For San Gabriel Academy senior Maxon Zhao, participating in the RoboCup Junior USA Robotics Tournament was a dream come true. For more than three years, he had been perfecting his robotics skills. As a student in China, he joined several individual robotics competitions. At SGA, he continued to promote his love of robotics.
The school’s robotics team made their way to New York City for the May 21 RoboCup Tournament, accompanied by their physics teacher, Prakash Rajendran. SGA juniors Raiden Yang and Justin Phung (both programming and coding), and sophomore Oscar Nolasco (design and construction) joined seniors Zhao (programming and coding) and Watchara Lu (design and construction) on a trip that would prove to be about more than just robotics.
The SGA team, four of whom had not been familiar with Christianity before arriving at SGA from China and Thailand, met challenges and some nervous moments. During the quarter finals, a strategic piece holding the
compass broke. Raiden and Justin ran to the car hoping to find a spare part. They returned, holding up a Bible.
“The only thing inside the car was this,” they said.
“That’s the most important thing you could have!” their teammates said. Then they prayed right there. “After we prayed and with one last tweak,” said Watchara, “the robot performed perfectly for the rest of the competition.”
“Raiden never let go of the Bible,” their teacher confided later.
Later, Raiden prayed, “I saw your miracles, God, and I believe in You!”
SGA’s team was awarded the first place trophy in their division and the Judge’s Award for Programming and Control.
“The only explanation for the things that happened that weekend,” said Watchara, “is that they were miracles from God.” During the flight home, it was announced that the award-winning San Gabriel Academy robotics team was on the plane. Later, the flight attendants and one of the pilots came back to meet the team, asking questions and allowing the boys to give their testimonies of the weekend’s amazing events.
The RoboCup Junior USA competition challenges students up to 19 years of age to work collaboratively as a team to design, create, and code robots to solve problems. The competition is divided into three leagues — Soccer, Rescue, and OnStage. The robots are fully autonomous, using sensors to explore the world around them and make decisions without human intervention.
This group of five students came back from New York with much more than two trophies, two certificates, and an invitation to compete in the International Robotics Tournament in Japan in July 2017. They came back with a profound appreciation of each other, the importance of teamwork, and a belief in the miracles of the God they had learned about at San Gabriel Academy. Watchara confided, “I’ve never prayed as much in my life as I did on this trip. I see now why prayer is so important in everything.”
“Robots are prepared for competition,” Mr. Rajendran reminded them, “but the victory always comes from the Lord.”
They believe that there were seven on that trip. They found that God doesn’t want us to worry about the success of our honest endeavors. “Not once should we even think of failure. We are to cooperate with the One who knows no failure.” (Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 323). SGA’s team brought home life-long memories and a knowledge of the power of God.
The team prepared to participate in the international tournament in July and getting sponsors for that event. A portion of the competition is on Saturday. They have determined to be faithful to the God they have learned about at SGA and to be faithful to His Sabbath.