Lara Griffin began working on First Free’s Communications team this past December. She runs our Facebook and Instagram accounts, and she’ll also soon be handling the weekly email newsletters. Lara and her husband, Jonathan, met in 2005 when they both lived in New York City. They’ve lived in Rockford, Jonathan’s hometown, since 2015. They have three kids: Allegra, 9; Salome, 7; and Olivia, 5. What follows is from an interview Jan. 15.
On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, Lara Griffin walked to class from her dorm room in Manhattan’s garment district.
Born and raised in Los Angeles, she was only several weeks into her term at the Fashion Institute of Technology. The teacher arrived at the 9 a.m. class with unusual news.
“There’s some weird stuff on the radio. Something about a plane crashing into a building.”
Lara assumed it was a small plane somewhere. Then a student came in.
“Everybody needs to go to the auditorium.”
There, live news coverage was being projected onto big screens. Within minutes, the students watched the World Trade Center’s South Tower collapse. Thousands of people were dying — three miles from where they stood.
School officials brought out a bank of landline telephones for students to call home. Most people did have cellphones by then, but the networks were overwhelmed. Lara went to her dorm room and sent a quick email home.
By 2001, Lara already had earned a criminology degree in California and had been working in the insurance industry. But she wanted to pursue a creative field. So she applied to and was accepted by two New York schools: the Fashion Institute of Technology and the French Culinary Institute. She chose FIT because its dorms were part of the school, and she wanted to live in Manhattan.
“I thought, I can serve God by following my creative side with fashion,” she says.
She made fast friendships with a couple of Christian students at FIT. The events of Sept. 11, along with her early exposure to the New York fashion world, made her re-examine her goals.
“It made me think about our time on earth, and what we can do with it,” she says. “Fashion in New York City is so cutthroat. I had already interned at some places, and I felt like things like body image would be very hard to combat on a daily basis.”
She attended a dinner put on by Campus Crusade for Christ, where leaders asked if any attendees would consider being a part of helping people to know more about knowing Jesus.
“I felt very compelled by that,” Lara says. “And then I thought, if I went on staff I would learn a lot. And I could grow in my relationship with the Lord. And help people know more about Jesus.”
She finished the one-year fashion merchandising program at FIT, but year’s end she had decided to join the staff of Campus Crusade. She would stay 15 years, first in New York and then back in Los Angeles.
Here’s more from our conversation with Lara.
What is your family background?
I was born in Los Angeles. I am the oldest of three girls. My parents immigrated from the Philippines about six or seven years before I was born. It was a time in U.S. history when they were wanting a bunch of nurses. So that’s why you have a lot of Filipino nurses in the hospitals now.
What was your faith experience as a kid?
We went to this multi-ethnic Protestant church in LA: A Korean pastor, lots of Filipinos, Indians. On Sundays, you were there from the morning until the end of lunch. And you were in community that whole time. So I had all these “aunts and uncles” at that church.
When we moved to the suburbs we found a different church because the other one was just too far away. We didn’t have those kinds of relationships anymore. We just went to church every Sunday. And I was just sitting there bored most of the time.
But at both of those churches, it was very much like God is up there and I am down here.
What changed for you?
Right before I turned 25, my friend invited me to her church (this was before I left for New York). I saw people my age who loved God in a different way. The whole idea of a relationship was very new and different.
Also about that time, I met a girl and was telling her I was interested in fashion design. She pulled out her Bible and I thought, Oh. I didn’t know we were going to be talking about God. She showed me some verses in Romans, and I was like, yeah, I want to give my life to Christ. So she prayed with me, and then she said I should think about getting baptized.
My best friend at the time was on staff with Crusade. I called her and said, “This just happened. Did I do the right thing? This is weird.”
It sounds like you grew into your faith pretty quickly after that. What role did you take on for Campus Crusade?
I was a campus leader for multiple campuses in New York City. And then I did Epic, which is an Asian-American Ministry. It was very much about community. Everything is done in a way that’s almost like you are all family.
We all knew what it was like to feel different, in a place where you are the minority. We always got questions like, “Can you speak English?” Or, what’s that you’re eating? Your food smells different.” So we shared things like that, but we also shared our love for Jesus.
How does that experience inform your thoughts about ministry today?
I look at everything in a big-picture way. I think about the barriers for people. And I think about how Christian culture comes off to people who don’t know Jesus. I think about ways we can be inviting.
Up until we moved to Rockford, I had only lived in big cities. I remember praying, Please Lord, don’t take me outside of the city. Mostly because of diversity. Who will be that person who will “get” me? I’m so used to being in multi-ethnic, diverse groups, that sometimes when it’s all the same it can be a little bit harder.
What’s something about you that most people would never guess?
I’m a Los Angeles Lakers fan. When I was growing up in L.A., my dad was able to get tickets through his work. I grew up watching the Lakers with my family. It was part of the rhythm of our life to watch the games and cheer for our team. My mom especially is one of the loudest when she cheers, and I get that from her.
Kobe Bryant’s passing has hit me hard. I watched him grow with every basketball season. I didn’t know him personally, but he was part of L.A. He was a part of what home is to me.