At first, Antonio joked about how he accidentally joined a Christian club (Navigators Collegiate) at the University of California – Riverside (UCR) in the Los Angeles area. But now, he sees God’s intentionality through every aspect of his life.
“Coming into college, I wasn’t looking for a Christian ministry. I probably didn’t want one at that time. But during freshman orientation someone from The Navigators stopped me and told me about Navigators Collegiate at UCR. They asked if I wanted to put down my information,” Antonio shared.
The conversation with Navigators Collegiate didn’t end there. They reached out and invited Antonio to a Navigators collegiate night event.
“At the first meeting they had Bible study sign-ups. I thought to myself, I can’t be the only one who doesn’t sign up for Bible study. So, I signed up,” Antonio laughed as he talked about taking one step after another. “Since I signed up, I thought, I really should go.”
Eventually, Antonio found a community in Navigators Collegiate he didn’t even realize he needed.
What seemed to be an accident was actually God pursuing Antonio. God provided him with an authentic community who loved Jesus and intentionally positioned him to share his growing relationship with Jesus with his Latino community.
Since his first days with Navigators Collegiate, Antonio now mentors high school students through the Compton Summer Intensive (CSi) in Compton, California close to Los Angeles. CSi is a summer program offering high school students the opportunity to learn everyday life and job skills and to be mentored by local college students connected with The Navigators.
“During this past summer at CSi, we talked about identity and how God is intentional in creating each of us,” shared Antonio. “I am brown and have a Mexican background and that has intention. Because we have a God who is intentional, then I can use how He created me to further His Kingdom and encourage others who look like me.”
What Discipleship Looks Like
Armando Madrid, Navigators Los Angeles City Director, remembers the influence a group of college students had on his life when he was in high school youth group in L.A.
“The Navigators had a couple of Summer Training Programs (discipleship training during summer employment) here in the L.A. area where I grew up,” Armando shared. “They brought in a bunch of college students who stayed at my church and discipled us through material now known as the Design For Discipleship Series. Seeing those college students was an inspiration for me. I knew I wanted to get involved on a college campus with a strong Navigators Collegiate presence.”
Armando has now been with The Navigators for 35 years through Navigators Church Ministries, Navigators LaVida Network (a ministry network for Hispanics and non-Hispanics who desire to reach U.S. Hispanics for Christ), and most recently a seven-month leadership development initiative for Navigators staff with Latino heritage. He focuses on encouraging and equipping disciplemakers, especially within the Latino community.
Living in East L.A., the heart of the Latino community in this city, Armando gets energized to see college students like Antonio embrace how God created him and come alongside high school students of similar Latino background. It was through his leadership with the CSi where Armando first met Antonio.
“As I listen to Antonio share his story, it excites me. He was really quiet when I first met him through CSi almost three years ago. He was still finding his relationship with God,” shared Armando. “Then to have him come back last summer for CSi and see the amount of devotion to God that had occurred.”
Antonio had grown in his faith and so had the high school student he had mentored his first year with CSi.
“These high school students need people to pour into them, not just in a way of nurture, but also through friendship. If I could do CSi for every summer for the rest of my life, then that would be an easy choice to make.” Antonio shared enthusiastically. “Seeing a high school student I had mentored my first year come back two years later, a lot had changed. I saw his maturity and his growth. I realized it was most important that he knew I was there supporting him whether he needed me there or not.”
Sharing My Faith with Family
Navigators Collegiate at UCR became such an important part of Antonio’s life that his family noticed a difference and asked questions.
At first his family thought he had joined this Christian club to meet a girl. But, instead of sharing about a girl he had met, Antonio shared about how God was changing him personally. His actions changed and became noticeably different–from the worship music he listened to and how he acted around them.
As he contemplates joining EDGE Corps, a post-college two year internship with The Navigators, his family recognizes how serious he is about this faith in Jesus.
“They see how serious I am about this commitment. It’s not just about this thing I go to every week or even being on Zoom for Bible study. Now I’m considering doing this full time. It’s definitely a shift from just being the guy who accidentally joined the Christian club,” Antonio shared. “Now I’m the guy who has a relationship with God and reads the Bible daily, prays daily, and talks about God daily.”
Antonio has had intentional conversations with his mom about faith; he’s noticed his dad turning on the worship music in their house; and even one of his sisters started attending Navigators Collegiate during her freshman year at UCR.
“Now [my sister] has experienced what I have experienced and it has had an influence on her life. It’s taught her how to study the Bible and be more intentional,” Antonio shared. “ Now it won’t just be me talking to my family about how my relationship with Jesus is impacting me, but it will be both of us.”
Reaching Latino Communities with The Gospel
Antonio didn’t always embrace the ways God created him uniquely and with purpose. But now he is excited for how God created him and the opportunities he’s been given to reach his Latino community.
“Whether through CSi or at Navigators Collegiate at UCR, I am grateful for the diversity of my community. I want to be someone who encourages others who look like me. I’d like to remind them that they don’t have to feel awkward because of being a minority,” Antonio shared.
As Antonio encourages Latinos through CSi and Navigators Collegiate at UCR, Armando encourages Latinos who are also Navigators staff to recognize the ways God has uniquely created them with purpose.
“We want the staff to appreciate and see the way God built them is the way God can use them in their ministry and the people they relate to,” Armano shared. “Because Antonio is homegrown, he’s being raised up here from L.A. God has touched his life and God is going to use him to advance the gospel for the rest of his life.”
Antonio smiles. He is confident in who God has created him to be.
“I’m an ambassador of Christ and I exemplify God’s love. People will see that and they will recognize there is something different,” Antonio shared. “When they ask, the answer isn’t because I’m a good person or the way I was raised. The answer is because God found me where I was and chose to water me and grow me. As a result, I can do all that I’ve done so far.”