Sergio lives in the poor community of Carranza, near the Gulf of México, in the state of Veracruz. Children living in communities like Carranza are normally shy, with few aspirations or dreams. The message poverty engraves in the minds and hearts is, “You are not good enough, you don’t matter, and you are not going to make it.”
But Sergio has been part of the Compassion-assisted A Light to My Path Student Center for four years. The tutors at the center believe children have a God-given potential to succeed even against their poverty, lack of resources and opportunities, and all other circumstances around them.
Sergio and nearly 200 other children in his town attend the development center. They enjoy some classes after school to support their learning. They are taught how to keep themselves healthy by practicing sports, eating vegetables, showering, and keeping healthy practices. Children have a place to feel they are valued and loved.
But most important, children here learn about the love and the plans God has for them.
As part of the regular activities, the children are taken to nearby courts to practice basketball, football and other sports. The church organizes games and events to promote their involvement.
Sergio used to be part of the football team; the church pastor was involved, helping to support the children and guide them to learn to win and to lose, managing their emotions, and playing clean.
But two years ago the school PE teacher found that many children in town had running talent, and Sergio stood out with his speed, endurance and commitment, so the teacher began training him on 600-meter and relay races.
Sergio has liked to run since he was a little boy. His mother, Cita, recalls him winning his first race in his kindergarten sports games.
“He was always running up and down. He usually had many bruises because he was never still.”
After a few months of training, the school had a very strong 4-by-75 meter relay team and started winning races against other schools in the area. The team made it to the state races and then qualified for the nationals.
The state of Veracruz supported their talent and hard work, and provided support for them to keep training. Then, suddenly, a situation rose like a wall in their path. The national races required equipment.
The final races in the state had been very difficult, and a professional coach recommended the team use spikes to run. Children and families had never heard such a thing. Special running shoes were not only needed, but costly — $120 a pair.
With a family of five children and the small income of a truck driver, Cita knows “the only opportunity our children have to get new clothes or shoes is when they receive a gift from their sponsor.”
Sergio’s father works 14 hours a day, six days a week to earn a maximum wage of $12 per day to support his family. Getting $120 shoes seemed impossible.
But child development programs like the one Sergio attends keep telling children they are valued and have the potential to become anything they would like to be. They insist there is nothing impossible to God, and the message they hear from their tutors reminds them of the opportunity they have to do better, to dream, and to fulfill those dreams.
Sergio struggled with this idea over and over in his head. Then on a hot afternoon while Cita was walking in the street market, she found a secondhand pair of shoes that were funny looking. Her heart jumped and she ran to the school to show the PE teacher the shoes.
“These are the shoes we need for the children,” he said.
Still amazed, the mother brought Sergio to try on the shoes, and they were just about his size. The mother then talked to the father and they agreed to use some money they had saved for months and paid the price for the shoes, $20.
“What a great day,” Sergio recalls. After all, he was the first in the team to get the spikes needed for the race, and today he is part of the athletics team at school running 600 meters and as the starter of the 4-by-75 relay race team.
Last year Sergio’s team reached the nationals and won fourth place in their discipline. For Sergio and the other children, winning the races meant satisfaction and recognition by their family, school, teachers, friends and others in their community.
When Sergio participates in his races, the church gives him full support and has always taught him to behave as a son of God. Every time he goes off to competitions, his pastor and teachers pray with him and follow his results.
After winning his last race in the state, he was presented at church and the pastor prayed for him and for his family on Sunday morning. Sergio knows that despite where he is from, he is loved by God and is good enough to win a race. He knows that strength, wisdom and speed, in his case, are all gifts from God.
Sergio is confident enough to race, and he knows he is good. He has received many medals and recognition, but he knows how to keep both feet on the ground. He does not boast about himself or walk around the community with pride; even when he is well known by many, he greets all and smiles shyly. He is still humble enough to do the errands for his mother and church.
Sergio trains on a regular basis, attends the Compassion program, keeps good grades at school, and helps his mother at home. When races approach, the athletics team meets every afternoon to train. They have to go to a main town to find a sand court and train. This requires dedication and persistence.
Sergio says he prefers the relay race over the 600 meters because the relay is when he gets to run faster to win for the team. But the longer race requires persistence, he has to endure the race, and then at the end he needs to run faster to finish the race in a good position.
Perhaps persistence is one of the things we most need to succeed, and children in our programs need to endure the long run. Sergio is surely learning this lesson. And as the state and national races approach this year, Sergio is growing stronger and hopefully he will endure long enough not only to make it to the nationals this year, but to succeed in life and shape a brighter future for himself.
After all, nothing is impossible with God.
“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.
Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.” — 1 Corinthians 9:24-25 (NIV)