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When a Bible Club and Gang Bangers Collide...

08-31-2015
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LOS ANGELES -- Classes are back in session for many public schools, and for thousands of California students that means a return to weekly Bible club meetings.

The clubs are growing across the Golden State and some organizers credit them with saving teens from gangs, drugs, and even death.

Brian Barcelona speaks at many of those high school Bible club meetings - and students are paying attention.

Changing Lives

In an interview with CBN News, Barcelona recalled one meeting where rival gang members stumbled in as they were running from school security.

"And I will never forget when I finished, there was this awkward silence in the room and this gang banger stands to his feet and he looks at me and says, 'What do I have to do to be saved'?" Barcelona said.

"And I remember the principals pulled me into their office," Barcelona continued. "And he says, 'Look, I don't know what you are saying (in) these meetings. I don't know what you are doing in these meetings, but whatever you are doing, keep doing it because gangs have been coming to our counseling offices with kids saying, 'We don't want to be a part of our gang anymore. Help us.'"

Barcelona leads One Voice Student Missions, a ministry he started with a tiny office in his bedroom and a Bible club meeting at his California high school in the summer of 2009.

In six years, God has grown Barcelona's reach from one school to more than 20 schools and more than 2,000 students.

"So literally, what One Voice does is we come alongside of the student and we say, 'What are your dreams?" Barcelona said. "If money wasn't an issue, if time wasn't an issue, what would you believe for God to do in your school?'"

Dedicated Students

Hundreds of students attend Bible club meetings at Roosevelt High School, one of the only schools with a Planned Parenthood clinic on-site.

Free pizza draws some students to their first meeting, but Barcenlona's message keeps them coming back.

"I love that they bring Jesus into my life because now I am so much more positive, the way I see things, than before," student Ruby Navarrete said. "It has just changed me so deeply. I love Bible club now. It is, like, amazing."

Mary Sanchez is also a student.

"I was just really lost and confused. I didn't know what I wanted or who I was. And little by little, coming to the Love Club, praying and worshiping -- it help me find myself," Sanchez said.

"They encouraged me to seek God more and to seek this deeper relationship and I really learned a lot and gained wisdom from their teaching," student Valeria Bonoan said.

Bible club lessons at one school led students to take a trip to the beach to be baptized.

These events are happening at California public schools, and there has been little resistance from administration.

"Well, every school is allowed clubs. Whether it is a chess club, Islam club, Catholic club, math club," Barcelona said. "They are also allowed Bible clubs. The whole thing is it has to be student-led."

Saving Lives

Some school staff members embrace the clubs because they have seen improvements in their students' attitudes, behavior and grades. Barcelona has seen even bigger changes.   

"There was an anonymous letter, left in the classroom that we were meeting in, to the Bible club president and to the guy who preached. They didn't even know my name," Barcelona recalled.

"And it was a thank you letter, and it read something like, 'Yesterday night I was planning on killing myself, but during school I went to your meeting and I found hope and today I am alive,'" he said.

The letter hit home. It was also a youth group meeting that saved Barcelona's life. He was 16 and a senior in high school when he accepted Christ into his life. 

"So, my senior year comes. I have been an atheist before that, did not believe in God. I had seen so much hypocrisy in the Church," he explained. "Growing up, my family used to go and then stopped. So I just felt there was no way there could be a God. I move in with my mom and run into an old time friend and he starts inviting me every week to the youth group."

"And finally one day he says just, 'Look, if you come to the youth group tonight, I will buy you Jamba Juice. I say, 'Ooh, free Jamba Juice? What time are you going to pick me up?"

"I remember I stood up in that church and I said, 'Jesus, I don't know if you are real. I have heard you died on the cross. I have heard you have done these things. If you are real, I dare you to touch me.'"

"And as soon as I said that I felt this crazy love come over body. And I just started weeping," Barcelona said.

The atheist became a believer, and God has used him to reach young people since that day. He says it's not because he's good, but simply because he is available.

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