Gene Lopez is one of BCM’s newer staff members, having joined in September 2020 as the Teen Spiritual Program Manager. Gene was born and raised in the Central Valley of California, and has gained a lot of experience in coaching, teaching, mentoring and counseling, especially in the context of student ministries. After attending Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary, Gene worked with inner city students in a ministry that combined lessons of faith and scripture with other aspects of daily inner city life such as fitness and social justice. He continued his focus on helping students when he relocated to the Bay Area, where he helped young people in their struggles with depression, anxiety, psychosis, substance abuse, homelessness and incarceration.

Among other things, Gene is managing the LiT program, which is short for “Leaders in Training”. Much like its name, LiT is a spiritual and leadership program for high schoolers. In its weekly meetings, high schoolers help each other (with the aid of volunteers) to discover their identity in God, as well as their God-given gifts and strengths, so that they are able to become leaders in their communities (whether at work, school, or with their family and friends). LiT is also fueled by a strong belief in the value of Biblical discipleship. Volunteers mentor the students in the program by creating committed and meaningful relationships.

Gene’s lived experience of knowing and feeling for students who have had to deal with unfortunate circumstances has helped him adjust to ministry in a pandemic. When asked about how he has seen God at work in LiT during the last few months, he was quick to answer that this season highlighted the importance of teaching students about self care, health, and wellness. He notes that LiT provides a rare space of support (from peers and from volunteers) when it comes to difficult topics as well as sources of stress and anxiety for students.

The signs that LiT has become such a space is the biggest source of encouragement for Gene. He is gladdened by every student who offers to lead in prayer, who initiates and facilitates vital conversations for their friends, and who provides new perspectives on complex systemic issues that range far outside the contexts of their high school classrooms. Gene recalls helping a student apply to a private high school, and how the student’s writing samples left a lasting impression on him. They were profound meditations on issues of immigration, incarceration, and polarization – and all this coming from an 8th grader.

His interactions with students in ministry thus far has built for him a personal conviction in the need for holistic ministry, a conviction that BCM also shares. “Holistic ministry” denotes the simple fact that Christian student ministries cannot be restricted purely to typical religious activities like prayer, worship, and Scripture. Student leaders and student programs should seek to reach each student’s whole person, which includes their physical health, their emotional lives, mental wellness, and spiritual development. The whole person is sacred, and made in the image of God.

Gene thinks about moments when he was told, “I don’t like your religion, but I like your Jesus.” The LiT program is a way to interact with Jesus without being distracted by checking the boxes of religiosity. For those who have a negative stigma when it comes to the church, they are still able to see Jesus not only as savior, but as kind, as a healer, a comforter, a voice for the marginalized, and a voice for the oppressed.

Besides growing and nurturing the students already within BCM programs, Gene also has a heart for students in the community who are not yet part of BCM. He advocates for the role of partnerships with non-faith based organizations such as schools, sports clubs and recreational clubs to increase the community’s access to programs like LiT. Gene believes that as human beings, we all have spiritual needs. By increasing the community’s access to the program, LiT will be able to help more students experience Jesus.

Looking into the future of the LiT program, Gene would appreciate the prayer of BCM supporters on the following three items:

  • Pray that our program volunteers and staff are able to serve the needs of the students in the community, and through them, the larger needs of the community

  • Pray for the students that are in the program, that they will be able to receive guidance in their lives – we all need to be mentored.

  • Pray that God would bring us into relationships with new students in His perfect timing.

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by Carmen Thong

The BCM Lego robotics program is usually held during the fall competition season for the First Lego League (FLL), where teams of students sign up to ideate, collaborate, and build a robot in line with the theme of the season (Space travel, anyone? Or underwater exploration?). During the process, students have hands-on experience with skills valued in high tech fields, as well as soft skills such as teamwork, communication, and creative thinking. Most of all, building your own robot is just really, really, cool.

This past season, BCM’s robotics program had to pivot in order to work around the pandemic. BCM’s team of coaches came up with an ingenious alternative program. While they could not as efficiently incorporate values like collaboration, the program was able instead to teach students about project planning, independence, and self-motivation. The program was changed from a canned Lego set with a template of challenges to a robot set-up that each participant was able to build on their own at home.

The robot itself comes with assembly instructions (all 190 steps!), and involves everything from mechanical skills to coding. Individual students would have to plan milestones for themselves, and decide on timelines to work through the steps with the coaches, as well as navigate the software provided that helps them build the robot. While they did miss working with their peers, the individualized experience was really able to push each and every one of them to reach their goals on their own. The coaches this year were very encouraged to see the quieter students participate more as they had increased say over their own projects.

Three volunteer coaches, Howard Wong, Hubert Wong, and Sandeep Poonen, were able to sit down (over Zoom) to tell us a bit about the new plan, and their experience as volunteers.

Meet Howard

Howard is originally from New Zealand, and started getting connected to the EPA community when he was a grad student. While attending Lord’s Grace Christian Church, Howard noticed BCM in the church bulletin. He has been with the robotics program for 4 years now, and enjoys the experience of being able to coach kids to excel in whatever they choose. Howard believes in being able to serve in a practical sense, and he is especially fulfilled volunteering as a tutor and coach because,

“Growing up I had opportunities, and I want everyone to get the same kind of access I did.”

Meet Hubert

Hubert echoes Howard’s interest in helping others build their interest in their chosen fields. He volunteered to serve because he has decided that service needs to be done with regularity, and because he sees a responsibility in being part of a neighborhood.


“During COVID, it increasingly felt like there was no boundary between work and my life, and I didn’t want work to take over. I know that if I don’t work service into a part of my life in a certain regularity, then it becomes so easy to push it aside. We get distracted by the urgent things, and forget to put things into the right places. Regularity helps me to keep my eyes on the things that are important but not necessarily urgent. It helps me to practice what I want to be.”

Being Neighborly

“Jesus asks us to love our neighbors. Yet, despite living so close to EPA, I’ve never known the part of town north of university/east-side of the freeway before joining BCM. This year, I delivered the robotics kits to 8 places in one afternoon at EPA and got to know my neighbors better than before. When I showed up on a student’s doorstep to pass them their kits, I got to meet households up close, see them spending a family evening eating dinner together. BCM has helped me feel closer to my neighbors.”

Meet Sandeep

Sandeep shares the value of helping those around him in a “simply tangible way, not an abstract way.” He spoke about how he really valued being able to get to know one of the boys he was coaching, and to be able to “do small things with great love” (quoting Mother Teresa). Sandeep was introduced to BCM through conversations with his friend, Rajesh Philipos, about social justice issues.

Despite the large scope of the social issues he discussed, Sandeep committed himself to live out his beliefs rather than just talk about them.

He was influenced by this quote by William Booth: ‘To get a man soundly saved it is not enough to put on him a pair of new breeches, to give him regular work, or even to give him a University education. These things are all outside a man, and if the inside remains unchanged you have wasted your labor. You must in some way or other graft upon the man's nature a new nature, which has in it the element of the Divine.’

A Reciprocal Relationship

While they all set out in their service to help and encourage others, they too were grown and encouraged by their experience as a volunteer, and through the people they met. Howard was struck by the perseverance and ingenuity of the coaches, who had to navigate a new program and get a sense of camaraderie with their students over video calls. Sandeep found his one-on-one coaching valuable as he was able to truly get to know the students that he was helping. “I used to drop off my student after BCM every week. The second to last week, the student wanted me to come to the house and show me the artwork that he had made. This invitation for me into his ‘sanctuary’ to see something that he was proud of, was a meaningful small gesture.”

Hubert, on the other hand, speaks of his experience meeting one of the BCM parents two seasons ago. While sharing a hot coffee from McDonalds, Hubert finds out that the parent’s job is cutting down trees. Every day, he would climb up tall palm trees and cut them down, part by part. He would free-climb them with spikes and a harness that helped him hold on. “He thanked me for being the coach as he didn’t want his kids to have a job like his. He wanted his kids to explore new things and have good schooling and get to where they want to be… that was really touching for me to hear that from him. I saw that he and I were not that different, we try to have a good life so that our kids can have the right education and get to the place they want to be. We want them to do things that are meaningful, and we want our kids to be successful.

BCM is a way for me to share something that I have so that I can help others.”

While this year’s program was instituted in reaction to unlikely circumstances, Howard, Hubert and Sandeep think that it came with real advantages too, and they are eager to see how some of those advantages can be instituted into the BCM robotics program in future years.

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Covid is not a good thing. But God is always at work, using our circumstances for good. Leslie Tuakalau, BCM’s Bible Club Program Manager, sees the way this pandemic has helped reconnect parents and children, allowing parents to return to their primary role of influence in their children’s lives. “Parents had begun to expect church or technology to do their job, but the pandemic has been an opportunity for parents to teach their children about Jesus. BCM has the privilege of coming alongside parents, to partner with them, to support them as they raise up their children in the ways of the Lord.”

Covid has forced Bible Clubs to operate virtually, with clubs meeting weekly in addition to small group huddles throughout the week. “The volunteers have been remarkable, trying to figure out what’s best for the kids, always willing to go the extra mile to make a student feel special, to let them know that God loves them,” glows Leslie. In the Westside Bible Club, students are encouraged to do something positive each week, like help with a chore, create a piece of art or help a sibling. The entries are submitted to Maria, one of the volunteer leaders, who picks a name out of a hat; the winner receives a pizza for their family.

In one of the other clubs, God has been at work in Michael’s* life. When Bible Club was in-person, Michael was constantly demanding attention and it was difficult to work with him. Now that Bible Club is virtual, the leaders are able to give him extra attention and have learned so much more about him: his love for animals and desire to be a vet, his knowledge and love for cars. He has bonded with the volunteers as they have answered his many, many questions and they are excited to see how God uses him as he grows and matures. Michael even invited one of the volunteers to come to his house so he could help train her dog. During her masked and socially distant visit, he helped train her dog to sit and do tricks.

Engaging with the students in prayer has been another of Leslie’s highlights. “One of the students who is new to Bible Club is willing to pray for the group and when she prays, it’s like listening in on her conversation with God, like she’s really having a chat with a friend.” During the huddles, students focus on a scripture in their prayer journal and Leslie is constantly touched by how much gratitude they have, even in the midst of a challenge like Covid. “I love being part of training them to be thankful to God, even in times of struggle.”

As we head into 2021, there are still many challenges due to Covid. “I am constantly thinking about the students, how can we be a listening ear, how can we be responsive? During this time of isolation, making sure the students are heard is especially important. The students spend so much time online, and I want to make sure we are not just drilling God’s Word into them, but being a living example of God’s love, bringing hope through relationships.”

*Name changed for privacy

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