November 7th, 2011
Back on the basketball court in Queens, no such preparations were contemplated by most of the participants. Honestly, Father’s Day means nothing to the vast majority of kids we work with. Some know nothing at all of their fathers. Others have fathers who pop up—every so often—on the fringes of their lives, but they are anything but role models.
You’ve seen the studies about boys growing up without fathers, I’m sure. You know those kids are more likely to drop out of high school, more likely to be poor, more likely to use drugs, more likely to become criminals. But to me those are just miserable statistics compiled by some faceless bureaucrats.
What I see, on basketball courts in Queens and across New York City, are boys who are trying to become men, but don’t quite know how. They grow up wanting to be like LeBron James—not the father who abandoned them. They are craving a guide, a leader … someone who will show them the way.
Before the tipoff, a young man named Douglas Paillere, a Street 2 Street ministry volunteer, stepped into the huddle to tell them about the Father they could put their trust in. “Maybe your father has never been around much,” he said. “He hasn’t given you the support you’ve needed. Maybe he’s even locked up.”“But even if your earthly father has failed you, you have a Father who has not, and never will, fail you … and He’s been watching you even when you didn’t know. The Bible says that God is the ‘Father to the fatherless.’”
Douglas looked out over the crowd, all of them listening intently. He lives and ministers in the neighborhood, and knows what they’re up against. He knows about the deep hurts that lie hidden behind thin masks of bravado.
“Although my father and my mother forsake me,” he continued, referencing Psalm 27, “… the Lord will take me in. That means He will take care of you! You’re not an orphan. You’re not forsaken. You’re not forgotten.”
Just a few minutes later, 32 of those kids prayed to receive Christ. And that’s just the start for them—a team of volunteers from Nazareth Church, our local partner for the tournament, will disciple many of these young men, so that they can understand the love of their Heavenly Father.
My own father went to be with the Lord fifteen years ago. Shopping is not typically my favorite pastime, and yet there is one day of the year—the day before Father’s Day—I wish I could go to the mall, to buy a present and a card for my dad.
I miss him every day, but am so grateful he was here to show me what a Godly man looks like. I can’t imagine what I might have become without his influence in my life.
I can’t have my father back, but something I can do: introduce my Heavenly Father to those who are growing up without the benefit and blessings of an earthly father. It’s a priceless opportunity I have through Street 2 Street because of the faithful support of friends like you.
Every time I think about 32 young men—and hundreds of others this summer—who were pulled from the clasp of the Evil One, one thought comes to my mind. It’s an exclamation that I’m certain rings joyfully in heaven and in Queens, and in other places too:
Happy Father’s Day.
Until they all hear,
Woody & Renee Woodfin
April 11th, 2011
That must have been the man’s thought when he opened the door and discovered who was there to visit him. This was not the reunion of two buddies about to reminisce about the good old days. The two men at the door didn’t have a relationship … they just had a connection.
They were connected by deceit, and pain, and betrayal, and rage, and broken hearts. There was no reason to believe this visitor was here for anything but retribution. It was the natural thing, really, for this father to think: Are you going to punch me?
I don’t know anybody who would have blamed the visitor for doing just that.
Hang on, this is quite a story. That son—his name is TC—had once accepted Christ long ago, at the age of six or seven. But just about everything that happened after that, for the better part of two decades, was disastrous. The man listed on TC’s birth certificate was not his biological dad, but everybody pretended he was.
Neither he nor the real father—if you want to call him that—were around for very long. TC and his brother were caught in the crossfire as his mother and fathers churned through an epic series of failed marriages. In all: one family, 15 broken marriages.
One time in the fourth grade, TC counted and figured out he had already lived in no less than 13 residences—not including all the times he was shuffled off to relatives. The only constants in his world were strife, alcohol in vast quantities, illegal drugs, and violence. His mom, partially disabled from an auto accident, simply didn’t have the capacity to parent.
“Everything was broken,” TC says about his childhood. For a long time, he was convinced his life was one big accident. The only thing he had going that meant anything to him was sports. At home, his life was all hell. On the soccer pitch, he was magical. He had a gift, and he thought maybe the beautiful game could rescue him from his ugly predicament.
He went to college at Montclair State University and excelled beyond what anyone in his family would have ever expected. God began to work on his heart, bringing him around to the understanding that he was destined for something. Yet deep down inside there was a lot of scar tissue.
It’s often a simple thing—something unnoticed by everyone else—that proves to be life-changing. For TC that moment came at a Promise Keepers event in Albany, New York. He watched a dad hugging his son and the scene just caught him in the heart. “I have never had that,” he thought to himself. “Never once.”
Until that instant, TC had only animosity toward the man on his birth certificate, who was nevertheless the closest thing to a father he knew. This man had disappeared out of his life in a fog of lies and addictions. But somehow God gave TC an understanding, for the first time, that his father didn’t know how to be a father. He had just been a conduit, transferring the pain from one generation to the next.
But that’s not going to be happening anymore. TC DeGeyter is today a passionate follower of Christ. He is a coach, a minister, a leader, a devoted father and husband. This winter, he and his wife Denise became full-time members of the Street 2 Street team. He’s already had a tremendous impact on teens in the inner-cities and with professional athletes through his work as a chaplain for Athletes in Action, our parent ministry.
Please pray for TC and our Street 2 Street team as we introduce young people to the Father who loves them … and changes them, just like He has changed TC.
The man answering the door did not get the punch he might have expected, and maybe felt he deserved. “I’m not here to punch you,” TC said. “I’m here to hug you.” He stepped over the threshold and wrapped his arms around his father. “This is the hug your dad never gave you … and I forgive you.”
- Woody and Renee
November 22nd, 2010
A few things you didn’t know about Coney Island
If there is any place on the planet where dreams and despair converge with greater intensity, I don’t know where it would be. The place is called Surf Playground. I was there on August 14 for our Street 2 Street basketball tournament. Let me tell you about the two people in the photo to the right.
The tall guy is Damian, our basketball “Commissioner.” He runs many of the tournaments, including the one at Surf Playground—which is on Coney Island, a neighborhood on the southern tip of Brooklyn. You know about Coney Island, probably, because of the amusement park and Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs. But it’s much more than that. Coney Island is teeming with over 50,000 people, many of them hurting, hopeless, impoverished and living in government-subsidized housing.
Damian has lived his whole life in Brooklyn. Years ago, he was employed with the New York Parks and Recreation Department, where he was responsible for maintaining Surf Playground. Mostly, that meant chasing off prostitutes and drug dealers, who plied their trades in plain view of kids shooting hoops. It was a tough job—dangerous too. Damian did it well, because of how much he cared about the kids. Still does. After he left Parks and Recreation, he didn’t forget about Surf Playground.
On the left is a young lady named Ebony. She is one of our faithful and tireless volunteers. Ebony lives on Coney Island, but she grew up in a Christian home and had some advantages in life others didn’t. Her parents were involved in youth ministry, but in the stress of life they grew apart, and divorced. Ebony was shattered—and seethed with bitterness against her father. She did not speak to him for years. Literally … for years.
Not long ago Ebony went to her pastor’s wife for advice. She was encouraged to push aside the hurt and contact her father. After so much time, she didn’t even know where to begin, so she tried something out of the ordinary. She called him and asked him to volunteer with her at a Street 2 Street basketball tournament. He blew off the invitation. So she asked him again. And again. “Every time I asked him,” Ebony says, “I was thinking there was no way he would ever come.”
And then one Saturday, her father showed up. Ebony couldn’t believe it. What’s more, he loved every minute of it … helping kids the way he had once done, before his family imploded. He came to the next tournament, too, and the next one after that. And he was there on August 14—setting up tables, passing out jerseys, organizing teams, cheering on the kids. “God used Street 2 Street to totally change the relationship with my father,” Ebony said, though she really didn’t need to, because the smile you see in the picture above is the one she was wearing all day.
Two very different people, Damian and Ebony, with a common commitment to share the love of God at a place called Surf Playground. Their stories are remarkable enough, but there’s also this: On August 14, 52 kids listened to a message about what it means to be a Christian, and 30 of them made the life-changing decision to follow Christ.
So if you didn’t know before, you know now: there’s more to Coney Island than roller coasters and hot dogs. More than heartache and despair. There’s also healing, and hope, and transformation—the kind only God can orchestrate. He did it through special people like Damian and Ebony, and through your gifts and prayers. Thank you.
Until They All Hear,
Woody and Renee Woodfin
August 6th, 2010
I’ll never forget what that kid said to me.
It happened at our Street 2 Street basketball tourney this August in Allentown, PA. It wasn’t long ago, to be honest, when all I knew about Allentown was contained in the old Billy Joel tune. “We’re waiting here in Allentown—for the Pennsylvania we never found…” If you remember the words, you know there’s a lot of despair wrapped up in the lyrics.
It’s been a long time since that song hit the airwaves, but some places in Allentown today the sense of hopelessness is stronger than ever. High unemployment, violent crime, and street gangs—some with ties to the big New York City gangs. It’s all there.
So here we were hosting our first ever tournament in Allentown, and I was excited. But I have to tell you, these things are always accompanied by no small amount of stress. When you assemble 60 teenage boys—some with gang affiliations, most from rough neighborhoods, and every last one of them brimming with testosterone—you could be sitting on a powder keg.
But by the grace of God the tournament went off without a hitch. Johnny Lopez, one of our original Street 2 Street leaders, gave a crisp presentation of the gospel. Johnny has a unique way of capturing attention and commanding the respect of young men. And on this day he was firing on all cylinders and delivered a spirit-filled message that made a big impact.
At the end of his talk, Johnny asked every young man to look him in the eye, and then he challenged them. “If you’ve made a decision for Christ today,” he said, “I want you to stand up now.” Out of 60 players, unbelievably, 56 stood up. And there’s something else you should know—the 4 who remained seated did so only because they had already given their lives to Christ at an earlier S2S tournament.
I wish my faith was greater than it is but, really, I was just blown away by the response. God proved to all of us at that tournament, once again, that He is still working miracles.
When the event came to an end, I was making the rounds as I always do, thanking the volunteers, the staff and the players. “Hey, kid!” I called out to Anthony, one of the players, as he walked off the court. “Thanks for playing in the Street 2 Street tournament!” Anthony paused and turned my way. “No, sir …thank you!” he said. “This is the best day of my life! There’s nothing like this in Allentown. I can’t wait until next year!” I was thinking about how to describe the impact of Street 2 Street, but Anthony’s comments say it better than I can. Because of the prayers and financial support of our supporters, Anthony and many of his neighbors have found a new life that will lift them above the hopelessness of the inner city. And we can thank God, those boys are no longer waiting in Allentown.
August 6th, 2010
You are going to think this is an easy question with an easy answer … and you are going to be wrong. Suppose I ask you how far it is between the Sunset Park neighborhood in Brooklyn and Camp Mahanaim in upstate New York? “Simple,” you say, as you click on Mapquest, or fire up your GPS. You ask me for the addresses, and in mere seconds you are rattling off the exact mileage, fastest route, and the precise number of minutes this trip will take.
And you’re not even close to being right. Because a kid named Daniel took that journey, and the distance between Point A and Point B was a lot farther than your navigational device says it was. A lot farther.
Pastor Danny Sanabria is Street2Street’s NYC Director, and he was there when Daniel’s journey started three years ago. He remembers the moment 15-year old Daniel stepped off the church bus to play in his first Street2Street basketball tournament.
Daniel’s mother was there to watch him play. She’s a single mom with four kids she raised in a one-bedroom apartment. God knows she’s trying her best, but this is one of the toughest Latino neighborhoods in America. The kid’s father? Long gone. The only things Daniel really cared about were girls, drugs, drinking … and basketball.
As Daniel’s mom watched him play, Pastor Danny sensed in her that despair that crushes so many parents who want the best for their kids, but lack the means to provide it.
“Daniel needs guidance,” Pastor Danny told the mom. “Why don’t you let him come hang out with us?” She was more than happy for the help, if a little shocked to discover that here was a man who was willing to be the first father figure Daniel had ever known. A man who genuinely cared about the future of her son.
After the tournament, Daniel quickly became a fixture at Park Slope Christian Tabernacle, where Pastor Danny is also the youth pastor. And later that Fall, Daniel found himself—along with 60 other Street2Street kids—at his first church retreat, up at Camp Mahanaim. That’s where everything changed for Daniel. On the second night of the retreat, Jesus broke through to his heart. He raised a trembling hand and he walked to the front of the chapel, his face awash in tears as he was introduced to his Heavenly Father—the One who would never let him down.
Daniel’s story gets better. He’s a major influence in his youth group at church. Not only does he lead the youth band, he also plays guitar with the church’s adult worship band. He’s building relationships with peers and he’s making a positive impact on others. Pastor Danny sums him up by saying: “He’s an exciting young man … totally committed to Christ.”
So, if I may ask again … how far is it, exactly? It’s a long way, for sure. The distance from despair to deliverance, from darkness to light, from lost to leader. Some would say it’s a bridge too far. Some would say you can’t get there from here. Not so. It’s a long way, but it’s a distance that can be traversed in an instant when God is charting the course.
And to think … the journey started with a basketball tournament. Thanks for visiting Street 2 Street today. I hope you’ll be part of the team!