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God and Country Festival is not just faith. It's about second chances, tattoos and kung fu.

Peter Vasquez runs Second Chance Grace, Inc., a non-profit dedicated to mentoring.
Peter Vasquez runs Second Chance Grace, Inc., a non-profit dedicated to mentoring.

A tattoo removal service isn't the first thing one would think of when walking into the God and Country Festival of the Treasure Valley. But there Peter Vasquez stood Tuesday, outside Nampa's Ford Idaho Center on a warm evening, letting anyone walking by know that his services were available.

Vasquez runs Second Chance Grace Inc., a nonprofit tattoo removal program that also specializes in mentoring and prison prevention. Vasquez said he spent several stints in prison, one of which included four years of solitary confinement. After finding faith, he has dedicated his life to making sure others don't make the same mistakes he did.

Of course, there were the sorts of booths you might expect at such a gathering: military sign-ups, church awareness, gun information, etc. Festival board member Kevin Harper believes an unfair, artificially created narrative of "militia" and "trying to overthrow the government" exists at such events, an idea he believes couldn't be farther from the truth.

Vasquez, among others, wasn't in Nampa on Tuesday night to talk about the First Amendment and religious rights.

It's all about helping people, he said.

“We really care," said Vasquez, 47. "We really want people to know there’s hope, no matter what you’ve been through.”

The God and Country Festival is in its 52nd year. Thousands attend the nondenominational gathering. The event started as a way to put "a stake in the ground and (say) we have a right to express our faith in a public forum," according to Harper.

And that is a major part of the festival: Performers on the outdoor stage sang about faith as church brochures were handed out at certain booths.

But Harper believes there is a misconception about what the God and Country Festival is truly about.

"We’re passionate about our faith. (And) we’re loving towards people of other faiths. We just want to help people," he said. "Most (booths) are here for a mission."

Harper helped run the Fostering Idaho booth, a program dedicated to getting people involved in the foster parent program. Harper and his wife, who have been fostering children for nearly two decades, have a mission: to make sure every child has a parent in some capacity.

"That’s what these kids need, someone to get attached to," Harper said. “I’m just here to do good.”

Just a few steps away from Harper's booth was Vasquez's. His setup involved images of the jail cell he once called home and how the tattoo removal process works. Tattoo removal can help erase negative stigmas, he says, and can help people get jobs. It's a way for people to get a fresh start — and it's never too late to start over.

“We want to leave people with a sense of hope," Vasquez said. “I’m trying to show them we’re available, the secular side or the faith-based side.”

A few seconds away from Vasquez's booth there were a pair of cinder blocks on the ground, with boards atop them. In front of the boards were children of varying ages, on their knees, doing their best Bruce Lee impressions to chop through the boards. This was Cosmo Zimik's booth.

Zimik is the owner and lead instructor at Empty Hand Combat, a martial arts and self-defense studio in downtown Nampa. Zimik teaches his students martial arts, but the other purpose at his studio is mentoring.

Zimik is hoping to train the next generation of what he deems "warriors." But these are not warriors in the traditional sense. Instead of escalating conflict physically, Zimik's hope is to help prevent such interactions by teaching students respect.

“We talk a lot about ‘warrior’ these days, but there's a misconception about ‘warrior,’“ Zimik said. "Our idea of warrior is to respect parents, to respect women, to respect elders. We mentor a lot of children that have no mother or father figure.”

Zimik admitted that money doesn't flow through his business. But that isn't his chief concern. He said his faith helps him believe he's doing the right thing.

“A lot of my friends, they want airplanes and boats. All I want in my life is rice (and) hot sauce ... I don’t aspire to acquire a private swimming pool," he said with a laugh. "I found peace at life. I just want to help people.”

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