FAIRFIELD — Neva Lema tried her best to not take up the longtime family tradition of being a pastor.
“I was frustrated,” she said. “When you are called to pastor, it’s not something you reach for.”
But the call ran deep. Lema said her family history in the ministry dates back at least 200 years.
So, she did things for God. Everything but lead a church.
“I wanted to be home with my kids. Eat dinner at 5,” she said. “We can get so religious that we can go out in the world and lose ourselves. It’s OK to have passion. But you have to have a purpose, too.”
In May 2011, Lema, who stands 4 feet tall, opened Restoration City Church on Taylor Street. That was preceded by years of evangelizing around the country and on the Internet. She also spent several years on the radio with her father, sharing the gospel.
The middle of seven children, Lema was born with osteogenesis impefecta and spent almost a year in the Shriner’s Hospital. She was 11. At the time, her parents were the pastors at a church in Oroville.
After a 15-day fast, her mother had a vision of her standing, Lema said. Within a few days, the hospital was ready to release her, though the original plan was for her to stay 3½ years.
It was April 1950 and the first place she wanted to go was her father’s sanctuary. It was there she said she heard God’s voice tell her to preach. At the time, she thought women ministers lacked a feminine side. But she also recognizes they paved the way for her.
Lema was in her 30s when her father called her to his deathbed and gave her his Bible. The call to preach was too strong to ignore after that, she said.
In March 2006, Lema suffered a life-changing injury at the same building her church now calls home. During her recovery, a neighbor approached and asked Lema to study the Bible with him. Soon, there were a dozen people gathering weekly at the Concord home she shares with her husband of 55 years, Clyde Lema. It was tagged “Bible in the Hood.”
It still continues today, in Concord, run by a church elder.
On Thursday, “Bible in the Hood” meets at the Fairfield church. This past Thursday, Lema and her son, Randy Lema, who has the same bone disease as his mother, led a very casual evening of prayer and asked the about 15 in attendance for the signs God was working in their lives.
“If you are going through hell, just keep walking until you get out,” Neva Lema told the group.
While many fear the number 13 (in the year 2013), Lema encourages her followers to embrace it. After all, she noted, Jesus and his 12 disciples add up the 13.
Worshippers travel from around the Bay Area to attend Restoration City Church. Valerie Bagnaschi comes from Pacheco for Sunday services, having met Lema more than 25 years ago when the petite pastor spoke at a church in Oakland.
“I’d probably be dead if not for her,” Bagnaschi said. “All the things I’ve been through, she’s given me hope. My life is better and it’s getting better and better.”
Restoration City Church’s motto is “receive, restore and release.”
Rick and Sandy Pruitt, who are pastors, travel about two hours every Sunday to attend the church. They met Lema about 30 years ago while they were serving as youth pastors at a Los Banos church.
They see Lema as a mentor.
“Every time we had a need, she was right there,” Rick Pruitt said.
“She is very relational, she’s real,” Sandy Pruitt said.
Lema is 74. She and the Pruitts feel it’s just a number.
“I have a new spirit,” Lema said. “We’re not old-school pastors.”
“She’s progressive,” Rick Pruitt said.
Reach Amy Maginnis-Honey at 427-6957 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/amaginnisdr.