By the time Albert L. Reyes became president of Buckner Children and Family Services in January 2007, he’d already come far from his family’s migrant worker roots. But he’s never forgotten them. They’ve shaped who he’s become and the ministry he guides.
His grandparents were migrant workers in the cotton fields of West Texas, trying to make ends meet and provide for their nine children who often found themselves working as well. They struggled, but somehow there was always enough.
In those fields, his grandparents first heard the gospel when an itinerant evangelist shared the good news of Christ. The gospel took root in the family and radically transformed multiple generations in the Reyes clan.
Reyes’ parents emphasized the importance of education and the young man followed their lead and encouragement. Several critical people helped support him as he first earned his bachelor’s degree from Angelo State University in San Angelo, then a master’s degree and the first of his doctoral degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth. He became a pastor. Then he served as the president of Baptist University of the Americás, where the school experienced a 400 percent growth in enrollment under his leadership. Reyes was elected president of Buckner Children and Family Services in 2007, where he led the organization to minister to multitudes of vulnerable children and families.
Reyes believes God saw the potential in his impoverished grandparents when no one else did. Even the itinerant evangelist, Edward P. Gonzalez, likely didn’t know what was to happen decades later. Even a poor young man and his wife can live in such a way that leads to the transformation of hundreds of thousands of lives.
That’s exactly the potential Reyes sees in every vulnerable child and family served by Buckner.
“At Buckner, I will focus on children at risk,” the now Buckner International President/CEO said upon his election as BCFS president. “When I think of the 143 million orphans in the world and their leadership potential, my heart begins to race. It blows my mind. ...What if we were to look at the leadership potential of all those children in those countries? What could be the transformational potential of the gospel in their lives for their communities around the world?”
In the past five years as president of one of the most unique organizations in the world – one that serves vulnerable people from when they are extremely young to when they are much more experienced – Reyes has seen that goal play out over and over again.
When families and individuals put Christ first in their lives and live out their faith through serving the vulnerable, lives change. Children experience God’s love when they are embraced by foster and adoptive families. Families encounter God’s compassion and strength when they are coached through Buckner Family Hope Centers.
When single parents discover hope for a better life through Buckner Family Pathways, they feel God working in their lives. Senior adults discover what it means to live with purpose as they are served in Buckner retirement communities.
“If I were to come up with just a few words to describe the last 10 years for me personally, I’d have to start with the word incarnational. Ministry of presence. Showing up,” Reyes said. “And then it really struck me whenever I started reflecting on previous ministry about the whole concept of redemption that, bad things happen to all of us, and certainly the people that we serve. To be able to see those really tough things get transformed into a better plan for the people we serve, it draws me into the whole work of God’s redemptive activity in history, in human history.
“We’re finding that people get saved, people get discipled, people get in church, their lives get transformed, and it’s because we show up and offer a cup of water in the name of Jesus. It’s probably one of the most powerful things I’ve ever experienced.”
That transformation has taken place in more than 3 million lives since Reyes rst came to Buckner. Buckner has expanded its work throughout Latin America, including in Mexico, Dominican Republic, Guatemala and Peru. Buckner retirement communities have expanded during Reyes’ tenure. In the past two years, Buckner has served a record number of children through foster care and adoption. Buckner Shoes for Orphan Souls® distributed it’s 3 millionth shoe in 2014.
In recent years, Buckner has introduced the concept of foster care in several countries and is focused on helping international children find permanent families within their respective countries. The concept is known in social service circles as global permanency solutions.
More striking than the numeric accomplishments has been the culture shift within the ministry under Reyes. While expanding, Buckner has focused on delving deeper into the lives of those it serves than ever before.
That includes serving seniors. Buckner Retirement Services has become one of the largest non-pro t providers of retirement communities in the nation during Reyes’ tenure. Each senior living community is a Life Plan Community through which Buckner staff provide the right amount of care needed for each resident, from independent living to assisted living to skilled nursing care and memory care.
“You know, James 1:27 has the two objects of our mission: To visit orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself undefiled from the world,” he said. “So while we focus a lot at Buckner with vulnerable children and the families, we’re also concerned about senior adults. Those are our grandpas and grandmas, right? And so it’s really a reflection of the whole family when the senior gets to the twilight or the sunset of their lives that matters to us too. We think and we believe that they should be able to have that time of their lives and live it in dignity, with respect.”
Reyes led Buckner to emphasize intense family case management that helped clients identify goals, work through root issues in their lives and follow plans to achieve their goals such as self-sufficiency. Through the process, vulnerable children and families uncovered the very potential Reyes believes every person has.
“As I learned more about the founder and more about the ministry, I felt like I wanted to recover something that had always been there, but really wasn’t front and center,” Reyes said. “And so it was the work of our founder and the fact that he was always trying to help redeem the lives of people that he came in contact with. Sure, he served their needs and he helped them, but he was always interested in the spiritual aspect.”
Buckner is more than a social services agency. Its staff members serve as agents of redemption by addressing spiritual, emotional and physical needs.
“Buckner really is part of God’s redemptive work in history when it comes to individual children and families. So it was a social service agency, but when I thought about this idea, of redemption, I said, ‘You know, it’s really a missions agency too. And our mission is to get involved in what God’s doing and to bring about a redemptive impact, a transformational impact. So really Buckner is a social service missions agency, and our mission is to vulnerable children and families that need help. That’s why we say we shine hope into their lives because we’re about God’s redemptive work,” Reyes said.
We’re on mission in Texas and six countries beyond the United States. That’s what we do. We’re on mission to shine hope into the lives of children and families who really need help.”
With the focus on redemption came a focus on family preservation. Reyes believes families are God’s unit to help each child reach his or her full potential. Thus, Hope Centers and Family Pathways were expanded. More children could be helped if their families were strengthened before issues arose. Fewer children would enter the foster system if their families were healthier.
“We’re opening a new chapter for the history of Buckner. Looking forward, I would say that our mission is still focused on vulnerable children and families, but we’ve discovered that if we can keep children in families, families of origin, their biological families, and strengthen that family, so they’re going to grow up where they belong.”
Whether in Amarillo, Dallas, Beaumont or a foreign country, Reyes’ greatest joy is being with the children, families and seniors Buckner serves. Recently, he visited with a young man in Lima, Peru living with a foster family.
“Right now he’s leading worship as a 20-year-old in his church. And he sees someday he may be a pastor and begin to help children that he also shares that experience with. And so to see a child who really had a very difficult situation come into a foster family, come to know Christ, to have a foster mom who trusts and believes in God and believes that God has a purpose for his life, then to respond to a vocational call to ministry, who will then become an agent of redemption for all the people that his life’s going to touch, that’s the full cycle of what Buckner does. That’s what shining hope is all about.”