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Learning the law of the Lord

Daniel graduated from a high school in Modesto about five years ago. He was involved in sports, earned good grades and looked forward to walking the stage in his cap and gown.

His life wasn't always so positive.

Daniel was in juvenile hall 12 times in one two-year period. While inside, he said he'd go to the chapel services run by Youth for Christ.

"Sometimes I went just to get out of my cell. Other times to look at the girls and other times to see what Chaplain Marty (Villa, now in charge of YFC's youth and family ministry) had to say."

One time, Daniel quickly memorized a chapter in Psalms to earn a Bible. Then he'd get out of juvenile hall and put the Bible aside, living life without God, he said.

He was placed in a group home "because I was out of control at home." While at the group home, Daniel said he accepted Christ at a church service.

He began reading the Bible before school, "but the biggest problem was I was not walking with the Lord at school. I went to Community School behind juvenile hall. This school was full of drop-outs, druggies and kids kicked out of regular high schools. These were my friends. If they drank or got high at school, I would do the same. It was hard to stop just because I raised my hand at an altar call."

Daniel said he was "looking for a way to live for God. Then one day, I came across Psalm 1: 'Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers, but the law of the Lord is his delight and on the law he meditates day and night.'

"Then I remembered I knew this chapter by heart. This is the chapter Marty had me memorize. I understood that the first step God wanted me to take was to separate myself from all my friends. I had no Christian friends. It was a sacrifice, but I ... am a completely changed person.

"(God) has restored me to a priceless relationship with my mother. She used to kick me out every weekend because of my disobedience. Now we are friends.

"The Lord has blessed me with a whole new set of friends. He blessed me with a job where my boss and all my co-workers go to church. The Lord has allowed me the privilege to go back to the same juvenile hall that had me bound and preach deliverance."

Rick Roberts is the YFC chaplain at juvenile hall.

"I met Chris just over 1½ years ago," he said. "He was in for petty theft and being under the influence of methamphetamines. As I talked with him, I realized how little self-worth he had. At 13, he already did not like himself and could not imagine that anyone else could."

But, Roberts said, Chris held his mom in high regard, even though she was a meth addict who sometimes forgot to feed Chris and his sister.

"Chris has grown leaps and bounds since then," Roberts said. "He has read large portions of the Old and New Testaments. He is growing in wisdom and learning how to control his anger and emotions.

"Obviously, Chris' story is still being written, but the changes so far have been huge, and yet the work that God wants to do in him is still far from over. I'm grateful for the part that I and other Youth for Christ staff get to play in Chris' life."

Kenneth Sylvia is a YFC staff member in charge of the West Modesto Tapestry program for fifththrough eighth-graders. The students gather on Monday nights at The Carpenter's House on Carpenter Road for music, activities, a short lesson and small group time, the heart of the program.

Sylvia, 22, a graduate of Modesto High School and California State University, Stanislaus, volunteered with Tapestry as a high school and college student. He joined the paid staff in January.

"We're about mentoring; we're about helping them be as much as they can be," he said. "Some of these kids have such deep, deep troubled wounds in their lives."

Outsiders, he said, might be shocked by the behavior of the kids. For example, someone might criticize a girl for saying an obscene word and throwing a water bottle before leaving the room. "But I'm excited because it's the first time she hasn't hit someone with that water bottle," he explained. "She didn't cuss me out. That's spiritual growth.

"These kids talk a lot. They don't know how to sit still. But they're so open. They'll say, 'Yeah, my dad's in prison again,' or 'My mom is using drugs again.'

"One of the juniorhighers, when she was coming around about a year ago, was loudmouthed and would say very obnoxious things. Now she says, 'I asked my friend to come to church,' or she'll talk about helping a boy at school who has problems. She's having so many positive behaviors in the midst of all her junk."

Gilbert, a high school senior, has been part of Tapestry for almost three years. This year, he's helping Kenneth Sylvia as a small-group leader for junior high participants.

"My life before Tapestry was like any other teenage life — going out, partying, doing all the wrong stuff, breaking all the rules," Gilbert said. "I don't do any of that now. I've seen that it wasn't getting me anywhere. I'd end up sooner or later in prison.

"Now I have hope and I'm changing. I'm helping these kids out now, helping them learn what's right and wrong."

Gilbert said he's the middle of seven children. His older three siblings have been in trouble, he said, participating in gangs and arrested on drunk-driving and domestic-violence charges. He probably would be a gang member if it weren't for Tapestry, he said.

"It turned my life around. I was going the wrong way."

He has an after-school job and plans to major in criminal justice at Modesto Junior College and California State University, Stanislaus. He hopes to join the Modesto police force.

"I like to help people," he said. "I want to make a change, have a small part in changing this city."