Petitions tried to stop them. Social media messages and emails flooded in. Some churches condemned them while others partnered and praised them. Eventually, the authorities got involved and threatened to arrest the organizers, Jessi and Parker Green. But the worship and baptism nights known as Saturate OC continued.
Jessi sits in her car with her blonde hair casually pulled back as she explains how she and her husband were inspired to start Saturate OC. She wears an orange-red pullover hoodie and a cross necklace settles on the side of the drawstring. It’s a Tuesday, one of her work days, and she just finished a meeting.
The vision for Saturate OC originated in 2016 when Jessi said God told her people would be baptized in the ocean at Huntington Beach in 2020. So, the first four Fridays in July 2020, the Greens held worship and baptisms at the Huntington Beach lifeguard tower 20.
In the original Saturate OC mission statement, the Greens wrote that they believed thousands of people would be saved as Christians during the summer or 2020 and that they would need a collective group of like-minded Christians to help them accomplish this mission.
When Jessi first received the vision for Saturate OC, she and Parker were vacationing in California. They were visiting from New York, but said they felt called by God to leave New York and do ministry in California. So, they moved that year.
In April of 2019, Jessi said God gave her the greenlight to move forward with planning Saturate OC. After searching for a place to host the event, Jessi settled on a three-day conference in the summer at a Hyatt hotel where they would teach Christians how to preach the gospel before later sending them to the streets of Huntington Beach to put those lessons into practice. But in March of 2020, when California began enforcing stay-at-home orders, the hotel could no longer accommodate the event.
Jessi and Parker decided to wait out the first few weeks of the lockdowns in their trailer RV with their two children, Parker’s parents and two women who Jessi mentors. They hoped after the initial two weeks to slow the spread, things would return to normal. As the restrictions continued, Jessi said she was ready to postpone the Saturate OC event until 2021.
“At this point too, I was in the third trimester with my third baby,” Jessi said. “So I actually was kind of excited, to be honest, at the idea of postponing [Saturate OC].”
Not long after she settled on her decision, Jessi said God reminded her of the vision behind Saturate OC. She was reading the story of Jesus appearing to his disciples after the resurrection in John 21 when Jessi said God told her: I did not lie when I said the harvest begins summer 2020, and I am not surprised by the coronavirus.
So Jessi and Parker continued planning Saturate OC. They decided instead of a three-day conference, they would have the gatherings directly on the beach for at least four Fridays in July.
Victoria Castillo, one of the women mentored by Jessi and a fellow organizer of Saturate OC, said she lived with the Green family during their decision-making process about whether to host the event during the pandemic.
“I learned a lot seeing them wrestle with the decision,” Castillo said. “They sought counsel from people who had done similar things before them and they took things day by day.”
The first three Saturate OC events came and went without any incidents with the Huntington Beach Police Department or public health officials. Prior to the first Saturate OC, however, beaches in Southern California closed ahead of the Fourth of July to discourage people from gathering. Huntington Beach was one of the few beaches in the area to stay open on Friday, July 3, which was also the first Saturate OC event.
That day, California’s Public Health Department reported positivity rates and COVID-19 hospitalizations were on the rise. The increase in testing availability combined with the actual spread of the virus resulted in a higher 14-day case average, leading the state to recommend people avoid gatherings with members outside their immediate household.
By the time the fourth and final Huntington Beach Saturate OC event took place, California fatalities from COVID-19 had risen from 6,263 on July 3 to 8,186 on July 24.
In the hours before Saturate OC began on July 24, Jessi and Parker received a knock on their front door. The police delivered a citation for illegal assembly and warned they could face arrest if they continued with the gathering that night. Jessi said the city faced pressure from the governor’s office for not shutting down the event in the previous weeks. The Greens asked if there was anywhere they were allowed to preach the gospel since pandemic restrictions and permit issues prevented them from gathering indoors and outdoors. The officers had no answer.
After the officers left, Jessi changed into more comfortable clothing, preparing for the possibility that she and her husband could spend the night in jail. They knew what they would have to sacrifice if the authorities followed through. There was no guarantee when they would see their three children. Jessi would not be able to nurse their newborn baby girl behind bars. So, they bought baby formula and arranged for Parker’s parents to watch the little ones. Tears ran down Jessi’s face as she said goodbye and walked out the door.
“(After the citation) they drew a line in the sand,” Castillo said. “It made them more resolved to be obedient (to God) and deal with the consequences.”
Police had placed road signs on the local streets that read “Saturate OC is Canceled” in hopes of deterring attendees. Their efforts failed. According to Jessi, more than a thousand people attended Saturate OC that night. Several police cars patrolled the event from a distance as participants worshipped. Eventually, the police drove their trucks closer onto the sand. Intensity hung in the air as the worship grew louder.
“Disperse!” an officer called out on a megaphone. “This is an illegal gathering.”
For a moment, the worshippers grew silent. Then, slicing the quiet, a woman in the group yelled: “Sing louder!”
So they did.
They baptized hundreds. They approached the police officers and prayed for them. No one was arrested.
Jessi still had the citation in her pocket as she read a passage from Luke 12 to the crowd: “I tell you, whoever publicly acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man of man will also acknowledge before the angels of God…”
Looking back, Jessi said she doesn’t expect people who aren’t Christian to understand the significance of evangelism.
“I’m probably going to take more of my wisdom and direction from someone who I think is submitted to God, rather than someone who is living in the world and doesn’t understand even why even sharing the Gospel is important, or why someone being saved is the highest priority,” she said.
It’s evening on Saturday, December 12, 2020 in the city of San Juan Capistrano, California. The temperature is in the low 40s, although it dipped to the 30s earlier in the week. This is the weather where, in California, people start bundling up in beanies, puffy scarves and jackets. But not Jessi. She is onstage, dipping her hair in a bucket of cold water, modeling to the crowd of a couple hundred people what it looked like for the woman who wept at Jesus’ feet in the gospel of Luke to break the alabaster jar of perfume with her hair down and exposed.
Prior to that evening’s event — known as the four-night Saturate OC Tent Revival — Jessi asked God what it would look like to sacrifice a year’s wages, just as the woman with the alabaster jar had done when she poured the expensive fragrance on Jesus.
The answer was not one Jessi wanted.
As the crowd of people huddle near heaters beneath a tent lit by strings of light, Jessi gives the black coat she is wearing to the mother in the back of the crowd. But that is not a year’s wages. She calls Parker to the stage with her purse and writes $100 checks to all the single mothers who can’t afford Christmas gifts for their children. But that is still not a year’s wages.
She tells the crowd that for a long time she and Parker could only afford one car. When they moved to California in 2016, they both gave up their full time jobs and benefits at the church they worked for and became full time missionaries supported by donors, with a small income from Parker’s personal training business and Jessi’s social media company. They had one infant son with another on the way. The two boys would be just over a year apart.
Recently, however, they had enough money to afford a second vehicle. Jessi explains from the stage that during the summer, she got her dream car: a used white Jeep Wrangler with a tan leather interior. As she talks about the price of following Jesus, she directs her attention to one of the Saturate OC team members who has been sitting on the stage, pretending to be Jesus during her telling of the woman with the alabaster jar story.
“So tonight the Lord asked me if I would give away my Jeep,” Jessi manages to say through tears. “And he told me to give it to you, Joel.”
This is her alabaster sacrifice.
Joel, still onstage, buries his face in his hands as Jessi stands next to him with her hand on his shoulder. For a few moments, the stage is quiet. Only a scattered clap or “woah” from the crowd breaks the silence.
When Jessi addresses the group again she says, “Can I tell you, Jesus is so good. I would give away a hundred Jeeps if I had them.”
The Saturate OC Tent Revival took place in December of 2020, when states across the country were being hard-hit by the coronavirus. Bloomberg reported just a few weeks after the tent revival nights that California surpassed 25,000 deaths due to the coronavirus and Southern California in particular was reaching surge capacity in intensive care units. This did not stop the Greens from pursuing their tent revival nights.
The land had been offered to them by the Harris family who lived in the surrounding neighborhood. Their property extended beyond the backyard and into a small plot of land sloped below the neighborhood and nudged up against business buildings.
Hannah Cheo, one of the Harris’ daughters, acknowledged the pushback her family received for hosting the event.
“It wasn’t until after the event was over that we heard the neighbors had been talking about the event in a group chat, but no one ever confronted us directly to stop,” Cheo said.
One neighbor, however, made a request that the noise not be so loud for his wife who was suffering from health problems unrelated to the coronavirus. They agreed to end the tent revival nights at 10 p.m. and scaled back the size of future events to keep quiet.
When asked why she believes it was essential that they gathered for the Saturate OC Tent Revival, Cheo said the world had been shaken by fear during the pandemic, but it is Christians’ responsibility to bring hope.
She referenced the spike in depression and suicide over the last year adding, “The church needs to move forward and be the solution. It (tent revival nights) gives somewhere where people who are suicidal can go, find Jesus and get hope.”
“The universal way is love,” Cheo said. “On a personal level, that can look like gathering or it can look like wearing a mask if someone asks you to. The way of love is usually in the middle of two extremes.”
After the tent revival nights ended, the Greens took a break from hosting events. In the months since December, they have been invited to several speaking engagements and conferences across the country.
“We’re actually saying no to a lot of things,” Jessi reflected. “So that’s a new lesson we’re trying to learn in this season.”
She also said that she and Parker try to be militant about their schedules. In fact, every day of the week has its purpose. Mondays are when Jessi and Parker read the Bible and pray together while the boys are at preschool and the baby naps. Tuesdays and Thursdays are work days. On Wednesdays, Jessi spends the day with the kids and avoids her phone. Fridays they meet and plan with other ministry team members. Saturdays are sabbath family days. On Sundays, they check in with one of the local home churches they started.
“People want to see revival,” Jessi said. “But they don’t prioritize being in God’s presence.”
Saturate OC most recently gathered on Easter Sunday at the Huntington Beach Pier to tell people about the Gospel. Twenty-five people were baptized in the ocean.
By: Jen Pfeiler