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Jair Andrade is a local product. He hails from the barrio where we lived for the past three years; in fact, his family of seven was a next-door neighbor of ours. He is the oldest of five brothers. Nowadays, it’s not easy to get a hold of him because he is very busy attending classes and participating in the men’s soccer program at a nearby two years school, Santa Ana College.
Life in the barrios of Southern California is not easy for a boy growing up. The parents usually don’t speak English, so finding a job to pay the sky-high rent is often unsurmountable. The peer pressure for living on the edge, dismissing the importance of staying in school, and the absence of planning ahead are collectively killing that little flame if any there is for success in a young man’s heart. But that old mold seemed to be broken in Jair’s case. He loves the game of soccer so much that he was willing to sacrifice. Instead of just hanging around and getting in trouble like most of his peers, he remained studious, graduated from high school while playing varsity soccer there also. And he never turned me down calling him to play with us at the nearby park.
He is an exciting player. He is very intelligent, technical and fleet footed. Not big at all, but extremely agile and proactive. He has a tremendous understanding and reading of the game, and I love watching him compete on the collegiate level nowadays just as much as during his high school years when we played in the park.
Jair is in his first year attending Santa Ana College, and after graduation he is planning to move on to a four year school studying accounting. He recalls that the greatest influence in his life is his father, Victor, the head of their loving family. He is the one who inspires Jair to keep a good head on his shoulders and follow his dreams with perseverance. Perseverance – a word that is hard to come by, and completely unknown for many of Jair’s peers in the barrio.
His daily schedule is hectic. Jair is in school during the day followed by soccer training in the afternoon, and completing assignments at night. Games and projects on the regular basis make this rather monotonous pattern more demanding.
But he loves it! To my enquiring for advice for the younger guys he quickly responded: “Find your passion, set your goals, follow through and never forget the reason why you are in it!”
A simple formula I may add and really not a revelation of secrets where Jair is heading. But in his neighborhood where instant gratification is king, it took recognition and acknowledgement for this age old mold to be broken. Then planning and dedication had to follow for reaching beyond what is generally expected from most young men around here. To a big extent, the huge difference I see in Jair’s case is that he is blessed with the encouragement of his loving family with a father at home who is a role model to him.
We are in the third year of having our students competing in the Bible Champions Club. We meet daily after school on the corner of Cypress and La Jolla streets sitting on foldable chairs around picnic tables, in a makeshift open-air study hall. It’s a homework club that exists for several years to tutor, develop and keep the kids accountable for their academics. Well, after sitting in the classroom for most of the day, the last thing on their minds is for sitting two more hours and fixing homework. We needed help, so we reached for the Bible.
Three years ago, each month we picked another Fruit of the Spirit, and every Monday we gave them several verses to read and recite about that particular Christian character. They earned points and at Christmas time and at the end of the school year in June we rewarded their efforts with educational toys and picture Bibles. We got encouraged and thought to bring the Bible even closer to them by helping them apply it to their lives what they have learned from the Scripture.
The following school year we picked a handful of people from the Bible whose lives shown the traits we wanted our kids to identify with. We called these men and women Bible Heroes. Again, we gave the kids excerpts and short stories to read about said heroes and heroines, and the exact verses to recite after they listened to our presentations. We also introduced the opportunity to earn extra points if they told us the meaning of the story with their own words. On top of that they could draw pictures of the heroes and how they imagined the stories happened. Wow, the points were soaring to the thousands around June.
We are in the third year now. This year we are introducing and discussing the miracles of Jesus. We further improved our study with the creation of interactive worksheets with verses to recite, stories to read and re-tell, questions to answer, and pictures to draw. We found that we have more success in small groups or even individual setting rather than attempting to effectively work with them all at the same time. When we are in a one-on-one setting, they thrive. We talk about the Bible with them every day. These kids adore the individual exposure, the so called “me time” spent with Jesus’ words and life story, and we truly see the Holy Spirit working in their hearts. It is the best time of my day when I get out of my car on the Cypress cul-de-sac and see them running to me from the streets shouting: “Did you bring new verses?” . . .
We got a used but wonderful ping-pong table through a friend of ours. So when the sun doesn’t beat down on our patio making it too hot to bear we set it up and invite all the older boys we can to play. It wasn’t easy at first, but with consistency and with our friend, Chuck’s help it has become more popular every week.
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CLICK HERE to watch a video about one part of our trip! (audio: Beloved by Jordan Feliz) (SORRY, it is not iOS compatible.)
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Another school year is nearing its end and our Bible verse recital and drawing competition is also in its last week before the summer vacation. From spring we continued on with the Bible Heroes theme. The kids listened to stories, drew pictures about them and got extra points if they recited any of the relevant verses. Here are a few of the proud winners with their prizes.
This was the third year that we helped to run the 11th year of the Annual Cypress Street Soccer Tournament. This is a real big deal for the neighborhood! The streets are cleaned, lines are painted and the windows are covered with baseboards. Early Memorial Day Monday the street gets closed, the City of Placentia police department stands by as the opening ceremony unfolds. Kids from the neighborhood carry a line of flags of many nations – for the last three years including Hungary’s.
After the national anthem and prayer the music starts blasting with hot rhythm and the soccer ball finally is on its way. It is street soccer. Black pavement, hot asphalt, high curbs as sidelines, and hockey goals. Food stands with spicy Mexican choices and raffle tickets, all to benefit LOT318, a Christian organization that we also serve this area with. A colorful crowd cheers on as the battle goes on for hours between neighborhood rivals for the ultimate prize beyond glory and bragging rights – the cash prize.
This year was a special one for me. A group of high school age guys with whom I play pick up soccer in a nearby park finally put together a team by themselves and entered to this event. Our prayers have been answered and they did pretty well advancing to the quarterfinals. It was a great event for a great cause!