Commentary: Call me naive but I love Costa Mesa

Some might consider me odd when they hear me say I love Costa Mesa.

Some may even laugh when I express my conviction that the best days lie ahead for our city. You can call me naïve, and you might be correct. You can suggest that as a man of faith, my perspective is optimistically tainted, and I would likely agree.

However, I could also postulate that there is a strong likelihood that you will identify with my affection. Like me, you too love Costa Mesa and hope for a brighter tomorrow.

The date was March 1989. I was a seminary student on the cusp of graduation when a Costa Mesa church invited me to interview for a job. It seems crazy, but I can still remember the emotions I felt when I stepped out of the airplane and onto the blacktop tarmac and walked to the outdoor baggage claim area of John Wayne Airport.

Immediately, I knew that this is where I wanted to live. I won't deny the fact that hours earlier I had departed the freezing temperatures of Sioux Falls, S.D. And so the moment the plane door opened and I felt the warm, Southern California sunshine on my face while breathing in the lush Pacific Coast air, my heart was captured. It was on that day that my love affair with Costa Mesa began.

For 24 years I have lived, worked and played in Costa Mesa. For 24 years, I have raised my family here and built enduring friendships.

It was 1995 when my love for Costa Mesa really started to grow. Upon the completion of an extensive, interview process, I was invited by Costa Mesa Police Chief Dave Snowden to serve as a trustworthy resource for his officers and their families as a police chaplain.

Immediately, I threw myself into this volunteer appointment. Helicopter and squad car ride-alongs were commenced, an annual Fourth of July steak barbecue was initiated, and surf outings were enjoyed. Before I knew it, trust was earned, friendships with our cops and city personnel blossomed, and my love affair with Costa Mesa and its people grew deeper.

In 2001, I was invited to be the public address announcer, on Friday nights, for the varsity football and basketball teams from Costa Mesa High. In 2002, I joined the membership of the Costa Mesa Chamber of Commerce. Not surprisingly, within each new endeavor, opportunities to build friendships were presented. With each new enterprise, my institutional knowledge of our city and how she operated matured.

Then, in 2005, I set out on a journey to answer this question: How does a person love a city? For seven years, I tracked down and interviewed hundreds of civic and religious leaders across the United States.

With their permission, I shadowed many of them with the goal of gleaning valuable information that would help me love and positively affect Costa Mesa. At the conclusion of my project, I felt hopeful and empowered. My research identified 12 key strategies that one could practice to make a difference.

In the weeks to come, I hope you will join me as I unpack some of the lessons I've learned. They are not complicated. But I warn you, they are dangerous. If lived out, there is a strong possibility that you too will fall in love with Costa Mesa.

MIKE DECKER is the lead pastor of Palm Harvest Church on the Westside of Costa Mesa and a chaplain with the Costa Mesa Police Department.

Editor's note: In coming weeks, Pastor Mike Decker will share his findings in this space.

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