The Imprint is Still in My Heart

Jose Villarreal was part of a kids' club in the Roosevelt Park neighborhood, started by a group of young people. It was through this club, Kid Power, that the vision for The Potter's House (TPH) school began. Although Kid Power was predominantly Hispanic, Jose was the first Hispanic student to attend TPH. This year, Jose returned with his family to share his story.

“The group of young people  who moved into the neighborhood were different. They brought a new perspective to us kids. I had never seen anything like it, even their thinking was different. They saw potential in the neighborhood that I didn’t see. I had never gone outside of my neighborhood.  I was curious and it made me want more. Through them, I was able to look on the outside. I saw that the leaders cared. They presented the gospel to us. The amazing thing about the gospel is that it affects you in a personal way, a way that changes everything. 

Things were not going well in the school that I was attending prior to TPH. My oldest sister convinced my parents to allow me to go to TPH. I began in the middle of third grade with Mr. VanZanten and spent the next three years with Miss Duimstra (Miss D). She read stories to us which had a great impact on me. As a visual learner, it opened up a whole new world. I  loved reading and listening to books. I graduated from sixth grade, and at that time there was no Potter’s House middle school, so I went to Oakdale Christian for middle school and then on to Union High School.

After high school, I moved to Arizona to live with my sister for a couple of years and then came back to Grand Rapids. A friend of the family, who had an orphanage in Mexico with Youth With A Mission (YWAM), encouraged me to come there. I went through their Discipleship Training School and spent the next two-and-a-half years in Juarez, Mexico, where my missionary journey began. I moved back to the states and attended Eastern Michigan University. At church, I met my wife, Elizabeth, who also had a heart for mission work. We decided to attend a ministry school in Pennsylvania, and from there did missionary work in Brazil, India, and Kenya. 

Back in the states, we moved to Houston, Texas, where I worked as Director of Ministry School at a church for two years. We were always working toward going back out onto the mission field. In Houston, we met a man who is a missionary in Nicaragua.  We went to see the work there. We fell in love with the country and with the children. We moved to Nicaragua as missionaries working in poor areas primarily with children. We gave them food, sang worship songs, taught the Bible, and shared the gospel with them. We used the model of Kid Power. It had worked so well for me. That imprint is still in my heart. 

For me, Kid Power was more than just a couple of hours of interaction a week. It impacted my whole life. I have always had a focus on Christ, and deliberately worked with kids. I want to do for them what someone did for me. The work that I do always comes back to the time of Kid Power.  Even now when I speak to kids or a congregation, I say that Christ did not only feed people spiritually, but he also fed them physically. That is exactly what the group of young people  did for us. To give a kid a plate of food, you can’t get any better than that. 

My family served for four-and-a-half years in Nicaragua. [During the first months there, Jose met Kelly Solano, a former Potter’s House teacher who serves in Nicaragua as a missionary with her family]. Our youngest daughters, who are twins, were born there. We’ve been back in the states for two years now. I work for Detroit Public Schools at a Career Technical Center in support services with bilingual students (while finishing up a degree in psychology). My wife is a kindergarten teacher at a Christian Academy, where our four daughters attend.

It’s funny, you pray for things and you don’t realize the power that it has. In those early days, when we moved into the current elementary building [at that time the building belonged to Godfrey Lee], we kids prayed, “Lord, let us have this building.” Every day, at least one student prayed that prayer. I would have never imagined what TPH is now. To come back and see what has happened is amazing! The power of prayer is evident, right here.”