Spared by looters and arsonists, L.A.’s churches and ministries look for lasting solutions to the city’s woes.

Like millions across the country, Benny Newton gazed with alarm at the televised images of rioting in Los Angeles. But unlike many, he knew he had to do something to stop the violence. Newton returned to his South-Central Los Angeles home on April 29 just in time to see the live broadcast of truck driver Reginald Denny being beaten by an angry mob. He watched for only a few minutes before he grabbed his clerical collar, hopped back into his car, and raced to the nearby intersection of Florence and Normandie Avenues.

“When I arrived, the intersection was an orgy of anger and violence,” he recalls. “I exhorted the people to stop, but everyone was out of control.” The 59-year-old pastor of the Light of Love Outreach threw himself on top of a Hispanic man who had already been beaten into unconsciousness. Newton shielded the man with his body and prayed that God would sustain the unfortunate victim until medical attention arrived. When it didn’t, Newton drove Fidel Lopez to nearby Daniel Freeman Hospital.

While Newton risked his life on the streets of South-Central L.A., other Christians were ministering to the city’s political, business, and entertainment leaders who were gathered at the First African Methodist Episcopal Church near downtown. Speakers expressed outrage at the Rodney King verdict while counseling calm, even as rioting flared across the city.

The human explosion would ultimately kill nearly 60 people and cause property damage estimated as high as $800 million. Yet, in the midst of the chaos, the church stood as a beacon of love and hope. “The response of individuals in Los Angeles and across the nation was ...

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