Our very first mission trip to the United States had us team up with our good friends at Common Ground. This amazing organization was started by Matt Johnson and Jake Piering, with their focus on Jesus and wanting to use their talents with surfing and skateboarding, they created an outreach centre for the youth in their local community named "The Warehouse". With the support of their church and good friends, Common Ground was born and able to make a huge impact in their community and the youth that have come through their programs.
In July 2017 my cousin, Arran Mofrad, and I embarked on a journey down to California. I was blessed to have Arran join me, we grew up together in Dagenham, Essex (just outside London, England) and Arran knows me inside out. He has seen me go through many stages and struggles in my life and stood with me. What I love about Arran is that he always makes me laugh, I mean uncontrollably belly laugh, he's always got my back and he's super compassionate towards everyone he meets. Like it says in Proverbs 13:20 you need to surround yourself with great people.
After a short flight down to LAX we rented a car and headed to a friend's house who kindly allowed us to stay with him while on this project. On Sunday we met Jake and Matt at The Warehouse to check out the field and meet some of the kids we were going to work with. It was amazing to see the place and have a chance to speak with the kids before we started on Monday, everyone was really excited for us to be there!
Monday we started the 4-day camp, the layout was a younger group in the morning and older group in the afternoon. The younger players were just fantastic and as the camp progressed they really developed with our fun activities and games. Before the start of the second session Arran mentioned how cool is was to see the older players roll up on their skateboards, very different from our other camps. You can definitely tell with the older players that they had been through many tough and difficult situations in their lives, they all arrived with their walls up and needed to check us out first before they opened up. So the first day was challenging at times but we focused on building trust and connecting.
The second day started with a surprise, some of the older players arrived early to become our assistant coaches and help us run the younger sessions. Wow, you know you’re doing great things when you have the older peers arriving early to be around us, hear the Freekicks message and be leaders to the younger kids. You can see that without the right mentorship and kindness on these teenagers, they would struggle to resist becoming involved in the gangster life. In reality, most of their older brothers and cousins are already affiliated in the gang-life. The older session was a "Changing of the tide" day, at the beginning it was again challenging but half way through the session something changed and they started to open up. This was an incredible highlight for me to have them start to trust us, and once this started to happen all their motivation improved and they started to express themselves. After the session we stayed and hung out with them, we did some arts and crafts, ate tacos, played more table tennis and just took off our coaching hats and got know them better. This was what they needed to see because many of them lack any positive encouraging mentors in their lives. Many of them are also on their own, with both parents working long hours they have no adult supervision and no engaging actives.
As we moved on to day 3 we took a break from soccer and joined them on a surfing day, it was awesome! Arran and I both struggled surfing so we led the way at boogie boarding (or pretended to lead the way). The kids were really amazing and were like fish to water. The surf and sun definitely takes away the stress! The whole day was fantastic, not only the surfing but the bus journey together. It was another great experience to connect with the kids!
The last day was very sad of all us. A player shared with me that he loved the positive messages. He came early everyday because it gave him a reason to get out of his house and be in a positive environment. When I hear stories like this it makes everything worth it and if he was the only one who we impacted, then that justifies the whole mission. Many of them showed their appreciation by making us drawings, friendship bracelets and seashell necklaces. We were both so moved by their thoughtfulness, we both still wear our bracelets today to always remember. It is always sad to say goodbye but there is one thing I live by and it's "Always better to have made a friend for just one day, than to have never made a friend at all". Throughout my time on earth there have been many great friends that I made that I will never get to see again and I wouldn't change that for a second.
The trip was a huge success and best of all we got to make a new family! We're now in talks to return later on in 2018, so please keep us in your prayers for that trip comes to fruition. Thank-you Common Ground!