The Bay Area has historically been one of the most desirable places to live in California – with access to the country’s most beautiful landscapes and presence of booming tech companies that are changing the course of history – there is no wonder why close to 8 million people live in the Bay Area. But as history has proven, high concentrations of people almost always lead to increases in crime and violence. The uniquely different neighborhoods that make up Northern California’s Bay Area have consistently held a crime rate that is 40% above the national average for decades, with the highest percentages being gang related. A recent study estimated that 10% of youth experience a violent crime and nearly 30% of youth will witness a violent crime in the Bay Area. Essentially, crime in this area is inescapable, no matter what neighborhood you reside in.
Such is the story of Marcus Rostro, Western Seminary Master of Ministry Leadership student in the Bay Area Cohort and founder of the Boxing Ministry at Paso Robles Community Church. “At a very young age, I got involved in the gang life of the town I grew up in. At the age of 11 I started to become addicted to drugs, at the age of 12 I broke into my first home, and by the time I was 13, I was pretty much addicted to meth with no foreseeable way out,” Rostro began. “It was not long before my lifestyle caught up to me. I was facing a 13-year sentence,” Rostro explained. “Once I left county (jail) and went to state (prison), I immersed myself in the prison culture and mentality. The result of this was that I picked up two additional years.” While Rostro would assert that he grew up with knowledge of the Bible and the presence of the gospel at home (his grandfather was a pastor), his life nowhere near reflected it. “While I was fighting the case, I began to cry out to God. I promised Him anything if He would just shorten my sentence by just one day! I didn’t want my wife and daughter to suffer the consequences of my choices, but in the end, I received more time,” Rostro explained. “Once this happened, I turned my back on God entirely and became an atheist.”
An Example of God’s Reckless Love
“While in prison, I had everything you could have wanted as an inmate; I had regular family visitation, phone calls home, letters, everything. But I was still so angry.” Rostro continued, “One day, everything that I enjoyed came to a quick end when I got in trouble and was sentenced to SHU (segregated housing unit), I was penalized for the last 5 years of my sentence with having only non-contact visitation,” Rostro explained. “I dreaded calling my wife and daughter to tell them what I had done, but to my surprise, they forgave me.” Rostro served his full term, but his release came earlier than he and his wife had calculated; God had answered his prayers, albeit much later than he had expected or prayed for. “I sat at the bus stop waiting for my wife to come pick me up, and I knew that I wanted to make the most of my freedom. But it was easy for me to fall back into my old ways,” Rostro explained.
It was a long journey of adjusting to life on the outside. Rostro fell back into his old patterns of drinking and maintained the hard shell around his heart toward God. One night, after a heated argument with his wife about his drinking, the hard shell around Rostro’s heart began to melt away. “[My wife] left to pick our daughter up from school; I left [the house] to get drunk. When she returned, I was laying down on our bed and she came in and gently told me she had brought home food for me and asked if I was hungry,” Rostro remembered. “I started to wonder why my wife and daughter continued to love me when I had put them through! I questioned, ‘Was there something wrong with them that they would love me this much?’” Rostro explained. That night, 3.5 years after his release, Rostro cried out to God once more. But this time, his heart was soft and his hands were open. “I realized that God was using my wife as a reflection of His love, mercy, grace and forgiveness for me. I thought, ‘If she loved me this way, how much more does my Heavenly Father love me?’” Rostro said. “I gave my life to Christ and my life was completely changed.” Rostro professed. “I was never the same again.”
175 Youth & Adults Sparring and Hearing About Jesus
A few years later, Rostro realized that God had been working and moving through his story so that he can witness to kids with similar upbringings and backgrounds. Rostro and his brother gathered a few kids from the community to teach them a few boxing moves, but more importantly, he witnessed to them the life-changing power of the gospel. “The boxing stuff is great, but it is about the moments waiting for the kids’ parents to pick them up when I am able to share my story with these kids and how Jesus changed my life.” Rostro explained. It did not take long for news of this after school boxing program to spread like wildfire. At the start, just 5 or 6 kids gathered in Rostro’s family garage, but soon they completely outgrew their practice area. “About 4 years ago, Paso Robles Community Church reached out and offered that I use the space for this ministry. It gave these kids the opportunity to experience church in a completely different way than a Sunday morning,” Rostro said. Most recently, Rostro and his team of volunteers put on an event for the community, inviting them to fellowship, share a BBQ meal, and practice their sparring skills. “About 175 kids and adults showed up to this event. It was an overwhelming success. I see God at work every week in the lives of these kids, but that day, I was in awe,” Rostro asserted.
There is a misconception that it is dangerous to introduce this “violent” sport. In reality, the boxing ministry provides a safe haven for the Paso Robles community to learn self-discipline, self-confidence, and physical fitness alongside a mentor who truly cares about their spiritual health. Boxing techniques are tremendous for helping individuals deal with anger, stress, and tension in real and tangible ways. “I have watched a young man in my ministry grow from a timid young boy to a young man who is on fire for God. He is bold in his faith and is not afraid to tell his peers how God has worked and moved in his life,” Rostro proudly explained. “Being able to invest in this young man and his family, is one of the benefits that motivates me to continue and grow the ministry.”
What this boxing ministry does, then, is provide more than just a safe place to learn invaluable life skills to vulnerable teenagers, but it also represents the perpetual fight we have inside all of us: the struggle between the flesh and the Spirit. The Apostle Paul famously writes, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. […] For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out,” Romans 7:15, 18 (NIV). Just as in the case of boxing, the boxer must be diligent to dodge the blows that inevitably come his way. But if the boxer is trained with the proper knowledge and is ready to receive the attacks, he will most certainly be successful. For these teenagers mentored by Rostro, they have received the living example of fighting the good fight and experiencing God’s undeniable victory.
For a full version of Rostro’s story, watch his recent sermon delivered at Paso Robles Community Church on YouTube (message begins at 27:00). For questions or more information about the PRCC’s Boxing Ministry, visit www.pasochurch.com/ministries or email firstname.lastname@example.org.