EL MONTE – The quad of a local apartment complex is calm on a recent Sunday morning. A washer and dryer buzz in the distance, and a woman steps out of her apartment to visit a neighbor. Downstairs, the curtain of another unit is pulled back as a young boy peers out – as if awaiting Santa. Ring, ring, ring … A faint chime resounds through the corridor. The boy’s face lights up at the sound, and he retreats behind the curtain in suspense. Ring, ring, ring … As the jingle gets louder, Mary Lopez appears in the entryway and scurries past each apartment door, ringing her golden bell to alert the children that Sidewalk Sunday School is about to begin. She simultaneously greets the children – toddlers and teenagers alike – who pour out of their apartments and into the quad. Mary’s husband, Richard, 63, and Jesus Bustillos, 38, have already begun assembling an outdoor classroom in the common area. Rriinngg, rriinngg, rriinngg & Within minutes, the children are seated atop two tarps (one for the older students, another for the young ones), and class begins. “The angel of the Lord appeared to Mary … ” Mary and Bustillos read aloud to the children. Today is one of the few Sundays of the year that the Lopezes will spend exclusively with family. Any other week, the West Covina couple shares the day with about 30 children, none of whom are related to them. Mary and Richard have spent the last 10 years frequenting four El Monte apartment complexes – two a week – to bring the gospel to children’s doorsteps. The Lopezes, former longtime El Monte residents, founded Sidewalk Sunday School in late 1995 in response to an influx of gang and drug activity that riddled parts of the city at the time. “The drug dealers were out here talking to children about drugs,” Mary Lopez, 61, said. “I wanted to talk to (children) about God. I wanted to tell them that things are going wrong in all our lives, but turn to God. “God put it on my heart to invest in tomorrow, and these children are my investment.” Guadalupe Ramirez said the Sidewalk Sunday School program has helped her family strengthen its faith in God – particularly in the last few months. Doctors diagnosed Ramirez’s 3-year-old daughter, Jennifer Pe a, with cancer in August, and the family has relied heavily on prayers to get through Jennifer’s chemotherapy treatments. “Mary has been praying a lot, and the kids have also been praying for (Jennifer),” Ramirez said of Sidewalk Sunday School participants. “It’s all we have right now. We’re just praying to God that she gets better.” Stories like Jennifer’s are not common for Mary’s students. While there have been some hefty requests, such as prayers for a friend’s operation or for someone who died, there are also petitions for everyday concerns: healing a cold, for safety and for help with homework. “Prayer is talking to God,” Mary, a medical assistant, tells the students. “It’s OK to say, `God, I’m scared,’ `God, I’m hungry,’ `God, help my mommy.’ “If we stay with God, he will get us through it,” she added. Mary and Bustillos, who has been helping the Lopezes for two years, also focus on teaching children about Jesus and his life and lessons. “She teaches us about God and tells us to stay on the right path,” said Monserrat Amador, 17, who’s been part of the program since its inception. “Even when things get hard, it’s going to lead to something better.” Recent Sunday School lessons revolved around the biblical story of the nativity in preparation for today’s holiday. “It’s the traditional Sunday-school message,” said Lawrence Lopez, the couple’s son. “Everything from Jesus-in- the-manger stories to Jesus-on- the-cross stories.” Weekly teachings also involve hands-on activities where children can work on art and craft projects. Everything about each Sidewalk Sunday School class is structured and organized, with aspects of the lesson – from early arrival to departure – running like clockwork. Richard fine-tunes the set-up. “My job is just to get her here,” Richard said of his wife. “I’m like a helper. I make it happen.” The Lopezes’ work in the community is not limited to Bible teachings, said Mary. Sidewalk Sunday School program associates hosted an annual block party and Thanksgiving feast that fed 500 people outside the apartments along Bonwood Road last month. And last weekend, Mary and Richard visited their frequented apartment complexes to help deliver about 1,000 Christmas presents to students and their families. Through each lesson or community event, Mary hopes students will count their blessings, make good choices and remember God. “For some, this is an extension of church,” said Bustillos. “For some, it’s the primary and only example they see of God.” [email protected] (626) 962-8811, Ext. 2303 AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORERose Parade grand marshal Rita Moreno talks New Year’s Day outfit and ‘West Side Story’ remake160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!