The venue is packed with music blasting, guitars shredding and lights shining. It’s not a sold-out concert but a church filled with Christians sold out to Christ. Center stage, a pastor not a pop star rocking hard for Jesus.
‘How ya doin’?’, asks Pastor Ron Vietti, Lead Senior pastor for Valley Bible Fellowship Church in east Bakersfield. The crowd replies, ‘Great!’
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Pastor Ron asking one more time, ‘You’re doing good?’
Outside, Valley Bible Fellowship may look like your typical mega-church. Step inside and you’ll find the atmosphere anything but typical as believers fill the 3,300 seat sanctuary.
On average, the church welcomes six to 7,000 attendees every Sunday. That’s just at their main location in east Bakersfield. The church also has other locations including Las Vegas, CSU Bakersfield and Ventura.
Established in 1975, part of the church’s mission statement reads, ‘Doing things differently.’ and that’s exactly what Valley Bible has been doing since day one.
‘We made our mind up years ago that we were not going to be your traditional church on every corner,’ said Pastor Ron.
Once a law student at CSUB, Ron Vietti decided on a different path after volunteering as a youth leader at his father-in-law’s former Pentecostal Church. Then one day, Pastor Ron encountered a vision.
‘I was praying one day and I saw this picture and it was like a dream and I felt there a voice speaking to me in this picture. It was like a dream, but I was awake and it said go start a church in Bakersfield,’ said Pastor Ron.
What began with his wife Debbie and 10 teenagers over 40 years ago has evolved into one of the fastest growing churches in the nation. Each sermon broadcast via live stream to an audience of 20,000 and a daily radio broadcast available in 440 cities.
Pastor Ron speaks about those moments just before he takes the state to preach the Word.
‘I go to the back and I put on my mic and get down and pray and make sure that I talk to God and go out. I need divine power to speak to these people because I don’t want to speak just to their ears, I want to speak to their heart and I can’t do that so usually I end it with God give me mercy, give me grace; give me mercy; give me grace and I go out,’ said Pastor Ron.
At the church’s sister-campus in Las Vegas is epicenter for one of the country’s largest porn conventions. Every year for the past decade, Pastor Ron leads a small ministry from a booth at the convention.
The booth is called The Naked Truth.
‘If you haven’t read this book, have you read it? This sold more copies than the bible at one time. Have you read it? You want a copy? It’s yours. We just try to engage people and start conversations with them. People coming through here that are tired of porn, tired of living this certain lifestyle and they reach out to us and we help them,’ said Pastor Ron.
This year, Pastor Ron and his team gave away books including Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life as well as Pastor Ron’s recent children’s book, Oreo Makes a Friend.
Back in Bakersfield, Pastor Ron has also reached out and helped members of his congregation including Ron and Shelly Fraze. Two years ago, Ron was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. One of the first phone calls the couple made was to Pastor Ron. They were reaching out for prayer.
‘I’ll never forget that prayer, he laid hands on Ron, we say if you weren’t there you wouldn’t have known this, and he prayed over Ron and I mean, just the sweat and the heat that came from both of us, it was — not from him — incredible. From him praying over him and he’s been there for us this whole step of the way and praying and we’ve been very fortunate, and he prayed if god wasn’t going to take this illness away to give us the right doctors and you know what? He did. He’s doing great and it’s all because of prayer and they pray for us on a daily basis but that prayer that day with Pastor Ron was unbelievable and until someone experiences a prayer like that you can’t even explain it,’ said Shelly Fraze.
Another call came in the form of a house call when Adrian and Valery Casillas learned their four-year-old daughter, Serenity, was losing her battle to childhood cancer in 2007.
‘There was a time when she came to her last days and she was on hospice and Pastor Ron, he made a house call and that was a real touching moment for me. Excuse me. There’s so many people here, and he always apologizes and that’s what I love about him because there’s so many here and he can’t get to know us all which he would love to but the church just keeps getting bigger and bigger and when he came to our house, I felt real honored and I know he has a heart, not only for us, but for for everybody that walks through these doors no matter what we struggle with.’
Pastor Ron going beyond that house call and performing the eulogy at Serenity’s funeral.
“In 32 years doing multitudes of funerals, I’ve never seen anybody who looks like this child. There’s a peace and a rest here that I’ve never seen. I’ll tell you, God’s doing something. This was a little angel. I’m not so sure she was real. I think she was angel sent from Heaven,” said Pastor Ron during his eulogy.
In 1997, it was Pastor Ron who received a call from his doctor with the news he was diagnosed with Leukemia, now completely healed with the help of daily medication.
‘I am probably more thankful for being diagnosed with Leukemia than I am almost anything in my life because being diagnosed with Leukemia brought me to a level with God that I would never would have been at in any other way. I thank God; I would never change it if I could. I needed to go deeper and that was what caused me to go deeper,’ said Pastor Ron.