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  • Writer's pictureMark Alan Williams

What Can We Learn From A Cemetery Under A City Park?

The other day I was watching a local TV program which told about a unique park in San Diego, California. Like any other park, people go there and walk their dogs, play Frisbee, enjoy picnics and play on the playground. But all the while, they are running, playing and eating over the graves of nearly 4,000 people!

Gravestone monument in Pioneer Park, San Diego

That’s right, the park is built over a cemetery which was closed after the last burial in 1960 and soon turned into Pioneer Park in 1968.

The physical remains of 4,000 souls are still in the ground. Most people using the park don’t realize what lies below.

The story gets even more interesting in that when it was made into a park, the gravestones were gathered and dumped into a ravine a few miles away. They lay there unnoticed for years. But when the San Diego trolley was built and people could see them from the trolley, they were placed into a mass grave. Only a few gravestones of the rich and famous were preserved.

That’s right; they made a mass grave of gravestones! Hard to believe, but true.

You can read more about the Pioneer Park story HERE and HERE and for an extensive website click HERE.

When I tell people about this strange park, the response has ranged from bewilderment to anger. “That’s against the law” someone said. Unfortunately it is not, and in fact it is the city of San Diego which made the decision to create this park over a cemetery.


Most of Pioneer Park looks like any other park.

As I pondered this strange park-built-on-a-cemetery, I thought about one of my favorite verses in Scripture. Ecclesiastes, the biblical book of brutal honesty about the vanity of life, says in chapter 9 verse 10, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the grave, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom.”

We get one shot at life, and it goes very quickly. We must do as this verse says—live life “with all my might” and make it count. (My eBook Don’t Miss Your Life is a book on life planning to help make sure you make your life count. Get it free when you sign up to receive my blog posts via email.)

I want to use my life to make as much positive impact as I can and to help others do the same.

It also makes me think about investing my efforts in what is eternally significant. God has allowed Christ-followers to invest our lives in building The Kingdom. This means helping populate heaven and depopulate hell.

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Corinthians 5:10 ESV).

My dear mother used to quote C. T. Studd who said,

“Only one life, ‘twill soon be past.

Only what’s done for Christ will last.”

Each of us has a unique calling.

My calling is to church planting. I really believe it is a “calling” that I did not choose—I was called by God. The calling began when I was young. My first memories of church are in the basement of a house where a church was being planted and we were having Sunday School class.

Soon after we were married, Carolyn and I were led to join a church plant for our first church home. It was meeting in a 7th Day Adventist Church and later in a Masonic Lodge.

After that, when I had graduated from seminary, rather than going to an established church, God led me to plant a new church in Vista, California, starting in 1981. I was only 26 years old and looked like a teenager!

Later God led me to start a second church. Then I began to help start Dynamic Church Planting International (DCPI) where I have served since March 1998. Through DCPI I get to help teach others how to more effectively plant churches and reach people for Christ. Our vision is to equip leaders to plant 5 million churches.

While I feel church planting was God’s call, not just my own decision, here’s why I think this calling is so significant:

There is nothing eternal on earth except the souls of men, women and children, plus the Word of God (the Bible). Everything else is temporary (see 2 Peter 3:10). Even gravestones and graveyards might not survive long!Church Planting has been called “the most effective evangelistic methodology under heaven.” I believe it is also the most biblical way to reach the world for Christ—the Acts of the Apostles tells how after receiving the Great Commission to spread the Gospel, the apostles went from town to town planting churches. See my article on “Four Reasons we MUST Start New Churches Now“The most effective way for me to invest my life is to equip others with the vision and skills to plant churches resulting in multiplication. Jesus invested his life in multiplying His disciples so that they could accomplish “greater works.” He said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father” (John 14:12 ESV).

Life on earth is very temporary. Even graves and graveyards can be short-lived. Are you investing your life in anything that is eternally significant?

I have authored, coauthored and contributed to four books on church planting which you can see and order by clicking HERE.

Here are some of my other articles on related topics you might find helpful:

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