Leaders in Training
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.