My journey started in August 2008. I was arrested for 4 DUI's. In January of 2009, I found myself at the Fresno Rescue Mission one step away from going back to prison. My history had consisted of a broken family, drug addiction and gang violence. I turned my life over to Christ and developed a relationship with Him in 2001, through a small men's home in Del Rey, CA. I understood what it was to have God in my life. I needed to change my behavior and place my life in His care. I had 3 children that were being raised by their mother while I rotated in and out of the system. Looking at my children through glass windows of a prison visiting center tore me up inside. I vowed to do more than try. I was going to do everything possible to change. The Rescue Mission was there.
The Mission offered me a new opportunity. They not only taught me how to make the changes, but to live “life”. After successfully graduating the program in September of 2010, I made a list of goals and ideas. During the Aftercare process of the program, I started involving myself and my family in activities through a teen center at the church. I felt something tugging in my heart. The activities evolved into leading a young men's Bible study. My pastor started saying things like, “Here comes Reverend Marcelo,” and that scared me. As always, when responsibility was necessary, I ran and made excuses. The church was having internal leadership shifts. The grant that covered expenses for the youth center was no longer available. Without the funding it was going to need to close its doors - great excuses for me to use as reasons to move on. Eventually, I did. I left the church.
Leaving, of course, hadn’t changed anything. God was still tugging at my heart.The guilt of leaving the children who relied on the youth study was intense. I grew up in a town with similar problems - gangs, poverty and not much else to offer to help a child avoid both. The neighborhood where these kids lived was about 200 miles away from my hometown, but I recognized it well: different place, but the same circumstances.
As God kept tugging, I started listening. Eventually I returned to the church and apologized to my Pastors. Like the Bible story the prodigal son, they didn't hold anything against me. I felt as if I never left. No welcome party was needed. I simply felt I was home. However, by then, the youth center was no more.
During that year, I had been employed with the Fresno Rescue Mission. I was hired 4 months earlier as an Administrative Assistant for the Academy. My goal was to be a Drug/Alcohol counselor, to help others overcome the same issues I had. Being in this ministry environment, an atmosphere of trust and encouragement, led me to begin asking God for something more. I sensed I needed someone in my life that could help me, mentor me. I knew I also wanted to learn how to re-open the center for youth.
A pastor, Michael Zavala, had come through the Academy program dealing with his own life issues and addictions. As he was moving on, into Aftercare, I shared with him my vision. At one point of his life, he had overseen a very successful youth ministry, governing about 400 youth in the city of Fresno. He was as excited as I was, willing to volunteer his time to mentor me and start the project. Putting the pieces in place was exciting, but it wasn’t until I received news that a teen in the area had committed suicide that I sensed the urgency. All excuses for delay went out the window. The main hold-up: How was I going to raise the money needed to start the project? In an instant that the thought hit, God said, "You never asked. Don't I always provide?"
The Lord has provided – faithfully! Family members, friends in the community and unexpected blessing poured in. We all invested fully in what God has planned.
Our job in life is not to change people. Only God can do that. Our commission is to make disciples - to plant seeds of hope in others. God used others to plant seed in me. In my youth, a man in the neighborhood had a passion for lost and confused kids from the “Barrio.” He spoke the truth. He shared his love. Because of his efforts, I understood the whispers God was speaking. I discovered the calling in my life. Today I've chosen to stop running from my responsibilities and, instead, face them head-on. I'm not alone. I have God's favor in my life. My mission is simple: plant the seed of hope and let God produce the increase. I may not be a preacher, singer, or have much talent, but I can share the love of Christ with the children of Del Rey.
The RIZE ABOVE Youth Ministry service opened its doors on February 28, 2014.
The community of Del Rey, population 1,700, has an unemployment rate of 11.8% (adults over 25) and 73% of school-aged children live below the poverty line. There are 3 liquor stores, a Mexican restaurant, a small boutique, and a growing gang culture. As Marcelo shares, “It seems to be a community forgotten. But the name, Del Rey, means ‘of the King.’ God has a sense of irony, having purposed me very strategically to accept this challenge to win His city, and the children living in it, back to His glory.
“I accept the challenge!” – Marcelo Lopez