By Jenny Pope
DALLAS – It was the Friday before Christmas and the Buckner Center for Humanitarian Aid was packed with families, excited children, toys and food. Dozens of volunteers were beaming from ear to ear and Christmas music was humming as each family proceeded through the well-organized receiving line. Gift cards, turkeys, shoes and toys soon filled their arms.
Albert Reyes edged among them, walking alongside a young mother and talking in Spanish. As the noisy room began to swallow their conversation, he showed increasing concern. Tears were knocking the brims of his eyes as the mother explained her condition – she was sleeping on the floor in a friend’s apartment, along with her four children. She needed a mattress.
Within seconds, Reyes was on a mission. He asked Buckner staff if a mattress was available, but none were left. He wrote down the young mother’s phone number and helped her load her food and gifts in the car. He promised he would be in touch.
The following Sunday afternoon, Reyes met a local pastor at Wal-Mart and purchased two air mattresses for the family to sleep on in time for Christmas. They delivered the gifts in person and told the young mother to return to the Aid Center in January. Reyes’ faith told him this wouldn’t be the end to her story.
Faith, intellect and imagination have propelled this father of three – an academic with a pastor’s heart – on his life’s mission: “to develop kingdom leaders from his circle of influence to the ends of the earth.”
For Reyes, this has included working in the growing telecommunications industry during its boom, leading a young Spanish-language church, leading an inner-city bilingual church in transition, starting an English-language church in El Paso, leading a small Texas theological school to accreditation, and now leading a growing ministry into the global marketplace.
“I’m attracted to impossible situations,” Reyes said. “I’m attracted to adversity. I’m attracted to becoming a bridge for a child or a person who doesn’t have a chance because that’s kind of where I’ve come from. That’s just how my heart beats.”
Who is Albert Reyes?
Albert Reyes was born on Dec. 18, 1958 to Agustin and Gloria Reyes of Corpus Christi, Texas. He calls himself a “third generation native Texan of Mexican descent.” His grandfather on his father’s side was a migrant worker. His grandmother on his mother’s side was an undocumented immigrant. It’s not exactly the family background you would expect for someone with two doctoral degrees.
“My grandfather, Jose Maria Reyes, was very poor. An orphan. He was a migrant farmer and would take his nine children, my dad among them, and they’d go to West Texas near Snyder and pick cotton for 75 cents a day for 100 pounds of cotton. That’s what they’d earn.”
The family would eat tortillas and beans for breakfast, lunch and dinner. “And my dad would always say it was better at night – it was refried beans and tortillas at night,” he joked.
The memory of his family coming from extreme poverty, just a few decades removed, connects with Reyes’ role at Buckner, he said. “When I think about what contributions I might make through leading Buckner, it really becomes personal for me.”
Growing up, Reyes was a shy child and dreaded being the center of attention. But at 15-years-old, he felt called into ministry and remembers walking up the aisle to profess his calling to the church, striking a deal with God.
“I said, ‘OK, Lord, I’m going to obey and I’m going to come forward but just don’t make me do what my pastor has to do because I don’t think I could ever stand in front of people and deliver a sermon,’” he laughed.
Reyes was also very musical, and grew up singing in a traveling gospel quartet with his pastor, Dr. Rudy Sanchez. It was during one of their performances that he first met his wife Belinda, who he has been married to for 27 years. Music has remained a fixture in the Reyes family home of five, which includes three teenage boys – Joshua, David, and Thomas.
“Our guys are real into music,” Belinda Reyes said. “Our youngest plays the bass guitar, electric guitar, and the drums and our middle son plays the piano and drums and our oldest plays the acoustic and electric guitar. And now they’re even starting to sing, so we’ve got lots of music going on in our home.
“It gets kind of loud sometimes,” she laughed, “but I love hearing the music.”
Though Reyes admits to getting sucked into his work sometimes, it is evident that his family is his top priority. Family portraits line his desk in full view from his computer screen, and every morning he drops off his three boys at school before coming into work. He rarely schedules trips that last longer than two days so he won’t miss more than one night at home.
In fact, Reyes is often teased for planning his family vacations meticulously, sometimes scheduling trips four to five years in advance.
“He’s a real planner,” Belinda said. “He’ll get our advice or suggestions in terms of what kinds of things we might like to do or where we might want to go. So he’s kind of in charge of that and takes it from beginning to end.
“Albert is a great dad,” she continued. “He has always been very involved with the boys. And he loves Jesus and tries to serve him to the best of his ability and helps his family move along in that direction as well.”
Vision and heart
Anyone who has met Albert Reyes knows he’s a man of great intellect – his vocabulary can frequently surpass the non-academic’s understanding. But he’s also a man filled with passion, and compassion. If there’s a need, Reyes finds a way to meet it.
“He’ll flip the world upside down to do it,” said Cheryl Jones, executive assistant. “He makes everything happen. Nothing is too great or too small. He’ll do anything for anybody if they need him.”
This often means making a phone call to sick co-worker on a holiday, or scheduling a last minute tour for a friend’s friend in his already overscheduled appointment book, she said.
“One of my favorite quotes from a movie is that all men die, but not every man really lives,” Reyes said.
“We all have an appointment with death at some point when we will close our eyes to this life, but every day before that I want to spend it serving the Lord. Each day is critical; each day is numbered. And I need to be doing things that I’m willing to give my life for … So I think about that as I approach my work at Buckner. I approach it with all my heart. My vision at Buckner is to lead children, orphans, and elders in the global village toward God’s redemptive purpose for their lives.”
Reyes’s eyes and heart were truly opened to the world’s poverty, he said, when he visited the slums of Nairobi, Kenya with Buckner and saw a pile of garbage as tall as a building, pulsing with people in search of food. Beneath the pile of rubbish were dozens of people, washing and folding plastic garbage bags, in order to sell them back to local stores. All of this labor might earn them $2 a day, he said.
“That’s the closest I’ve been to real poverty,” he said. “My family just barely existed on the cotton fields, but they ate three times a day. It’s one thing to be in poverty, but think about that humiliation and the lack of dignity … that’s just not right.
“This is where Buckner steps in and says, ‘We’re going to try to do something about it,’” he continued. “We may not solve all the problems, but we can do some things and we’ve got smart business people and great social care staff; we have people with passion. It’s an exciting time to be at Buckner.”
In his first years as president of Buckner Children and Family Services, Reyes was charged with building upon Buckner’s presence in Texas and reputation internationally to expand its services worldwide. It’s a vision he continues to hold near to his heart as he seeks to expand Buckner’s services to encompass the global village in his role as the sixth president of Buckner International’s 131-year history.
“I want to build on the legacy of every leader before me,” he said. “My vision for the way the kingdom should be is that children of every language, every tongue, and every tribe should be served and should be part of the kingdom right now.”
But when it comes to leaving his own legacy, Reyes has only one goal in mind. “I hope people can look back and say he had a heart for the world.”
It takes some creativity to lead a 131-year-old institution into the global village and to cultivate support from others to develop sustainable methods for change on the ‘bad side of town,’ but Reyes turns to his imagination – and faith – to give God room to move.
He abides by Ephesians 3:20-21: “To Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to him be the glory.”
“I interpret that verse as meaning that whatever imagination I might have for the kingdom of God through Buckner’s work, whatever creativity or innovative thought or daring request I might have, that’s where God begins. Because whatever you come up with, he is able to do far more beyond that,” he said.
“So I’ve come to the conclusion that it doesn’t cost a lot to dream, to imagine. The only thing that is sacrificed when we fail to imagine is the potential of the kingdom. So if God only meets us halfway, then I don’t want my dreams to be small and my imagination to be little.”
Click here to watch a video about Albert Reyes.
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