in my life. I even got baptized later down in Corona Del Mar where the mass baptisms took place.
I also went to a couple of these meetings called “Afterglows” where that hippie dude (Lonnie Frisbee) was running the show, but couldn’t figure out why I would hear people speaking in what sounded to me like Swahili or something in the middle of the service. I thought maybe someone was visiting from Kenya and needed some interpretation, but for the life of me, I could never spot where the Kenyans were in the meeting. I had no idea they were speaking in tongues until later, when I was baptized in the Holy Spirit at Calvary Chapel Yorba Linda.
I actually didn’t even know who Chuck Smith was for a couple of years there at Calvary Chapel until someone took me to a Sunday Morning service, which had a completely different group of people than the Saturday night events and Bible studies: they were a bit older and many of them were dressed up in suits and stuff. It was almost like a different church and hardly seemed connected with the concerts and Bible studies.
When I later heard the real story of how Calvary Chapel actually started, it made perfect sense, since back then most of the young people I encountered were at the meetings run by the hippie dudes like Lonnie, while Chuck did the Sunday morning services which had a different crowd. Below are a few of the details of how it all began:
A Little History
Lonnie Frisbee, a hippie evangelist, had been hitchhiking in Orange County and happened to be picked up by a relative of Chuck’s and taken to meet him. When he met Lonnie, Chuck began to cry, for he knew Lonnie was an answer to his wife’s prayer to reach the hippies. Chuck says plainly that he had no interest in reaching them but it was his wife who had a burden for them. God answered her prayer and sent Lonnie, who soon moved into Chuck’s house and began going out to the beaches and parks to evangelize the hippies that were hanging out everywhere at that time. He began to bring them to the church, a rather small church Chuck had pastored for years that he hadn’t been able to grow past a certain point. Now, he had an evangelist to the hippies working with him, and it was Lonnie who began to bring them to the church and to Chuck’s house, even having them sleeping in his bathtub at times.
Chuck, to his great credit, opened the door and let them in, and didn’t demand that they change before coming to the church. They were accepted with their long hair and beads and bare feet. Since Chuck was willing to take up the cross of persecution from other churches for doing this, God blessed Calvary Chapel, which became the place known for accepting the hippies as they were. They were just interested in preaching the Gospel and reaching the lost and God blessed them in that. With Pastor Chuck as the stable pastor figure and Lonnie as the hippie evangelist, many thousands began to be reached. Lonnie also reached people who would become major leaders in the movement like Greg Laurie—evangelizing and discipling him, and even starting his church in Riverside—as well as Mike Macintosh and Tommy Coomes. Chuck became a respected Bible teacher and the church grew.
Links for further details:
- Bryan's Testimony Page
- Bryan's Testimony Video: God's Grace and Power
- The Jesus People Revival
- Mother's Day Outpouring Article