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.

lifeline

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

“I knew something would happen.”

31 Jan

“When you’re done can you give me a call? It has to do with the Gutierrez family, some really awful things have happened.”

I got that text at the end of my day and I feared the worse.  We all knew that their Dad was bad news but I didn’t think that he would ever hurt one of his kids… especially not Gabriel.  The youngest of four, he was the most adorable little guy with his round cheeks that always lifted to show his teeth when I saw him.  I immediately answered this text with a phone call to Kendra, CCM’s Program Director.  “What happened?”

“Gabriel’s mom, Cristine, found bruises on his legs and she thinks that his Dad is abusing him,” Kendra explained.  The news broke my heart and sent my mind spinning.  How could he do this!? My first thought was of Gabriel’s favorite toy: his beloved stuffed Mickey Mouse that we gave him for Christmas last year.  I could picture him with his arms wrapped around Mickey’s neck, looking up to me with those round brown eyes. I was angryHow could this happen?

Turns out that Gabriel wasn’t the only one that this man was abusing.  For years he had threatened to hurt Cristine if she didn’t drop the years of past-due child support that he owed her.  She shared with our Center Director, Maryann, that he would sometimes barge into her home unannounced in a drunken rage, ready to punish anyone who got in his way.  I have met the guy before and he seemed pretty nice but Cristine knew his other side…

And she was afraid he might turn on her again.

heartbreak

Meet the Gutierrez family.

24 Jan

Not far from our Learning Center is a little beige home, the roof is falling apart, there’s black mold through the walls, and the only thing decorative item in the home is a faded painting of a bouquet of roses. Inside the home are four bright-eyed children who are doing their homework as their mom is boiling some water for the noodles she’s making for dinner. This is the Gutierrez family. Three days a week they make their way to the Learning Center with their oversized backpacks, anxious to greet their favorite volunteers.

Everyone loves these four students, including me. Since the moment I met them I was invested in them. Their mom, Cristine was always sure to offer to clean the center and to help wherever she was needed. She felt a need to pay us back for the things we were doing to help her children. Before her oldest, Diego, joined us at the Learning Center he was failing. He is an anxious boy and never wants to disappoint anyone, especially not his loving mom. Since attending the center we noticed a sudden surge of confidence, he started to hold his head up higher and was so much more social!

From one day to the next the volunteers and I started to notice that something was changing about the bright eyed children we once knew. I started to have more in depth conversations about what’s going on at home with their mom “Mrs. Maryann, the kids are scared of their father and so am I.” The details started to scare me and make me wonder what we could do to help a family that was the heartbeat of our center. I began having conversations with my supervisors Evan and Kendra and together we started praying and seeking out advice from others to figure out how to best come alongside them. I kept hoping I was just in a bad dream and that the reality of what was in front of me was just my imagination running wild. Sadly, that was not the case and the Gutierrez family was in serious trouble.

children hands

Beyond Humanitarianism – Being a Faith-Based Organization

23 Jan

“You could get so many more grants if you weren’t so Christian.”

Club Christ has been around for 10 years and I have heard this sentiment repeated one many different occasions. I’ve even thought, “Well if that is true then I wonder if being a faith-based organization is hurting us financially.” Increasingly our culture has become antagonistic towards individual Jesus followers and the organizations they found. There are a whole host of reasons why this is happening that include the rise of secularism, intolerant “tolerance”, and the media machine that rules the day. A local business, for example, states that it does NOT generally provide financial support to “organizations that engage in religious proselytizing.” The message is clear: stay away from the Bible if you want help accomplishing your mission.

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Then why does Club Christ continue to operate as a faith-based organization instead of dropping our Christ-centered approach to education? It goes back over a decade ago when I met Jarel. This was the first kid from the “hood” that I had ever known. This fourth grade boy with a dark complexion had faithfully come each week to the tutoring program that I was volunteering with. One day he burst through the door with a big grin like he had something he was dying to share with me. “Mr. Evan I got in a fight today with this boy that was running his mouth. I socked him so hard he started to cry!”

He clearly wasn’t expecting my reaction. Maybe all he had known growing up was pats on the back for drawing blood in a fight. But he could tell by the look on my face that I wasn’t happy with this news. I wanted this cycle of violence he was caught up in to stop right then and there. Seeing this as an opportunity to show him that the Bible speaks directly to this, I sat him down on those little blue chairs for a talk. I opened up to the book of Proverbs and said, “Ok Jarel I want you to read this verse for me, ‘A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control.’” He struggled to pronounce even the simplest of words in that passage. Then it hit me, Jarel couldn’t read.

All of life points back to the Bible. We all search for answers and God has laid them out in his word. Knowing the heart of God through reading the Bible has made me into the man I am today. I want EVERY kid to know God’s heart and to walk in wisdom. The sad reality was that if someone didn’t intervene in Jarel’s life he might not be able to read the Bible (which is written at an 8th grade reading level) and he might have continued to use violence to solve his problems. What Jarel needed most was a mentor who could not only teach him to read but show him that God has a different plan for his life: one that would keep him out of a lot of trouble. Without the “Christ” in “Club Christ” all I had to give was empty platitudes and cliqued advice. I needed the Bible as the foundation if I was going to show kids a different way.

So I took a risk and founded Club Christ to reach kids like Jarel. Ten years later we still meet not only the educational but also the spiritual needs of urban youth. And ten years in the future we will continue to “engage in religious proselytizing” because we know that without it we can’t shape the next generation. We won’t stop giving kids an opportunity to know Jesus because we might miss out on a few dollars or a few thousand. The Jarel’s of the world need more than just reading, writing and arithmetic. They need a Savior.

Evan Hartsell

Executive Director

Club Christ Ministries

Next time: When Christian Organizations go Rogue

Girls Who Rock It

23 Oct Rosa Louise McCauley Parks was an African-American civil rights activist, whom the United States Congress called "the first lady of civil rights" and "the mother of the freedom movement." Her civil disobedience sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which eventually ended segregation on buses.

Like most women, I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with magazines.  While in line, I used to skim through them digesting the latest trends or tales.  Of late though, I have avoided them all together.   Not due to their prices or other distractions, but because they sell an image of perfection, luxury and comfort that is unattainable.

While researching lessons for our Girl Time group at Club Christ, I learned that 99% of images in magazines have been Photoshopped.  There are entire Pinterest pages, videos and blogs dedicated to revealing the truth behind advertising.  Laugh lines, cellulite, sun spots and wrinkles are erased or deleted.  Women are touched up until they cease to look like themselves.

All of this stirred up inside of me a desire to hold another example of beauty up to the Club Christ girls besides the one they are inundated with day after day.  I desired to reveal the face of true beauty.  So a couple weeks back, each girl was assigned a historical woman who rocked the world.  Women that were stunners, not due to sleek hair and flawless skin, but whose courage and fortitude was breathtaking.  From Corrie Ten Boom to Rosa Parks, the girls researched and wrote about each woman, then had the opportunity to pose as her in a photo shoot.

Below are just a few of the photographs.  It is my hope that each of these girls will emulate the qualities that these women possessed, rather than strive to achieve a fleeting physical perfection. I must give props to Jaime Moore for the inspiration behind the photo shoot.  Also, thank you Scott Shots photographing the day and Lacey Daly at Serenity Salon and Spa for hair.

Harriet Tubman was an African-American abolitionist, humanitarian, and Union spy during the American Civil War. After escaping from slavery, she guided 70 others to freedom. After the Civil War, she fought for women's rights.

Harriet Tubman was an African-American abolitionist, humanitarian, and Union spy during the American Civil War. After escaping from slavery, she guided 70 others to freedom. After the Civil War, she fought for women’s rights.

Cornelia "Corrie" ten Boom was a Dutch Christian who, along with her father and other family members, helped many Jews escape the Nazi Holocaust during World War II and was imprisoned for it. Both her sister and father passed away in the camps. After her release, she began a ministry to help people recover from the effects of the war (many of whom were Nazis).

Cornelia “Corrie” ten Boom was a Dutch Christian who, along with her father and other family members, helped many Jews escape the Nazi Holocaust during World War II and was imprisoned for it. Both her sister and father passed away in the camps. After her release, she began a ministry to help people recover from the effects of the war (many of whom were Nazis).

Helen Adams Keller was an American author, political activist, and lecturer. She was the first deafblind person to earn a bachelor of arts degree. She fought for the rights of the deaf and blind community throughout her lifetime.

Helen Adams Keller was an American author, political activist, and lecturer. She was the first deafblind person to earn a bachelor of arts degree. She fought for the rights of the deaf and blind community throughout her lifetime.

Rosa Louise McCauley Parks was an African-American civil rights activist, whom the United States Congress called "the first lady of civil rights" and "the mother of the freedom movement." Her civil disobedience sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which eventually ended segregation on buses.

Rosa Louise McCauley Parks was an African-American civil rights activist, whom the United States Congress called “the first lady of civil rights” and “the mother of the freedom movement.” Her civil disobedience sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which eventually ended segregation on buses.

Sacagawea, also Sakakawea or Sacajawea, was a Lemhi Shoshone woman, who accompanied the Lewis and Clark Expedition, acting as an interpreter and guide, in their exploration of the Western United States.

Sacagawea, also Sakakawea or Sacajawea, was a Lemhi Shoshone woman, who accompanied the Lewis and Clark Expedition, acting as an interpreter and guide, in their exploration of the Western United States.

Susan Brownell Anthony was an American social reformer who played a pivotal role in the women's suffrage movement. Born into a Quaker family committed to social equality, she collected anti-slavery petitions at the age of 17. In 1856, she became the New York state agent for the American Anti-Slavery Society. She fought for her entire life to give women the right to vote.

Susan Brownell Anthony was an American social reformer who played a pivotal role in the women’s suffrage movement. Born into a Quaker family committed to social equality, she collected anti-slavery petitions at the age of 17. In 1856, she became the New York state agent for the American Anti-Slavery Society. She fought for her entire life to give women the right to vote.

Alicia Alonso is a Cuban prima ballerina assoluta and choreographer. Her company became the Ballet Nacional de Cuba in 1955. She is most famous for her portrayals of Giselle and the ballet version of Carmen. Despite losing much of her vision, she returned to the stage and continued dancing.

Alicia Alonso is a Cuban prima ballerina assoluta and choreographer. Her company became the Ballet Nacional de Cuba in 1955. She is most famous for her portrayals of Giselle and the ballet version of Carmen. Despite losing much of her vision, she returned to the stage and continued dancing.

Bleed me out

16 Oct

I know this family…

A family with beautiful children and a hardworking caring mom. A family that has overcome more statistics that you can imagine. This family counts themselves as blessed not because of their circumstances but because of their love for God and each other. A family of 5, the sweetest of families. They are my friends, my students, and everything that I believe in fighting for.

The oldest of the children has witnessed so much, too much. He’s carried the weight of the ‘man of the house’ since he was 10. Constantly looking after his brother and two sisters and making sure they have everything they need. He often puts his school work on hold so he can hold a sister while she cries or help his brother with his coloring.

Today his mom shared with me through tears a terribly sad story. At his past two doctors appointments while the doctors drew blood he looked at the them straight in the eyes and said, “Take as much of my dad’s blood as you can.”

Have you ever wanted to just erase something completely from your memory? Imagine trying to erase it completely from your whole self. This young boy wants to be bled out, completely and totally from his father.

There’s hurt in this boys eyes and it only grows by the day. Will you pray for him tonight?

Join the staff at CCM as we lift up this young boy and his whole family.

-Maryann

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