Ken Nelson – Jesus Burgers

Ok, one more Jesus Burgers testimony that did not make the book…Ken Nelson is one of the more amazing people to have come through the IV Church over the years.  He lived at the JB House for 3 years, met his wife Celia there, and now lives in San Diego still doing great things for God!  I hope after reading this you will be encouraged as I was about the faithfulness of God to love people through His people.

Adventures with God

I grew up in San Diego and had a hunger for God from a young age. I began seeking God on my own and was able to go to church regularly in high school. After graduation, I moved to Ventura, California, to attend Brooks Institute. I got connected to Jesus Burgers and Isla Vista Church through my friend Jimmy, and I moved into the Jesus Burger house during my second year of college. I lived in the house for three years, eventually meeting my beautiful wife Celia and making lifelong friendships.

One night before we had moved into IV, Jimmy and I carpooled from Ventura to attend Jesus Burgers, as was our custom. After all the barbecue food was gone, I felt a strong urge to take my Bible down to the beach to read. It was past one o’clock in the morning, but we were planning to spend the night at the Jesus Burger house instead of driving home.

I didn’t have a Bible on me, so Jimmy offered one of his. It was an extra he had recently purchased and basically new. With Bible in hand, I walked down Del Playa and crossed the street to the beach access. At first it was too dark to read. About halfway down the steps a beam of light from a house on the bluffs made it just bright enough. I opened the crisp pages and began to read.

Within minutes, a girl wandered up the stairs from the beach. As she passed me, I gave her a polite greeting. Her name was Molly.

“What are you reading?” she asked.

“The Bible,” I said right away.

That got her attention! She stopped in her tracks, suddenly full of questions.

Why was I reading the Bible? What was it about God that drew me to pursue Him?

For nearly an hour we talked about what it meant to have a relationship with God. We talked about the reality that God is good—even in a cruel world. She shared some of her deepest wounds and how those hurts had distorted her view of God.

As our conversation was winding to a close, I encouraged Molly to continue her own pursuit of the Lord. I asked if she had a Bible of her own. She didn’t.

“Take it,” I said, handing her Jimmy’s new one.

I encouraged her to accept the gift, explaining that God cared for her and was inviting her to pursue Him. Nothing like that had ever happened to her. She was blown away. Molly insisted I fill out the dedication page of the Bible. We said our goodbyes and she went on her way.

After she disappeared over the top of the stairs, I ran back to the Jesus Burger house overflowing with gratitude to God. I went into the prayer shed and fell on my face in worship. It was wonderful knowing that God had brought Molly and me and that Bible together at just the right moment.

I remembered Jimmy and went to look for him. I recounted what had happened to him and our friend Neil. Jimmy explained that he had bought the Bible a couple days earlier because he felt that the Lord wanted him to give it away. He was excited that I was the one who had the privilege to gift it. Praise the Lord!

On another night at Jesus Burgers, the front was crowded and I went in search of some space to reflect on what God might be doing. I crossed the street and sat on a bench in the little park. Soon a guy named Mike came along and sat down next to me.

We spent a good deal of time talking. The only moment Jesus came into the conversation was when I asked him if he wanted a Jesus Burger—he declined. We talked about a lot of different things, including his broken arm. Explaining that his arm had been broken in a fight, Mike said, “You should see the other guy!”

After that night I didn’t expect to see Mike again, but about a month later, I ran into him. It started with a prayer walk, with two others guys and two girls, up and down Del Playa Drive. One of those guys was Nick, a friend of mine who was a Christian from Westmont College. Nick had never been to Isla Vista on a party night. The other three were good friends and IV veteran prayer warriors, Terry, Nelli, and Marilynn.

That evening we all felt receptive to the realm of the Spirit in a way we had never been before. We sensed the Holy Spirit was moving. After walking up and down DP once, we decided none of us could stop walking—we just had to keep praying. We came across one party where Marilynn and Terry felt led to pray over people. I cannot recall all that had happened, but I do remember clearly a moment when a drunk girl came wandering down the street.­­

Now, anyone who knows Marilynn knows she has a heart to minister to girls like the one we saw stagger past us. Nevertheless, I felt a check in my spirit, as though this woman was a distraction sent from the enemy. I waited to see what Marilynn would do. As she decided to let the girl go, we continued down the street on our mission to pray and intercede for Isla Vista; however, everyone in our group expressed the thought that we had all felt the Spirit warn us against trying to minister to the inebriated girl.

At some point our group did stop to pray and minister to one girl, and then another. As Terry and the girls spoke with these women, I separated myself and went across the street to watch and pray. My friend Nick was standing between the group and me. Not quite sure of what to do, Nick waited and continued to pray silently. At this moment, Mike came walking down the street, right past me.

“Ken!” he declared, and he ran around the corner of a house to urinate before returning to strike up another conversation. We started with the usual small talk, but then Mike blurted out, “Hey, look, they’re gonna fight!”

I looked across the street quizzically because at first all I saw were my friends peaceably sharing the Gospel with some young woman. But Mike pointed out to me something bad happening farther down the street. I saw a man grab a girl, throw his hand over her mouth and begin to drag her into some dark bushes. Without hesitation I took off after the man with Mike by my side and Nick trailing after us. I don’t think Terry or the girls saw me take off, and they didn’t find out that night where I had gone.

I shouted at the man as I approached him so he would realize he was being watched; he released the girl from his grip. I found out later that the girl had slapped the guy across the face before he grabbed her. It turned out that the two were a couple that had been fighting. Because she thought her guy had cheated on her, she made out with some stranger at a party to get back at her boyfriend. Now the five of us were standing in the dark trying to figure out what was going to happen next.

The girlfriend needed her purse from the boyfriend’s car, so he began leading all of us back toward his car. Suddenly, the guy bolted. As the girl took off after him, Nick, Mike and I looked at each other and, without speaking, took off after the girl.

We chased the couple back to his truck where the girl retrieved her purse. Then she began to freak out because she had never been to Isla Vista before and was not sure how she could get back home to Ventura. Her boyfriend, still a bit worked up, took off running again. Freaked out at the thought of being abandoned so far from home, the girl took off after her boyfriend. The whole scene was like some crazy teen movie. But we wanted to make sure she would be safe, so we kept running.

On one side of me, Nick was praying silently. On my other side, was the guy Mike. “When we catch the dude, you knock him to the ground, and I’ll just start kicking him in the head!” Needless to say, he was taking a different approach.

Eventually we lost the boyfriend. We were all standing in the middle of the street. The girl collapsed crying, completely at a loss. I was able to lead us all back to the truck where the girl in her panic had left her purse on the curb.

When the boyfriend reappeared, I had a brief conversation with him about what had happened between him and his girl. We offered her a ride home, but we were strangers and she refused. I gave her my number and let her head home with her boyfriend. She texted me later that night to say she had made it home safely.

When the three of us were left standing alone next to the empty parking space, we needed to decide what was next for us after this ridiculous adventure. Mike was still not interested in getting a Jesus Burger, so we all walked him back to the dorms where he was staying, clear across the other side of Isla Vista. Though he did not say a word all night, I was certainly glad for Nick’s silent prayer support throughout the entire time.

On our way across Isla Vista and onto the UCSB campus, I began to share the Gospel with Mike. We sat in his dorm as I shared who God is—it was one of those times when you learn about who God is by letting the Spirit share the mystery through you. Like a dry sponge, Mike was soaking up every word. He confessed that if someone like me had been there to minister to him in high school, he might now be in a completely different place in his life.

Mike heard God speak that night. After three o’clock came and went, I reluctantly ended the conversation. I still needed to drive Nick—silently praying in support of God’s ministry the entire time—back to Westmont. Although I have not seen Mike again since that night, the story does not end with that unusual evening.

About a month or two after this experience, my good friend Jimmy had gone out for a walk on the beach and was led into a conversation with this guy standing by the ocean. The two had never met before, but as they shared about their experiences with God, the stranger turned out to be the very Mike I had not seen since that dark night with the girl from Ventura.

Since then, Mike had started down a path of searching out the Living God. So it wasn’t long into the conversation that Jimmy and Mike came to realize that I was the mutual connection they shared. But one thing I know for sure, on that night long ago when the Jesus Burger ministry family had been praying for Isla Vista, Mike began to seek God. “Come unto Me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, says Jesus, and I shall give you rest! (Matthew 11:28).”


1 Comment


  1. John Williams says:

    Awesome testimony! If this story from Ken’s perspective doesn’t make the JB book then I can’t wait to read the testimonies that are included!

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