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Valley pastors remember Calvary Chapel founder Chuck Smith

PHOENIX -- The man who many consider as one of the most influential evangelists of the past century is dead.

Chuck Smith was the pastor of the Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa, Calif. He started and led the Calvary Chapel movement for over 50 years. Smith died of lung cancer last week at the age of 86.

Before his death, Smith explained the Calvary Chapel Movement in an interview with fellow Evangelist Greg Laurie.

"It's really built on the word of God," Smith said. "It's just God honoring his word as he said he would. He said he'd honor his word even above his name. The movement has been built upon the solid teaching of the word of God."

Valley Pastors are remembering Smith, who started his ministry by preaching to California hippies in the 1960s and '70s.

Pastor Mark Martin of Calvary Community Church in Phoenix said Smith embraced the hippies, even when others in his church didn't. Martin said one time when Smith's church installed new carpet, members put up a sign that said, "No bare feet allowed."

Martin said Smith reacted.

"Chuck went in and pulled down the sign, and church elders later found him starting to pull out the carpet," said Martin. "They asked him, 'What are you doing?' He replied 'Well, if this carpet is going to keep these kids from coming to church, we're just going to get rid of this carpet.' That just really modeled the kind of heart that he had for people."

One person who was impressed was John Brown, who is now the senior pastor at Calvary Chapel Central Phoenix. He said hearing Smith preach helped him understand the Bible, because of a simple approach.

"Calvary's mainstay is verse-by-verse exposition of God's word," Brown said. "We start in Genesis; we go verse-by verse, we go all the way to Revelation, then we double back again. We teach the word."

There are now more than 1,000 Calvary Chapel churches nationwide, including 50 in Arizona. Martin expects that number to grow, despite Smith's death.

"We have hundreds of people who are wanting to start Calvaries all across the country," said Martin. "I think there is a real excitement about what is going to happen in the future. I don't think the movement is going to die by any means. I think now there's going to be a vision to move forward and get the work done."

Smith was honored at Calvary Community on Sunday as churchgoers watched a video about his life and heard comments from Martin.

Smith did something to help the churches continue on after his death. He oversaw that the leadership of the church splitting into regions. Martin is one of the leaders in the Arizona region.

And while church leaders all across the country are mourning Smith's passing, Martin said they also know that Smith is where he wanted to be: In heaven.

In an interview, Laurie asked Smith how he wanted to be remembered after his death.

Smith replied, "Just as one who loves the word of God, and loves the people of God."

Laurie told Smith, "You are known for that now, so you're already there."

Smith's response to Laurie was simple.

"Praise the Lord," he said.

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About the Author


Years with the company: I started on January 2, 2006.

Education: I was born in San Antonio, Texas, but we moved to Phoenix when I was one-year-old in 1957. I grew up here and graduated from Alhambra High School and attended Phoenix College.

Family: I am married to my wife Rene', who is a librarian in the Washington school district. During free time, I may be found playing basketball in the driveway with my son, Devin. He's also keeping me busy with school, Little League, and playing in chess tournaments around the Valley.

Favorite food: Lots of favorite food, but our favorite restaurant is Fajitas.

Favorite spot in Arizona: The Little America Hotel in Flagstaff.

Favorite news memory: We have to go back to October 15, 1979. I was a country music air personality at KROP Radio in Brawley, California, when we had a 6.7 earthquake. Thankfully, there were no deaths and only minor injuries, but the entire community was pretty freaked out and listening to the station on their transistor radios. I would not want to go through an earthquake again, but it sure was a great night to work in radio and see how it can make a difference in people's lives.

First job: Working as a stringer for 'The Arizona Republic' at high school football games. My first real job was flipping burgers at the old Sandy's Hamburgers at 51st Avenue and Indian School Road. My first radio job was as announcer at KALJ radio in Yuma in 1977.

First concert: Doug Oldham gospel concert in the 1970s at the old East High School in Phoenix.

Favorite sports team: Phoenix Roadrunners minor league hockey. My dad took me to a game when I was in grade school, and I was hooked. I wanted to be a radio hockey play-by-play man. I used to take my cassette recorder and sit up in the rafters of the Coliseum and do play-by-play. It was great later in life to also take my son to Roadrunners games. Too bad the team just folded, I'll miss them. (Going to the Coyotes is fun, but they're not "my" team.)

Outside interests: My family and I are active in our church - Northern Hills Community Church in Phoenix. We enjoy going to movies, sporting events, and like to vacation at the Beach Cottages in the Pacific Beach area of San Diego. And I love to play catch, basketball, football with my son.

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