Summer memories usually fade as quickly as tan lines. Apart from numerous Facebook albums that catalog experiences, thoughts of part-time jobs and beach adventures are quickly replaced with tuition statement woes. At least for many students, but not so for senior business administration major Mark Cooper.
In the summer of 2008, Cooper partnered with a group called Youth Works in Tijuana, Mexico. Hearing of the opportunity through the Jubilee Conference, he jumped on the chance to get paid for full-time ministry.
Cooper planned to return to Tijuana last summer. When Youth Works closed construction sites, Cooper searched for a way to impact the lives of the individuals he met.
Mark Cooper started WithTijuana, a ministry to build soccer fields and libraries in the outskirts of the city. The organization provides educational and recreational opportunities for children in poverty stricken areas of Tijuana.
“The goal is to bring a safe place for kids to come and play soccer and to be able to feel comfortable walking into a library,” Cooper said.
The library facility will promote learning through reading, writing and English as a Second Language. The soccer fields will continue the importance of learning through physical activity.
Originally, Cooper envisioned WithTijuana as a construction trade school for the community. A large undertaking, Cooper realized he needed a stepping stone.
By creating libraries and soccer arenas, WithTijuana will gain the respect of the people. By rallying the community to build the structures, individuals will gain valuable construction skills.
Eventually, Cooper envisions the organization run locally.
“If I can build a library and turn it over to someone in the community they take ownership of the place and can run with it,” Cooper said. “You can help out more people with someone who’s native to the country rather than someone who’s outside of it.”
On his initial trip, Cooper became friends with pastor Alvaro of La Montana in Tijuana where he learned the importance of communication.
“Stay in contact with someone down there because even if you can’t return, maybe you can do something to help out,” Cooper said.
Cooper graduates in May 2011 and hopes to move to Tijuana or San Diego where he plans to work and further the ministry.
WithTijuana hopes to receive non-profit status by the fall of next year when it will accept financial contributions. Until then, support is vital to the organization.
Cooper created the Facebook page, WithTijuana: Compartimos con, to give information and updates on the ministry. In the future, Cooper hopes to have short term mission groups from the United States travel to Tijuana. By staying in contact, opportunities of service will be available to adults and students.
With the details of the organization still in progress, Cooper recognizes the true heart of ministry. “Missions is about all of us working together. Without a group of supporters, things won’t get done.”
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