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Emboldened Students Take Stand for God — Dozens of Classmates Accept Christ

After two decades of prayer, Oregon pastors Joe and Andrea Franco have seen doors open at their local high school, sparking a transformative movement of God that has impacted students, coaches, and their community.
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7, NIV). For Christians, this verse serves as a promise that God hears our cries and answers our prayers when we petition them to Him. Yet, when the doors seem to be deadbolted shut, how long do you keep knocking?

For Joe and Andrea Franco, the answer is 20 years.

As youth pastors at Family Worship Center in Gresham, Oregon, Joe and Andrea felt called to reach more than just the kids in their youth group. Beginning in 2003, the couple encouraged the students in their youth group to establish a Youth Alive club at the local high school. However, time and time again the students would petition administration to start the club and, time and time again, the answer was “no.”

Over the years, the Francos and their youth group grew disheartened and looked for other ways to share their faith with their classmates. While the students would often read their Bibles and pray over their lunch breaks, they wanted to do more and were still determined to host a school-sanctioned Youth Alive club.

In the summer of 2023, Joe sought advice from his friend and local U.S. missionary with Youth Alive Tom Bachman. Tom urged Joe to try for a Youth Alive club once more and show the school that they weren’t going down without a fight.

That same summer, students from the Franco’s youth group traveled to Columbus, Ohio, to attend the Assemblies of God National Youth Conference. One evening, during the worship service, many of the students said that they felt impressed by the Holy Spirit to start a Youth Alive club.

Rather than filling out paperwork and facing rejection again, Joe encouraged his students to take things a step further, saying, “If you all go and talk to the principal, they can’t say no without a valid reason.” Determined, 18 students got together over lunch and approached the principal to plead their case one more time. Miraculously, this time the answer was yes!

“You pray and pray for 20 years and then ‘suddenly’ God starts moving,” says Tom. “It’s not sudden to Him but to us, God’s timing can seem to come out of nowhere.”

The students began making arrangements to start the club. With their choir teacher as a faculty sponsor and hosting the club in the choir room, the students invited others to come and hear about Jesus.

“Now they are able to reach their school in ways they never could before,” says Andrea.

Even with permission secured, the adversity was not over. Within the first week, a girl who was among the 18 to start the Youth Alive club was told by another student that she needed to “stop the Bible club and kill herself.” Many of the other students also faced intense bullying.

Heads high, the students persevered and were fearless witnesses for the Lord.

“No matter what stumbling block the enemy put in their way, the Holy Spirit gave them wisdom and favor to overcome,” says Andrea.

God was not done moving in that school. David, who attended the Francos' youth group and the varsity football team’s quarterback, felt called to take a knee in prayer before each game.

When David took a knee and prayed before his games, many coaches were upset, saying that what David was doing was offensive. Despite being treated poorly by some of the coaches, David kept praying. Slowly, other players joined him. By the end of the 2023 season, every single one of the 50 players on the varsity team was taking a knee, with many coaches standing close by in support.

One referee approached the Francos in awe.

“I have been a ref for 22 years, but I’ve never seen an entire team take a knee and actually pray,” he told them. “You have no idea how inspiring that is.”

Amid the pre-game prayers, David began inviting his teammates to come to church with him. For two weeks straight, the entire offensive and defensive lines joined him for church. At the end of the second week’s service, every one of them walked to the altar and prayed.

Thirty athletes gave their lives to Christ that night, with 13 being baptized in the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in tongues shortly after. Many players have continued to attend Family Worship Center, becoming sold out for Christ both on and off the field.

Not only have students been affected by the prayers, but coaches as well.

“The head coach of the team approached me, excited about the changes he was seeing in his players,” says Joe. “He told me, ‘Whatever you’re doing, keep doing it. I’ve seen really big changes in these kids.’”

A middle school coach who assisted at the varsity high school games was an alcoholic. Moved by the changes he saw in his players, he started going to church and gave his heart to the Lord, beginning his journey to sobriety.

“I feel different,” the coach told Joe. “I feel a lightness on me that I have never had before.”

The Francos, who have since transitioned into the role of head pastors at Family Worship Center, say that their church has seen a great impact due to these students.

“On Sunday mornings, these kids’ worship has become contagious,” Joe says. “They are becoming powerful faith leaders everywhere they go.”

Tom has worked with Youth Alive since its inception and has been a fully appointed U.S. missionary since 2000. He has witnessed great momentum of middle and high school students passionate for reaching their schools for Christ over the past few years.

“Kids are getting saved, and leaders are being birthed because of students’ willingness to ‘be a pastor’ on their campuses,” he says.

From miraculous stories like that of the Francos to having other students raise nearly $50,000 for wells to be built in underprivileged African villages, Tom acknowledges that God is doing a great work in the lives of students in Oregon.

“I want people to pray that the awakening that is taking place in this generation would continue,” Tom says. “Teenagers are not just the Church of tomorrow; they are the Church of today.”

Samara Smyer

Samara Smyer works as communications and content strategist for Assemblies of God U.S. Missions. She graduated from College of the Ozarks in Point Lookout, Missouri, where she received a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism.