Life is full of choices,
and the choices I make today
can affect the circumstances of my life – and others peoples lives –
both now and into the future.
When we started working with kids in East Los Angeles back in 1986 we realized almost immediately that we were working with a group of kids who were lost, groping in the dark without signposts to lead them and for most of them, gravitating toward gangs.
Gangs dominated the culture of the community.
For instance our After School Program sat on one of four corners of an intersection that was controlled by four different gangs.
The drop out rate of our local Jr High School was 50% and the local Sr High School was another 50%.
We devoted ourselves to keeping kids in school, off the street and out of the gangs.
The first few years Sheryl and I had some mixed success.
The first full school year we were operating in Boyle Heights we had 13 kids killed who had been regular in the Center. For the most part they were killed by drive by shootings. Those days remind me of the violence that is happening in Chicago, New York and Portland NOW.
We created the Second Cornerstone to give our kids the first of many signpost on which to chart their progress. They could see if they were going foreword or backward, how far and how fast.
The second summer we planned a trip to Mount Saint Helens. We would take 13 days to get there and back. On the way they would see the headwaters of the Sacramento River, water ski on the Columbia River, see what God was doing on Mt St Helens, spend 2 days seeing the Oregon Coast, spend two days in the Redwoods (hiking, rappelling, swimming) and back to LA.
In order to go, each kid had to memorize the 13 Bible verses that would become our devotion for each day. Soon the kids were lining up to say the verses. Everyone except Dennis.
Dennis was one of the best, most active kids we had. When ever the Center was open he was there.
Finally, one day I got him off to the side and asked him why he wasn’t saying the verses.
He told me, “John, I just can’t memorize them.”
Well, I knew that wasn’t true. He has a fantastic memory. Whenever we were in the car he was singing along with every song. He knew the lyrics of every song that ever come on the radio. So he and I went outside and I showed him how to use rap (his favorite type of music) to memorize a Bible verse.
The I said, “OK Dennis, your turn.”
And after hearing me do it one time, he repeated “sang” the verse back perfectly.
We waked upstairs to where the chart was and put a star on the the line by his name.
You should have heard the rest of the kids yelling and screaming for Dennis that afternoon for the star he earned. But what happened that afternoon was mild compared to what happened the next day when it came to be his turn and I said “OK Dennis, which verse.”
And he said “All of them.”
As he started saying verse after verse kids started clapping and yelling until it was like a revival.
I didn’t know it until later but Dennis was like the class clown. Always goofing off, never doing anything good, never succeeding always getting into trouble.
Until that afternoon that Dennis earned the right to go on that trip. He made the choice to change his life. He earned something that no one could ever take away from him. One choice Changed his life.
Dennis became our poster child for choices..
He chose to greet new kids. Talk about his choices, their choices and point to his own.
Was he perfect? no.
Did he affect the circumstances of other peoples lives? Yes!
Remember, your choices affect not only your life – but your choices affect the lives of all the people who live around you, watch you and are influenced by you.
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