A rough first impression

12 Apr

Though the door did not bang as the mom exited, I felt like it should have.  Seconds before, she had briskly left the room with two kids and a frustrated spirit in tow.  That was my first encounter with Sharon.  Though the center was literally feet from her porch, that was the last time she would enter it for the next three years.  Past hurtful interactions with Christians had caused her to deny God and in turn, reject us.

For the next two years, a sort of unspoken battle was waged. Glares were common.  Our kids took the brunt of it though.  They were frequently in trouble for lining up too near her backdoor.  My heart felt heavy for this woman who felt that we were the enemy when we could have been an ally.

Change comes through the most unexpected means.  For Sharon, it was a flier for Girl Scouts.

I’d like to sign my girls up for Girl Scouts.  How old do they need to be?” she asked gruffly.  It was a surreal experience answering each of her questions. Yes, everything is free. Yes, they could get help with their homework. Then came the question that still causes me to well-up with joy.

And I heard you do Bible study.  Is that right?” Sharon asked.

My reply was a simple, “Yes.”  I expected her to deny them the opportunity to attend.  Instead she said, “Good, I want them to be involved in that.”

For the first year, she approached us with caution.  Guarded as ever, she watched as we served her kids.  Gradually though, her heart softened toward us.  We grew closer to her six children and to her youngest children’s father.  A love for Jesus was birthed in the hearts of her children through Bible study.

Sharon soon became a fixture at the center.  After dropping off her girls, she stop and chat.  Volunteering when we were in a pinch became common.  She even served alongside our teens during a community service project.

At that community service project, she shared, “I really appreciate all you’ve done for my kids.  I see how much you care about them.”  My mind swam of images of Sharon opening her heart to Christ.  I anticipated growing our relationship.


Let us not grow weary!

22 Mar

Written by Kendall Demavivas, Henderson Center Director

I love coming to the Learning Center!”- Melissa, 4th grade student.

This past January I walked to Melissa’s house to remind her that Club Christ has reopened for the semester like I normally do. Her mom, in tears, answers the door and says, “Kendall, Melissa and her Dad moved away, and they won’t be coming back. I’m so sorry.” My heart dropped and my head started spinning. Two weeks later, Melissa’s mom is evicted. Just like that, Melissa is gone from our program after three years of faithfully coming every week, unexpectedly and without a chance to say goodbye. This is a feeling I know too well as the Henderson Center Director.  I have had to say goodbye to dozens of families who have moved away due to evictions, violence or other symptoms of broken homes.

I arrive at my center with a heavy heart, still anxious for the start of the spring semester at Club Christ. Just then, students come running to the center shouting, “Can we come to the Learning Center today!?” The conversation moves to telling stories of our winter vacation, playing games and then on to homework and reading.  We pick up where we left of last semester, but this time, without Melissa.

During these difficult times when a student is taken away from the center, I cling to the victories we see during their time at Club Christ. I had the joy of praying with Melissa and three other students when they gave their lives to Christ. We may not be able to walk with students as long as we would like, but God captured and changed Melissa’s heart. Melissa improved her grades with the help of our faithful volunteer team and I saw her develop a heart to serve Christ here. I could count on her stopping by early to ask if she could help me clean the center or get prepare the day’s snacks. Melissa loved Jesus with all her heart.

Galatians 6:9 says “Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.”

Though this has been a difficult season with many of my original students moving away, we are reaping a harvest of students coming to faith in Jesus. Nearly every student who comes to our center develops a relationship with Jesus. We poured deeply into Melissa and the lives of each of our students during their time at Club Christ. And we’re reaping a beautiful harvest that will bloom in the years to come.

do not lose heart

How it all ended up

16 Mar

Home was a terrifying place to be. Cristina got home later that evening and started scrubbing and cleaning up all the blood. I can only imagine how she must have felt as she tried to scrub away the memory of him. A few hours later she picked up her kids from her neighbors house and brought them home. They all slept in the same room that night, hoping he wouldn’t come busting through the door again.

She couldn’t believe she had let a man like him control her like that for so long, she wouldn’t let that happen again. In the days to come Kendra and I were calling shelters and to get them out of that house as soon as possible. Everyone told us they were full and we would need to call back everyday in hopes of a spot opening up. Because of the great threat we couldn’t let her stay in that house after everything that happened. We booked them a hotel near by and told them to stay there on us. Days went by and her ex seemed to have left her alone…for now.

Thankfully one day we got the news that a spot opened up at a local women’s shelter.  But her fight wasn’t over. She was given a lawyer, a court date, and asked to collect any and all evidence of what had occurred. I joined her at the first appearance at court to show my support.

Unbelievably he tried to say it wasn’t him. His sleazy lawyer said he had an alibi from work that could prove that he was working at the time of the incident. He was lying through his teeth and I wondered if the judge would see the truth. In the end all he got was a slap on the wrist and a warning that next time things would be worse. I’m praying there won’t be a next time.

As of today Cristina and her ex now share custody of the kids. She continues to collect evidence to prove he shouldn’t have custody at all. Since the incident he has taken them to California without her consent and refused to bring them home on several occasions. She calls the police every single time. The other day Cristina looked me in the eyes with such gratitude and remarked, “Club Christ saved my life.” I always remind her that God was the one who sent us to open the Learning Center. He saved her life.

Each week Cristina brings her kids to our center and she is the only parent who offers to stay and help. She makes sure that the center is picked up and scrubbed down. Then she begins work on her own English homework. Her goal is to learn English and start a new life with her four beautiful children.

Please pray for the Gutierrez family. That they continue to be protected from any kind of abuse. They were told they have 2 more months left at the shelter before they need to leave. She needs to find a place to stay that is safe, affordable and close to her children’s school.


A hand to hold

9 Mar
I’ve always found comfort… uncomfortable.  It’s as if my mail was stolen the day everyone else got the pamphlet entitled, “Comforting Words and When to Use Them.”  When Maryann shared about her struggle wrestling through the emotions she felt as she supported Cristina, I felt ill-prepared.   Nodding felt insufficient. If only my words could convey the content of my heart.
Perhaps like me, you think you have to be strong, so that they can find strength?  Perhaps you desire to fix it (whatever IT is)?  Perhaps you have come to discover that disingenuous words fall as flat as the paper they are written on?  True comfort is not something you offer, but a character attribute you embody.
That was who Maryann had to be the day of the horrific event unfolded at the Gutierrez home: comfort incarnate.  As she translated her story to the police, she bore Cristina’s burden alongside her.  She helped her into a hotel for a few days, while the shelter prepared a space. When Maryann awoke to discover that each night had passed without incident, she breathed a sigh of relief.
I knew there had to be a place Cristina could go with her four children so I called every women’s shelter in town. And we prayed. At first there were no beds open. And we prayed some more. Then we got the good news. She got in! The evening before she would leave her home and all her possessions to begin a new life we began to see how God had carried her through this tragedy.
We couldn’t offer much, but we gave her telephone numbers that became lifelines and advice that became parachutes.  As the day of her departure arrived, we prayed. Prayed that this step was the right one.
Next week: “How it all ended up”

“Take care of my kids.”

28 Feb

“How bad is it Angela?”

“It’s bad Maryann, it’s really bad.

I got the call from our intern Angela and I was panicked for two reasons:

1. I wasn’t sure if Cristina was safe and alive.

2. I wondered if  the kids were okay.

I made a quick u-turn and made it back to their street as fast as I could. There Cristina was, on a stretcher, drenched in blood. I saw her being put into an ambulance when I parked my car. I hopped right into the ambulance to hold her blood-covered, trembling hand.

“Maryann, cuidame los ninos por favor no dejen que me vean asi, por favor di le que voy estar bien…. Take care of my kids, please don’t let them see me like this and please let them know I’m going to be OK.”

I could barely breathe. The first words she gushed out of her mouth weren’t about her safety. They were about her children. I jumped out of the ambulance with the promise that I would come back to check on her.

I ran to the neighbors where I knew the kids were and found Angela. She was making sure all the kids were okay. God always seems to have Angela at the right place and right time, and this was no different. I needed to get to the bottom of what happened so I started talking to the two oldest kids, the police, the neighbors, and the paramedics.

“It’s clear what happened here. This is a domestic violence situation.”

To my heartbreak, this wasn’t the first time the police had seen something like this. They needed more information, so I came back to her and asked as gently as I could,”Cristina, que paso… what happened?”

Since her divorce, Cristina shared custody of the kids with her ex-husband.  Her youngest had signs of abuse when he came home that week and she wasn’t taking any chances.  She decided to pick all four kids up from school the next day instead of letting them ride home with their Dad.

That afternoon, Cristina brought all four kids to our Center and I took her aside to see how she was doing. I could sense something wasn’t right and asked her to stay at the Center, so she did’t have to be home alone.  “No, no, voy a estar bien. Muchas gracias Maryann.” “No, no, I will be okay.  Thank you so much Maryann.”

Cristina’s ex-husband was waiting in his truck just outside her home. After he knew she was alone inside her home, he banged on the door until she tepidly opened it.  He immediately hit her with a blunt object on the head and then punched her in the face, she then fell on the floor and blacked out. Her neighbors then noticed a truck speeding out of her driveway and they ran over to find her on the floor drenched in blood and unconscious. That’s when Angela had found her as she dropped off the kids from our Learning Center.

As the paramedics shut the doors to the ambulance, all the strength I had mustered escaped me and I burst into a stream of tears. Once again Angela was there arms full of comfort and words of compassion. We jumped in our cars and headed to the hospital. When we got there Cristina was surrounded by police and hospital staff. Angela and I spent a couple of hours with her. I translated for the hospital staff and all three of us tried to calm down. But in the backs of our minds we were so scared.

When we left late that night, we weren’t sure of what would happen next for the Gutierrez family.


What we hoped would never happen, did.

22 Feb

The drive from the Learning Center to the Gutierrez’s former home was a short one, so I never minded driving the kids home after a day at the center. The car ride would be filled with the kids requesting for me to play Andy Mineo’s song “Uno Uno Seis” so they could dance to it. The four kids excitedly talked over one another so they could share a joke or something they learned at school that day with me. Once I pulled up to the curb, they would hop out and wave good-bye as they ran to the front door to eagerly greet their mother, Cristina.

That day in October was different though. This time as I pulled up to the curb, I noticed the front door was open and three ladies were standing by it. Cristina was nowhere in sight. My stomach immediately lurched. As the kids went to unbuckle, I asked them to just wait until I knew what was going on- there was no chatter, just silence. Their young neighbor came to my car and told me that she was going to take the kids into her house next door. “Is Cristina okay?” She slowly shook her head, “No.”

As I walked inside their home, I noticed pools of blood on the floor and was careful to step around them as I looked for Cristina. There she stood with a look of disbelief, shock, and pain on her face.  She had a huge gash on her top left forehead and her lower lip was cut open; both wounds were still bleeding. I’ve never seen a sight more heartbreaking or devastating in my life. There was blood on her chest, her shirt, and her pants. My first instinct was to help wipe her clean and find new clothes, but I knew that the police would need to see her like that. Cristina was shaken, but her thoughts were not on herself; rather they were on her four children: Diego, Adriana, Karina, and Gabriel. I assured her that they were next door and I would take care of them. I stayed calm as I asked Cristina, “What happened?” but I couldn’t understand her response because of the limited English she knew.

I needed Maryann, our LV Center Director, to translate.  Without her we would be unable to tell her story to the police.  So I called her and she quickly came to help. After the police arrived they took photos and asked me questions.  I shared with them everything that had happened previous in the week- the CPS call about the abuse- and what happened when I pulled up to the house. But it wasn’t until Maryann arrived that we got the full story. Maryann then spent the next hour as a translator to help the police understand what happened.  I couldn’t believe what I heard.


The monsters among us.

17 Feb

Monsters are not merely the stuff of fairy tales and bedtime stories.  They walk among us sometimes taking the form of loved ones.  On one afternoon in September, I learned that the Guttiierrez children had such a person in their life.  To them, his name was Dad.

When I arrived at the center, Cristina shared her tale.  It was scarred by years of abuse and control.  She had suffered it because she believed it would shield her children.  The wounds she bore in silence granted her children security.  That is until her youngest returned from a weekend visit with bruises and her daughter with tales of neglect at the hands of her father.  The beatings she had endured for their sake she would not allow to happen to them, but she felt hopeless.  Without family, friends or even work, she had no means of escape.

So we offered her one.  We contacted shelters, DFS and other resources.  Phone numbers and advice was all we could give, but it was enough.  It restored her hope.  She walked away believing things could get better.  Soon a slot at the shelter would be available.  Just a few more days and her new life could start.

As we said goodbye, concern nestled into my heart.  She was confident that he would steer clear for a few days.  I was not.  Monsters want control and Cristina was taking it back.  It was just a matter of time before he realized that she was breaking free.  I prayed it would be after she had relocated, but I knew it may be sooner.

The next day, everything came crashing down.

Kendra Dyson

Program Director


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