Check out this video from Carmen!
When you envision a Bayshore Christian Ministries volunteer, what comes to mind? A young, Christian professional teaching in our teen Streetworkz or LiT spiritual program? Perhaps a mom or a retired couple tutoring an East Palo Alto student or delivering a meal to a Vacation Bible School camp? Maybe a musician leading worship music for one of our camps? Or a tech worker taking time away from the job to lead a robotics workshop? Yes, to all! And, if you fit into any of these categories, please consider volunteering.
But, how about a high school student, who has lived her whole life in East Palo Alto, joining a Bible Club team in her own neighborhood to translate for Spanish-speaking parents, lead music, and disciple her younger neighbors? This perfectly describes Carmen Zurita, a 17-year-old senior, about to graduate from Woodside High School, and a highly valued member of BCM’s Westside Bible Club leadership team!
Carmen’s first exposure to BCM was as an 8-year-old student attending a BCM Bible Club in the very apartment cluster where she still lives on the west side of Highway 101 in East Palo Alto, near the Four Seasons Hotel. There, she leads a BCM Bible Club that could not function without her help, given her deep understanding of the culture and language of the families sending their children to our weekly gatherings.
“My older siblings, cousins and I all enjoyed BCM programs beginning in elementary school. We attended tutoring sessions, Vacation Bible School and Bible Clubs. I fondly remember my leaders from that time, especially Miss Tammy and Mr. Steve,” said Carmen. “I transitioned to volunteering last summer, working as a VBS leader in the Belle Haven neighborhood.”
Worship music with hand motions was the best part of VBS, in Carmen’s opinion. “It was exciting to see how much the students enjoyed worship. Once we suggested that we were running short on time so we would skip the singing and dancing, but the youth insisted that we make time for the singing. Because the lyrics stick in their minds, positive Christian songs are excellent for students’ mental and spiritual health.”
Carmen is surprised to find herself remarking that the most impactful time she spends with the Westside Bible Club is picking the students up from their apartments and then walking them to the Bible Club and back, conversing in both English and Spanish, as they slip between the two languages, one which they speak at home, and the other at school.
“This time of casual reflection is the best way to make personal connections,” opines Carmen. “The boys and girls share with me when I ask them questions. They tell me that their teachers at school are not as open with them as their Bible Club leaders.
“Some of the kids leave home with thoughts that are not the best, but once they reach Bible Club, they find a safe space to talk about how they feel about things going on at school. Once, when walking home with 3 students, I asked how Bible Club is different than school. They replied, ‘We feel comfortable. Whatever we learn here we go and share with our friends. Some don’t believe, and some do, but we still share.’
“Another child told me, ‘When I’m scared, I pray to God and the fear goes away,’” continued Carmen. “It’s encouraging to see children relying on God at such a young age.”
Shelter in place has given Carmen the unique opportunity to help our Bible Club Program Manager, Leslie Tuakalau, connect with the parents in new ways:
Explaining how to log their sons and daughters into our Zoom Bible Club meetings,
Introducing parents to our weekly pizza contest, and,
Gifting them with care packages filled with grocery gift cards for the family, plus educational materials, games and snacks for the students.
“I have seen parents’ hearts soften towards us as they receive the gift bags. At first, when we would knock to pick up students for Bible Club, some parents were not particularly friendly. But, the gift bags -- a sign that BCM cares for these kids -- shocked them. They see that what we do is important. They want their children to keep God in their hearts and thoughts,” Carmen reflects about the west side parents. “They realize that the program is helping children do just that. Since shelter in place started, every single mom has had a conversation with me that they believe in God and trust God to get them through this pandemic. Ironically, these strange times are good for BCM’s relationship with East Palo Alto parents!”
Carmen is uniquely created by God and placed in her volunteer role for such a time as this. Ephesians 2:10 seems particularly appropriate: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
BCM is rejoicing with Carmen that she will be leaving East Palo Alto in the fall to attend her dream college, Fresno Pacific University, a small, Christian college. There, she will study music performance and composition to continue her passion of leading Christians in worship, something she currently does both in BCM’s Bible Club, but also at Puerta del Cielo – her church in Menlo Park. We will all miss Carmen but thank God for choosing to lead Carmen to BCM for this season of her life. She has blessed so many as a volunteer!