Sonny Lara was slanging dope at twelve years old back in the “Hippie days,” as he put it one auspicious Thursday afternoon while he, his wife Linda Lara, and I spoke of misspent youths and the loving patience and promise—-faithfully bestowed—-by the Lord God himself.
“I liked fast money,” Sonny said, describing his youth in the ’60s and ‘70s. “I’d go to school just to get your lunch money. I didn't know any other way I wanted to have what everyone else had, and my parents couldn't do that for me. They put a roof over my head, but I wanted more. You know what I mean? Like everyone else, a nice ramfla (car), everything, I wanted what I wanted...But I was miserable inside.
Linda was on a similar path and met Sonny at a party in 1972; they married in 1974. There were arrests and drug overdoses, and their marriage and lives might have stayed on that broad path to Hades. Still, fortunately, God had another plan for the Lara’s, though unfortunately, it involved Sonny going to prison and Linda having to cope on the outside without her husband.
As God began working in their lives, Linda and Sonny, at 25 and 27 years old, each had independent encounters with God. Sonny experienced a jailhouse conversion, though Linda’s encounter was quite different. As she puts it, “It happened at a banquet.”
“Well, Sonny was in prison, and I was out here, and I thought I was going to go pay him back for everything he’d ever done to me. My sister invited me to a Christmas banquet. Well, when I got to that banquet, there was a preacher there, and after he was done preaching, he called me out and began to speak everything about my life. I felt this love; this overwhelming love come into me that I’d never felt before because I’d always been a fighter and always thought that I had to be tough, hard, and bad. But this love that came into me was so overwhelming I didn't know how to handle it… Sure enough, the holy spirit came in and began to speak to my heart. I had an encounter with God; I was on the floor for I don't know how long. When I woke up, the banquet was over, everyone was gone, the lights were off, and my sister-in-law was waiting for me on the pew. When I got up, I felt like a whole new and different person.”
As Linda was having her experience, this preacher told her God would use her marriage for something great. She thought, “What marriage? My husband’s in prison!” Then she thought, “How am I going to explain this to Sonny… How am I going to tell him that I had this encounter with God, and now God says he’s going to use our marriage as soon as he gets out of prison?”
Little did she know Sonny was having his own encounter with God, “not at the well, but in his cell.” And just as God instructed Noah to build the entire ark from stem to stern, Mr. Lara was given a vision of The Star Of David Church, from the logo to the mission; all he had to do was be obedient and build it. And the Lara’s have been at it since the prison gates closed behind them 39 years ago, preaching the word in San Jose and throughout the toughest barrios of California.
Star Of David Church brings the Church experience outside of the four walls and ceiling to the neighborhoods, even the homes of people who woke up that day not wanting or even thinking of attending church. They have even impacted the classroom with Lara’s nonprofit organization, Firehouse. It works with the kids doing the worst in school, enabling them to begin careers as rocket scientists or ocean cartographers. All in the name of God to simply help fellow humans. So with all the good they’ve done together to help people and honor God for all these decades, I’d say God has used the Lara’s marriage significantly.