“[If] my brother wouldn’t have invited me to Transformados, then I wouldn’t have known anything about God. … I would probably be on drugs, alcohol and sex,” Chuy says.
Chuy’s alternate life isn’t hard to guess at because many of his friends are already living it. In the sprawling city of La Paz, Mexico, drugs are widely available. Some kids start using them as early as 13 years old.
But in recent years, more and more children have found an alternative through a program called Transformados. Five days a week, they gather on a basketball court, eager to learn new athletic skills from a trio of TEAM missionaries.
Basketball is the draw, but the missionaries’ dream is something much bigger. They want to see these kids transformed by the powerful love of Jesus Christ.
Meeting Kids Where They Are
The philosophy behind Transformados (or “Transformed”) is simple: Jesus met people where they were — in the marketplace, on the beach, in their homes — so we need to do the same.
“Our vision is to use creative initiatives like basketball and other sports … to reach kids and their families for the Lord,” TEAM missionary Phil Eager says.
Kids ranging from elementary school to university come to Transformados for training. Before and after practice, the staff invites kids back to a community center for mentoring, Bible study and worship services.
‘I Hated Basketball’
The first time he came to Transformados, Chuy had no interest in actually playing.
“I hated basketball,” Chuy says.
But his brother invited him, and Chuy wanted to make friends. Early on, Chuy saw that there was something unique about the people at Transformados. If you asked for help, they offered it on the spot. They treated you like family.
It made Chuy think, “Why am I not like this? What is changing in them?”
When he asked Phil and his co-workers, they said it was because they had God in their hearts.
A Kindness He Had to Know
Chuy grew up Catholic. He knew about God. But it had been years since Chuy had gone to mass. And what Chuy saw at Transformados was different than anything he’d seen before.
The Transformados staff invited him to share his heart with them after each practice. When his grandfather died, they cancelled practice so everyone could go to the wake. Then, they invited him to Easter camp at Rancho el Camino, a partner ministry.
“It’s just like, you enter the camp, and God is waiting for you,” Chuy says.
Chuy was overwhelmed by the camp staff’s kindness. They were just like the staff at Transformados — loving, without any thought of being repaid. A short-term mission team handed out Bibles, and Chuy started looking to God’s word for direction in life.
When Chuy told his friends he wanted to be a Christian, they said it was “weird.” But Chuy wasn’t fazed by their judgments.
“As long as you are with God,” Chuy says, “everything is good.”
Praying Instead of Partying
Many kids start at Transformados, simply seeing it as a safe place to go after school and homework. Parents like it because it gets their kids outside, spending time with wholesome friends. But gradually, kids learn about the life God gives — a life far greater than anyone else can offer.
“The government can do all these programs … to try to keep kids from doing drugs, but really, the thing that’s gonna change their lives is Christ transforming their lives,” says Pattie Eager, Phil’s wife and co-worker.
When friends invite Chuy to parties, he’s started praying, “to be a different boy, and not just being into parties, drugs and things like that. … I ask God to help me make good decisions.”
One of those good decisions has been finding his own ways to serve others. Chuy helps lead worship at his church, as well as Transformados’ weekly youth service. He also started coming early to Transformados so he can help train younger kids.
Over the years, Chuy has grown to love basketball and become one of the group’s best players. Still, his focus remains on living for Christ.
“More than anything, what I want to show them is that God is in me. … I want to show that being kind is not a bad thing and that God can be with you,” Chuy says.
A Dream to Transform More Lives
As more kids like Chuy find life in Christ, Transformados is running out of room in its building. To keep up, the staff are raising funds to buy a piece of land.
“This place gets packed,” says Phil’s wife and co-worker Pattie Eager. “It’s very loud and noisy, and it’s exciting, but we’ve outgrown it.”
With a plot of land, Transformados could build a basketball court and community center with room for everyone. Owning a basketball court would also let the staff expand programming — and it would eliminate the restrictions on sharing their faith.
Until then, the Transformados team celebrates how God is already using them in the community.
“What has impacted our neighborhood is that it really is like an external family for the neighborhood,” Chuy says.
Another student called Transformados a beacon. And as that beacon draws in and shapes each child, La Paz is experiencing a transforming power no darkness can overcome.