By Charles Millette
At the age of 12, Franco graduated from elementary school and instead of entering middle school he decided to choose another educational institution: the school of “hard knocks”. For 6 years he lived on the streets of Lima where he joined other teenagers in pickpocketing, making trouble, and evading police. Franco did not excel at the last part and would frequently spend nights behind bars.
Franco’s life had not started with so much trouble, but at a young age, he was exposed to deep loss and grief. When Franco was 8 years old, his father passed away. Four years later, his sister did too. Unfortunately, dealing with death wasn’t about to stop and his beloved and cherished grandmother passed away. Soon after, Franco’s uncle – like a second father – died, and finally the following year his mother passed away.
Franco’s first 25 years were marked by deep pain and grief, but today we’ve seen an incredible transformation. The saving grace of the Almighty God has given Franco the hope, love, and help he needs to deal with such a tumultuous start. Today he uses his experiences to minister to others. Franco identifies with the pain and grief experienced by the Apostle Paul and how he chose to use such circumstances for God’s glory. In 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 it tells us: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” Franco sees that God has given him comfort so that he can minister to others who are hurting. Like Paul, Franco has been revitalized by God and now presses on, every week, to comfort kids, teens, and young adults who play for one of the three teams Franco oversees.
After a long week of work in a glue factory where he has diligently been working for the last 9 years, Franco spends his Saturdays coordinating the efforts of several Sports Friends-trained coaches in his home community. Franco learned of the vision of Sports Friends and saw the hope that it could bring for youth who were like him. A typical Saturday looks something like this:
First stop: Head to local church before 11 am. Pick up ball bag and other equipment. Travel way up in the hills to the neighborhood of San Juan de Lurigancho, Lima’s most populated neighborhood. Gather and visit the U-12 team and coaches Oscar and Hector.
Second stop: By 1 pm it’s time to head down to join Coach Josué and the group of young adults who form the church’s official team. Composed of some believers but mainly of unbelievers, the squad faithfully attends the practices where cones, balls, and Bible teachings go hand in hand. Franco continues to challenge the young believers to share God’s Word with their teammates.
Last Stop: Finish off the Saturday activities by heading back to the church in time to teach a class and further their biblical understanding. Many people in the church can’t relate to Franco’s story, but continue to come because of the simple and easy to understand methodology that he uses to study and teach the Bible.
In the end, just like Paul, Franco understands that his past, as rough and difficult as it was, will always serve as an excellent diving board for the work God has in store for him if he remains faithful and connected to the Lord.