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When 33-year-old Stevie L. Nix and her family moved to Idaho a year and a half ago from Los Angeles to become executive pastor at Church of the Changed Life, an Assemblies of God congregation in Kuna, they quickly learned that some locals resented the migration of Californians to the Gem State. In the first week, someone punctured his tires, probably because of his car’s Golden State license plates.

“There’s definitely a bit of bitterness on the Idahoan side for those who are specifically from California,” Nix laughs. “But the majority of movers are fed up with California’s restrictions and home prices.”

Idaho is seeing an influx of new residents, many from Washington, Oregon and California. Despite occasional friction, this has meant opportunities for AG churches to grow and welcome “outsiders” into the family-friendly culture of the state.

“A lot of Californians come in and fit into our scholarships,” says Joel H. Wendland, 52, GA superintendent. Southern Idaho Ministry Network. “Everyone wants to move here, it seems, and Idahoans are starting to appreciate a lot of what Californians have to offer.”

Wendland served as senior pastor at churches in his native South Dakota and Idaho for three decades – just over half that time in River of Life Christian Center in Payette, Idaho – before becoming superintendent in June 2021. He observes that most people moving to the state want to adopt a more family-centered and God-centered lifestyle.

“They remembered it growing up and that’s what they come back to,” he says. “That seems to be the pattern for churches all over Idaho.”

Stevie and his wife, Kristin – who is a worship pastor at Changed Life – fled their native California in part for the mental health of their two elementary school children. The children were stuck at home by government order in 2020 when the family moved from San Diego to the Los Angeles area, unable to have the chance to make friends or go to school in their new neighborhood.

“Our daughter was almost showing signs of childhood depression,” Stevie says. “We have seen other states not going through lockdowns and holding church services. We thought it would be amazing to have our kids around other kids.

The Nixes had never considered leaving California until the morning Stevie woke up and told Kristin, in a prophetically inspired moment, “Someone is going to call us today, and we’re moving. ” That’s exactly what happened: A friend of Kuna’s contacted Stevie and asked him to consider applying for a church staff position. The Nixes moved to Idaho in November 2020.

“I immediately felt like home, like a dream come true,” says Stevie.

The good vibes lingered even after Stevie’s tire punctures and the many vulgar gestures he received from other drivers, until the California plates came off. Today, the family owns a home and their children “are happier and healthier, mentally, physically and spiritually,” Stevie says. Kuna, which has a population of 24,000, has almost quintupled in size this century.

The Changed Life congregation has more than doubled in size, to about 350 people, in less than two years. Some new entrants are transplants from other states; some are new Christians. Some are locals who used to attend churches closer to Boise until gas prices skyrocketed and they switched to the nearest place of worship to save money.

Wendland says AG churches are doing well in assimilating outsiders, and the network is planting and rejuvenating congregations throughout Idaho. That includes in the main urban area — Boise and surrounding areas — which is attracting new residents from places like California’s Bay Area as tech companies like social media giant Facebook/Meta build campuses there. Also on the list are strongly Mormon communities in Idaho where, in some cases, there is no evangelical church.

“It’s not a barrier; it’s an opportunity,” says Wendland, who drove 40,000 miles in his Ford Escort visiting churches in his first year in office.

Meanwhile, the Nix family — and Changed Life Church — are thriving. Stevie oversees day-to-day operations and the integration of new families. Kristin leads worship and their children are deeply involved in church life.

“We expect God to work in the church,” Stevie says. “It’s a culture of excitement.”

MAIN PHOTO: These days, the Nix family (left to right) Kristin, Ryker, Stevie and Taytum are feeling more welcome in Idaho.

BOTTOM PHOTO: Tanda and Joel Wendland are at home in Idaho.

Barry F. Howard