By Mark Ellis
She led generations of young people to invite Jesus into their hearts and headed up her church’s crisis prayer chain until she was 98-years-old. With her assignment finished, she passed on to her reward on July 15th.
“I always related to children better than adults,” said Mrs. Elizabeth Ogg, who was the children’s ministry director at Church by the Sea in Laguna Beach for decades. For many years, she was the first person people called in a crisis, as she headed a telephone “tree” that transmitted urgent prayers to the faithful before email was invented.
She was the daughter of Italian immigrants, Frank and Lena Bua, who arrived at Ellis Island in 1901. An itinerant street evangelist led eight members of her family to Christ on a street corner in Lodi, New Jersey, shortly after they settled there. Then they traveled west to Los Angeles in 1919, drawn by glowing reports about the fast-growing city with its ideal Mediterranean climate.
“My mother was a Christian lady – very strict,” Elizabeth notes. “But dad was the boss. There was no changing his mind.” They planted themselves in Sierra Madre, where her father opened a dry goods store. Elizabeth helped in the store, selling socks, underwear, needles and notions.
Her father started an outreach to Italian immigrants and other new arrivals near Chinatown, and constructed a brick church that became known as The Italian Church of the Lord Jesus Christ. Elizabeth took on the role of Sunday school teacher and organ player.
During high school she got involved with the youth ministry at Church of the Open Door in downtown Los Angeles. Dr. Louis Talbot, pastor at the time, became an early mentor. The pastor who succeeded him, Dr. J. Vernon McGee was a primary influence on Elizabeth’s life, and she continued to listen to his daily radio broadcasts until her final years.
Always a teacher
Elizabeth enjoyed teaching, and she nurtured this gift as a Sunday school teacher at Church of the Open Door. She shocked her parents when she announced she wanted to go to college. Against their wishes, she graduated from UCLA with a degree in education and a teaching degree.
Jobs were scarce during the Great Depression. Her first teaching job was in a tent on Alameda Street near the city landfill. It was a rough neighborhood where she was tested daily. “Just keep the kids from killing themselves,” her supervisor advised. She often rode the streetcar home in tears, but she stuck with it.
A friend set her up with Kenneth Ogg, an assistant to Dr. Talbot. Kenneth’s first wife died unexpectedly and left him with three small boys. She was reluctant at first. “I didn’t want to take on three kids,” she admits.
But the friend – and Kenneth – were persistent. “From the first day it worked out beautifully,” she recalls. “The children were well-mannered and well-behaved.”
One of their sons, Wes, worked with Campus Crusade for Christ as Josh McDowell’s right-hand man. Tragically, he died at age 37 from a sudden heart attack.
God’s providence in a car break-down
By an unusual turn of events, she and Kenneth transplanted themselves in Laguna Beach during the last half of her life. In 1965, and she and Kenneth decided to drive the kids to the San Diego Zoo for the day. “We got to Leucadia and our car broke down,” she recalls.
When a mechanic looked at the condition of the car, he merely shook his head. It could not be repaired. Kenneth racked his brain, sent up a silent prayer to God, and suddenly had an inspiration.
“Mr. Lemon! Mr. Lemon! he exclaimed.
The family looked at each other quizzically. Kenneth remembered a man they met at a Christian family camp at Hume Lake. He owned a Chevy dealership in Laguna Beach, and told Kenneth if he ever wanted a car, he would give him a good deal.
Kenneth called Mr. Lemon on the phone and he instructed the family to board a Greyhound bus in Leucadia, and head north to Laguna Beach. His dealership was right across the street from the bus station. For fairly obvious reasons, the dealership did not carry the owner’s name, but was known as Ayers Chevrolet.
“He handed us the key to a brand new car and said we could pay later,” Elizabeth noted. The ’65 Chevy was used by the family for more than 40 years.
Elizabeth, Kenneth and the kids fell in love with Laguna Beach. They found a beach cottage that was a “tear down” and they began to attend a church across the street. After Kenneth and Elizabeth were fully retired, they moved permanently to Laguna in 1974.
Church life in Laguna Beach
By then, the church they attended in Laguna had endured a painful split and was temporarily without a home. For five Sundays, the little church of 35 people met at Kenneth and Elizabeth’s newly rebuilt home.
“I started teaching the children right way,” Elizabeth said. “The important thing is all the children knew they must ask Jesus into their heart to get to heaven,” she said. She usually found a way to weave the Gospel message into her lessons, especially if there were any new children in the group.
In her late eighties, her grandson Rocky Brown was over at her house to help trim an Olive tree in the backyard. While Rocky was up on a ladder, with his concentration firmly set on the tree, he failed to notice Elizabeth was gathering the branches, had tied them in bundles, and was carrying them up a hill to the street.
“Grandma! Grandma! What are you doing?” he cried out, worried she might hurt herself.
“Jesus carried the cross up a hill for me,” Elizabeth replied. “I can carry a few branches up a hill for him.”
She knit scores of blankets and Afghans for an orphanage in Mexico until age 95, when her hands finally gave out.
Many representatives of prominent ministries beat a path to her door for private meetings with Elizabeth. The former schoolteacher, who lived frugally, was the largest giver on the West Coast for at least one prominent Christian ministry.
A parting prayer
After her passing, the following handwritten note was found in her possessions: “O God, may my children always put you first in their lives. May they be strong enough to admit failures and try to remedy them. Give them enough success so they will not get discouraged. Keep them humble so that they will realize that you are in control of their lives, which will help them to trust you completely.
“I don’t pray for fame in the eyes of the world, but that they will live so that when their lives are over they will hear you say, ‘Well done, my faithful servant.’
“I pray that every one of them will meet me and their father and grandfather and great-grandfather at the feet of our Wonderful Savior in your beautiful Heaven.”