Pointing Kids to Jesus
With Father’s Day coming up, I’d like to share with you the story of a Bethesda staff member who is a father figure in the lives of many of our Community Center kids and teens. Andre Cooper has worked at the Community Center since 2009.
Though he’s always loved working with kids, he felt called to enter into ministry with inner city teens while in his twenties volunteering with his church at a camp that runs retreats for kids from New York City. He found himself drawn to the inner city teens who were there at the time. Any free moment he had during the trip he was talking to the teens, playing basketball, and sharing the gospel with them.
“Toward the end of our trip, I felt like God had spoken to me and said, ‘this is what you’re supposed to do,’” Andre said.
Andre was drawn to those inner city teens because he was one. “I grew up in Harrisburg, and I lived everywhere you can think of in the city,” he said. “I went to almost all the schools. We moved around a lot. I didn’t know my dad.”
Speaking about the Community Center, he said, “If I would’ve had a place like this, that would have been the constant.”
At the time he didn’t realize an issue with not knowing his dad because most of the people around him had the same experience. “Looking back, I recognize that I was trying to figure out who I was as a young man,” Andre said. “So you have to figure out who you’re going to try and emulate. It was just whoever was around: my older brother, my cousins, guys in the neighborhood.”
He realized that a lot of the issues and insecurities he had stemmed from not having a father to be a role model. He did have positive male influences, like his older brother’s dad; his grandfather, who he didn’t like at the time but taught him to be responsible and accountable; coaches who took him under their wing through basketball.
In his twenties, he learned important things about being a husband and father from men in his church. He learned that he was called to be a leader in his family and he had responsibility for how his family operates. “One of the things my pastor always said was that you can’t discipline your kids unless you play with them first,” he said.
He has been attending the same church in Palmyra for the past 17 years. “God has given me the opportunity to be a bridge working in the all-black community where I’m from but also being at an all-white church and be able to speak with knowledge of both sides,” he said.
Andre and his wife have seven children—one girl and six boys, ages three to eighteen. His niece and nephew live with him and sometimes teens from the Community Center live with him for a time. “One thing God has called me to do is help others, so I’ve always had someone else living in my house,” he said.
When I asked him what his approach to ministry at the Community Center is, Andre said, “When I first started working here, I wanted to see change immediately because I was passionate. Now, I just try to be what they need me to be.”
For some kids, he is a father figure. For others, he is an older friend and mentor. No matter what role he plays in their lives, he always tries to point kids to Jesus. No matter what their relationship is with their earthly father, they can always rely on their Heavenly Father.
Last month, I shared the story of Serina Brown, the Community Center’s previous director. Serina has since moved on from her position, but Andre is sticking around to carry on the vision she cast during her time there.
With the expansion of the Community Center, our staff will need some help to be able to reach more children, teens, and families. Andre’s vision is that the Community Center will be a place where the community is serving the community and being the body of Christ. “By working together as a community to help each other, we can accomplish a lot,” Andre said.
The work that our staff does, not only at the Community Center but in all our areas of ministry, could not be accomplished without your help. Will you give a gift this month to support someone in need in our community?
Thank you for your continued support as we inspire hope in men, women, and children in Harrisburg. Have a blessed Father’s Day with your family!
“As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.”
Psalm 103:13-14 (NIV)
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