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Last night, like most every Tuesday and Thursday night, we had a great time in the park. Our kids from our two neighborhoods played a Crosstown Scrimmage. These kids are coming from two rival gangs’ territories, but soccer has no boundaries. They are between the ages of 19 and 8, but everyone is respected on the field. We are encouraging the older ones and help them to connect with local colleges’ teams to try out. Some of them have a really good chance to get selected and to become scholarship athletes. We hope that one day the younger ones will form our first Urban Seahorses teams.
As usual, we had prayer, pizza, fellowship and games on our patio after the game. We are becoming a big soccer-family under God. 🙂
We are long-time VeggieTales fans. WHO DOESN’T LIKE VEGGIETALES?! Our kids grew up watching them, singing the silly songs, leaning about right and wrong and soaking up the Bible stories presented in a fun and engaging way. We thought, what could be a better way of introducing Bible stories to unchurched kids in our neighborhood than watching VeggieTales together?! So yesterday when 4 first and second graders showed up on our patio to play – in 97 degrees in blasting sun – I told them to run home and ask their parents if they were allowed to come into the cold room instead to watch some cartoons with Bible stories. They ran back with their “OK” so we started our VeggieTales Club … or so I thought.
With the little ones we watched the episode about Madame Blueberry, who had a lot of stuff, but wasn’t happy. She learned that it was a thankful heart and loving people that made you happy, not stuff from the StuffMart. A little later 5 other kids came, mostly fourth and fifth graders, some of them regular church goers. So I thought we could try to watch the VeggieTales movie about Jonah. Well, I was in for a shocking revelation. Neither the little ones were able to sit through 30 minutes watching their cartoon, nor the older ones the 82 minutes long movie. They were so nice though. They did their VERY best trying to sit nicely, but it looked like it was physically painful for them. They kept standing up, stretching, jumping, or laid down on the floor, rolled around, stood up and sat up onto the couch again. Anything BUT sitting in one place. And even though I saw that they got engaged with the story, the characters and the colorful visuals of the video, they were not able to pay attention for more than a few minutes at a time. They watched it, then they looked at me and asked a question that had nothing to do with the cartoon, then watched it again, danced for the music, then asked me another question again about something completely unrelated to the story. I was shocked and didn’t know what to do.
I remembered that our kids used to watch all VeggieTales, short and long, glued to the couch, paying attention to every word. … That was 10-15 years ago though. … Having only taught in college, I haven’t experienced yet how short the attention span of many kids is today – and was not prepared to handle it. I will have to talk to some of our teacher friends and figure out a better setup. Right now I can’t imagine how, but we won’t give up!!!
One of the kids in our group has been known in the neighborhood as “The Bad Kid”. He had a foul mouth, made nasty gestures, didn’t participate in activities, or if he did only to distract others, fought with everybody and had the tendency to always get in trouble. One day when he happened to be with the group the kids were asked to draw a picture of their families. This was his picture. He went on explaining: “This is my Dad, he is trying to kill my Mom and that’s me under the bed.” He was in first grade then.
Since we started the soccer program after Bible Club he started to show up regularly. Lovingly but firmly we had to put him in his place a few times, but he started to be respectful with us and nicer with others. We found out that he was very sharp, enjoyed logical games and learnt very fast. But what he loved the most was still playing soccer. And even though most of the time he was the smallest on the field, he gave his 110% for the team. Last night after the game on the way home he told me: “Tonight I want to pray.” I can say I was really surprised. I wasn’t sure if he meant that tonight he was going to pray along with us, or that he wanted to lead the prayer, but I said: “Great!” We gathered on our patio around the fresh pizzas, put our hands together and he started to lead us in prayer: “Thank you God for this day. Thank you for this good game and thank you for the pizza. Amen.” How wonderful was to hear him praying and feel that something started in his little heart! In my head I thanked the Lord that a small mustard seed was sown.
We got a call from Josh, our fellow missionary from our other community that one of our kids, a second grader, Alvaro might be taken away. His mom just delivered her third baby, but because she is a meth addict the Child Protection Services took the baby and might take Alvaro and his little sister also. The mom was on meth during the entire pregnancy. We are not sure how the baby is. She herself (with 11 other siblings!) was born to a mother who was also on drugs. Her one arm is not developed, she can’t really use it, yet she was not able to stay off drugs during her pregnancy.
Alvaro is her oldest child. He definitely has some issues with attention and comprehension. He has a hard time sitting still, usually struggles through homework club. Every day when he is finally done with his homework and receives his “Soccer Pass Card” he flies with it to the field behind the building to play soccer. On the field he is a different child. He is poised, focused and gets into the zone. He shows natural ability and enjoys the game. At prayer time he is one of those who likes to jump up into our neck and be held till we have to leave. He is a sweet kid. We SO hope that growing up he will have the inner strength to break the cycle.
Last night around 8:30 we sat down to have dinner when 4 boys were knocking on our door. I should say one was doing the knocking because the other three were already sitting and dangling their feet at our patio table. They wanted to know if we would let the dogs out so they could play with them. We did, but we knew that their visit was about more than just that. When we asked if they were hungry, they answered with enthusiastic nodding. We had some good cake left over from our lunch guests, so we cut some nice slices for them and sat out with them to talk.
It was dark already. All of a sudden we heard some loud yelling and a few seconds later we saw blue and red lights and a police car flew past the left side of our patio. It was going so fast that I almost expected a big crash at the end of the ally because it is not long at all. All of a sudden everyone fled. Not just the boys, but the people who were sitting on the patios of the neighboring buildings. Then we saw another police car and police men running around on the other side of our patio. We were just standing there trying to understand what was going on when our neighbor signaled to us not to stand there but to go inside our apartment. So we did. And since one of the boys, Emilio got stuck there with us we brought him in too.
Emilio is a sweet little boy. He always looks into our eyes with his large, brown eyes. His face radiates openness, honesty and innocence, … but he rarely smiles. He lives with his aunt and uncle and his two cousins in a room across our apartment. We don’t know what happened to his parents.
Trying to lighten up the tension in the air, we started to play Hoppers with him, a logical game with frogs and Lilly pads. He got into it surprisingly fast and enjoyed the challenge. About half an hour past when we couldn’t hear any sound of trouble from outside, so we walked him home. We asked our neighbor what happened earlier. She said the police was chasing a guy who was running from them with a gun. She also told us that unfortunately some gang members just got out of jail and were back in the community. This is not good news.
It was a beautiful morning today. First I spent some time in the presence of the Lord praying and reading His Word, then I exchanged some encouraging notes with Netha, a missionary friend of ours who is getting ready to move to Zambia to do full time mission work there.
Then I got a text from one of our supporters who heard about our need for a car. Praise the Lord! He told me that he felt that the Lord put it in his heart to help us with our car issue. That’s wonderful news because our 20 years old Corolla is ready to break down any day now.
Then I got another text from a friend about his wife. She fell last night and dislocated and fractured her left ankle in three places. He asked for prayers because his wife is the heartbeat of their home. I called him and offered to cook and take dinner over to them.
As I was gathering my thoughts and adjusting my plans for the day Manuel, (names are changed for anonymity – and for our safety) one of our neighbors knocked on the door. I brought him in and offered him coffee but he explained that he didn’t need any coffee to get his blood pressure up. He was asking me to help him with his son, Alvaro. He is a young guy who is on meth along with his friends and keeps hanging out in his dad’s garage right across our entrance. By the way, these are the guys who showed us a week ago that they will shoot us or cut our throats if we said, or did anything after they found out that Manuel complained to us about their meth addiction and criminal activities. Alvaro was so high on meth last night that he lit up some fireworks inside their apartment damaging everything and endangering his two little babies. Later he had no clue who did all that. As we walked over to their apartment Manuel proudly showed me that a family moved into his garage, helping him with the rent. At their place I met Manuel’s friend, Edmundo who was helping him clean and paint after the explosion. He was fluent in English so he helped my communication with Manuel. He asked me if I knew about any good rehab program because after what happened last night it looked like Alvaro was willing to seek help.
I went home and wasn’t really sure what to do. We just moved here, we don’t know much about the town and its resources, but people look to us for solutions. I called my friend Kevin at another urban mission who told me about Anaheim Lighthouse where they refer their people with drug and alcohol problems. Back to their house, gave them the info. They were going to try to find Alvaro and head over to the rehab facility with him. If he wasn’t ready yet, then they were planning to have an “intervention party” for him.
With that behind me I was heading to the grocery store to get the meat for the dinner I promised to cook for my friend’s family. I had very little time left because of the practice I run on Monday nights.
Needless to say that I got nothing done from what was on my plan for the day, but it was a good day anyway.
J….esus – first,
O…thers – second and
Y…ou – third, … wait, no Y just yet 🙂
It was six months ago when after two years of preparation we left Pittsburgh and headed out to Los Angeles to start serving as urban missionaries. Since the minute we arrived here our life became a crazy rush. Every moment of our days was scheduled. Being a part time missionary on part time pay, I had several weeks when I worked 60-70 hours non-stop. Men’s team, women’s team, kids camps, Mexico mission, Bible study for the kids in one community, Homework Club in the other, meetings, socials and the constant “being available” where we live. Agnes helped a lot in February, but in March she started to work in a full time job as an accountant. The 8 hours plus more than an hour commute both ways pretty much takes up her days. She can only help me in the evenings and weekends with the ministry. She would LOVE to help me more, and there surely is much more work to be done, but right now this is what our funding allows. Since we arrived we had zero time for support raising. What’s worse is that up until now we couldn’t even send any news to our present supporters, even though we thank the Lord daily for them. They are the ones who make it all possible.
If we ever had any doubt about the spiritual battle that is going on for every single soul, now we can be sure it is happening. We are experiencing it daily: attacks from the adversary from all kinds of directions intensified, but encouragement and reassurance from the Lord also. It was a very difficult time of transition for us. We live in the middle of an all-Mexican neighborhood. The streets are covered with garbage all the time, the dumpsters stink, people pee on the wall under our window, teenagers and young adults hang out in groups on the corners, police raids are regular, the police helicopter also, drugs, drunkenness, shooting, beating and gang issues. It is a completely different world, but it desperately needs God.
There was a time when we were quite scared and afraid, but the Holy Spirit reassured us – and keeps encouraging us daily. The kids call us “Coach Csaba, or Mr. Csaba” and “Teacher Agnes”. They flock to us. Some of them only eat at school, so a normal family-dinner is not known for them. Now that it is summer vacation, they munch on junk food snacks from the expired food truck that appears 3 times a day. They show up at our doors in groups at any time of the day looking for attention, something to do and of course some food. Often we find them sitting on our patio waiting for us to arrive.
Only a few teens finished high school from our community. Two of them sometimes say that they dream of maybe going to college one day, but their circumstances are not helping them to ever get there. They have little hope. They do production work at a plant. Most other young adults just “hang”, or “chill”, or into some trouble.
In several apartments, entire families live in each room, including the living room. And since the rooms are small, many just sleep on the floor. And there are families who rent a garage from the existing tenants. No window, no water, maybe some electricity through a long extension cord from an apartment. When we talk to them, they smell of several days of unshowered sweat and dirt. Women somehow have more and more babies but we are not sure who the fathers are. Some are there, some are gone, others are in jail. Most everyone seems to be related somehow in the neighborhood. And this is not temporary situation for them. They live here for many years. There are a few really nice families where mother and father work hard to create a better future for their kids, but they are the exception.
We are the only non-Hispanic people here. We were lucky to be able to join a small ongoing Bible study for the kids, so everyone found out quickly what we were all about. With our presence and the soccer and other activities we started, that Bible study also got revived. Much more kids attend now.
Gang issues are unfortunately difficult here. We work with kids in two neighborhoods right beside each other, but they belong to two rival gangs. The younger kids don’t seem to care, but we have a hard time with the teenagers. This is understandable. A few weeks ago one young man (with mental disability) was shot in the chest 4 times and died because he was “at the wrong territory”, wearing “the wrong color”. One of our area’s gang leaders was just put in jail for two murders. This is good, but at the same time now the other two neighboring gangs are fighting for our streets. We knew nothing about this world back in Pittsburgh. We attended two seminars on how to disciple urban, high risk youth. That helped, but still we often feel clueless.
I could continue writing for hours, because so many things are happening here every day, but I have to go because we have a movie night for the Cypress community kids tonight. Please forgive us that we didn’t write so far, but we are quite overwhelmed even with just our everyday life here. But the Lord keeps encouraging us. We could not do this without Him. Whatever we do, however hard or scary it is sometimes, we remember that He is already here, working in the lives of these people.