Mixing it up in Houston

A diverse student body gets revitalized in Christ.

Photo courtesy Kirk Freeman.

Eight years ago when Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast, Houston felt a population jolt as 250,000 displaced victims poured in. The warm welcome that the newcomers received gained the city, known for big oil and the space program, a fresh reputation of active compassion.

Houston continues to boom as “Forbes” magazine lists it as the second fastest growing metro area in the nation.

And that’s not all.

Of the 10 largest U.S. metro areas, the Kinder Institute out of Rice University found that the most equitable distribution of the nation’s 4 major racial and ethnic groups lies in Houston. “The change is even more extreme if you look at the population under 30,” said Institute co-director Stephen L. Klineberg, “where 78 percent are now non-Anglos.”*

And with growth and diversity comes opportunity.

Kirk Freeman and his wife, Angie, work alongside a dozen other Cru staff members as they reach out to the increasingly diverse population of high school students all over the Houston metro area.

“Interstate 10 divides Houston in half in more ways than one,” notes Kirk. “Across the city, we tend to have more access to the kids in less affluent schools, and the response has been tremendous. The more affluent schools are more concerned about being politically correct. Some seem to think, We have everything we need; why would we need Jesus?

The freshmen football team with 51 players indicating a decision to trust Christ comes from Morton Ranch High. At this school, 52 percent of the students come from Latino families, 22 percent are Caucasian, 18 percent are African American, and 5 percent Asian. Fifty-two percent of the students take advantage of the reduced-free lunch program.

“Morton Ranch is one of the Houston suburban schools struggling with high-risk students,” observes Alice Tennyson, a Katy (Texas) resident and mom of Jonathon, a sophomore there. “When we moved here 20 years ago, it wasn’t like that. After Katrina hit, people moved in who had experienced a lot of heartache and loss.”

And heartache can increase spiritual openness.

Austin Vega, a sophomore at Morton Ranch, was introduced to God a year ago through Cru during a difficult personal time. “Now I want to get closer to Jesus,” he says. “You need to love your neighbor. I didn’t know that before. And I’m taking my homework more seriously. My parents aren’t very religious people. But I am praying for them.”

Lee Cooksey, a national director for Cru, sees that as strategic. “Morton Ranch is a sample of the future demographics of U.S. high schools,” he says. “And the high school campus is a place where we can reasonably touch every ethnicity and family in a community over time.”

“I think that Cru is needed here,” says freshman football coach, Don Mackey. “With all the different influences out there, it’s only a positive that the players could spend extra hours with Kirk Freeman, a Christian man. And they are experiencing the Word of God.”

The Bible is studied by more than a dozen players every Tuesday night at a teammate’s house – and usually after a rowdy session on Xbox. True to Morton Ranch’s racial make-up, Caucasians are the minority in this group.

“I can hear them laughing together,” says Alice, the mom who hosts and provides dinner before the study. “Some of the guys, like Victor Luviano, are mentors to my son. One week my son didn’t want to come out of his room. And I sent (senior leader) Darius Mobley up to talk with him. That did the trick.”

Sophomore Austin Vega confirms, “Kids from different backgrounds have different stories to tell there. But here everybody comes together no matter what their ethnicity.”

It takes more than a hurricane to accomplish that.

*according to Smithsonian magazine, July-August 2013