Three years ago Mark Harper was "strung out on heroin" in a Newport Boulevard motel.
One day he walked across the street, led, he said, by the Holy Spirit to The Crossing Church, where he received his first Bible. He has been in recovery ever since.
"I was into a lot of very bad stuff, and today God is at the center of all I do," Harper said. "Literally, it is God that saved me. God turned my life upside right."
Harper was one of about 400 people fed at The Crossing's Lifeline Christmas Dinner on Friday, one of 25 days the church devoted to giving back to the community in the days leading up to Christmas. Other community outreach nights included giving care packages and gifts to strippers, prostitutes and sober-living homes, blessing Costa Mesa City Hall, visiting hospitals and senior homes and giving coolies and milk to police.
"Tonight we're just blessing them," Randy Moraitis, executive pastor of ministries, said Friday, adding that the event was aimed at "honoring and loving people in recovery."
Carmen Zurbuchen has been involved with The Crossing's recovery ministry for two years and clean and sober for eight. On Friday, she wore an ear-to-ear smile and bright red sweater, beaming as she hugged others at the lifeline dinner.
"These are people that have once lived a life of complete destruction and now they want to give back," Zurbuchen said.
On Wednesday, as part of the 25 days of Christmas, congregants met with community members for a traditional posada, joining about 50 residents in recreating Mary and Joseph's journey to find a manger. Mendoza Drive stood in as the path to Bethlehem.
Hip-high children held a manger scene, as women with candles followed, singing in Spanish before finding a pre-destined apartment complex where their journey would end. The night was the one of the coldest in the week, with temperatures in the high .
Once they arrived, community members from both complexes recited the rosary and Lord's Prayer in Spanish before the nativity scene.
"Quiero que ella sigue en las tradiciones," said Aide Hernandez, holding her tightly bundled 1-year-old daughter, Ayline. "I want her to follow in the traditions."
Although many members of The Crossing didn't understand the words or traditions, they appreciated the chance to meet neighbors.
"It's a great idea to just get to know everybody in the community," said Crossing newcomer Bob Schumacher.
Afterward, churchgoers and residents shared cups of champurrado, steaming coffee and plates of food.
Grow Ministries Pastor Patrick Detken said the posada bridged different community groups.
"We are all a part of the same family, no matter what language, what background," Detken said.
The 25 Days of Christmas coincides with the upcoming 25th anniversary of The Crossing next year, said Lead Pastor Tim Celek.
"If we can do it for 25 days, let's let it go all year long," Celek said.
"You can't even put a number of people that were served," Celek said of the December effort. "You just can't. It's in the thousands. You just can't measure that. It's passing on a culture of generosity."