Driving through the streets of Hialeah, Florida, I feel like I'm in another country—a Spanish-speaking one. Most of the store signs are in Spanish, which, I'm learning, is typical for the Miami area. Luckily, most of the street names are numbers, so I don't have any trouble finding Hialeah High School.
As I make my way to the front entrance, I glance at my watch. It's not even 7 a.m., but many students have already arrived. They're still wiping the sleep from their eyes. So am I. I finally find the room where EPIC (Eternal Peace In Christ) meets every Monday and Wednesday morning for Bible study. I find a seat in the back of the room and watch student leader Kathy Garcia greet her peers with more energy than I could muster this early.
Refusing to settle for sleepy stares, she announces, "We're going to sing this morning, everybody. So wake up!" Her energy is contagious. Half way through the first praise song, the group begins to come alive.
After some encouraging words from Scripture, the group prays together. They ask for God's protection and for opportunities to share Christ with their friends. Now it's time to head to class, but no one can leave until they hug at least three other people—that's the rule. This is the part Betsy Batista really enjoys. "I think it makes us closer—like a family," she says.
Members of EPIC all agree that meeting together in the morning makes a difference in their day. "It doesn't matter what happened the night before," Mary Colon explains. "Say you had a really bad night, and you're really a grouch the next morning. When you come into Bible club, it's a complete turnaround. It just makes you feel better."
"It's like having a youth group at school," Betsy adds. "When you can talk to people your own age about God and what you believe, it forms a bond. That's encouraging."
Denise: Talking to Kathy is like talking to myself. Sometimes we finish each others' sentences. Whenever I need any advice, even if it's three in the morning, she's who I call. She understands me in a way nobody else does. She helps me see things I don't see.
Kathy: Denise is my soul mate. I truly believe our friendship is from God. I've learned a lot from her. She encourages me and helps me stay on track. We help each other and pray for each other.
Caridad: I'm not actually a member of the club, but my best friend, Sandra, is. Since I've started hanging out with her, I've changed a lot. I used to be really bad, but she makes me want to be a better person. I like hanging out with her friends from the club, too. They have really interesting conversations.
Erick: I used to be in a gang. I ended up going with a friend to a church camp, where I had an experience with God. I gave my life to Christ and said "no more gangs, no more violence, no more cursing, no more anger—just plain Jesus." God turned my life around. People really see a change in me. Now this same love that I have for God, I want to give to others.
Jeffrey: Erick and I are really close. We go way back before either of us had accepted Christ. When he became a Christian, I asked a lot of questions because he totally changed. I ended up going to church with him, and that's where I accepted Christ.