Story and photos by Russ Dilday
Editor's note: This is the second half of a two-part series about the dynamic ministry in the Chiapas state of Mexico, where Buckner is helping transform families from a state of crisis to a state of thriving. Read part one here.
The Castellanos family success story is indicative of what Buckner Mexico hopes to do in Chiapas – achieve self-sufficiency emotionally, physically, economically or educationally. It’s also a goal for Buckner in Chiapas.
The ministry in Chiapas was started in 2013 without direct financial assistance from the U.S. To date, Buckner Chiapas is a model of frugality when it comes to self-sufficiency. The work began when a donor in Tuxtla heard about Buckner’s work with families in Oaxaca to the north, giving around $350 U.S. dollars a month as a stimulus. Buckner Mexico decided to use that gift to go directly to ministry and added Area Coordinator Ari Villatoro’s salary from its own budget. In addition, another donor contributed Hernandez’s salary so families could be better served through the Hope Center. The result is one of Buckner’s most dynamic shoestring ministries.
But, Millan adds, to keep that self-sufficiency theme going, when families are helped through Buckner and achieve many of their self-sufficiency goals they set through the Hope Center and other Buckner Chiapas ministries, “they move from client to volunteer to servant.”
Turning volunteers into servants
For Castellanos, giving back not only means volunteering as a tutor, it means serving as the host family for the Hope Center and as a donor for the land it sits on. It was her mother who suggested, as volunteers built their home, that the Hope Center could have the front part of the land.
“For me it is a great joy, a great happiness, a blessing … a great blessing,” she emphasizes when asked what the Hope Center attached to her home can do for her colonia.
Pointing to Castellanos family’s progress, Millan says, “Our vision is to transform hearts. We want to change everything in the community and even in the family, but it happens if you start to transform hearts. Selene very much does exactly this. She can influence even the community. She understood she can even influence the country, if she pays attention to what she’s doing. She moved her family to listen and make the changes that are important. And they influence the community, tell the families that they can do more and together make many changes.”
The Hope Center is the platform Buckner uses to reach deep into the families of Trituradora with services, aid and hope.
“With the Family Hope Center, there is more attention offered to the children; they receive help with their education, and they get help with their homework,” Hernandez explains. “Right now we are doing a children’s education workshop since the school year is done. There is a dining area where the children receive breakfast, and the children who come get attention.”
One of the goals of the Hope Center is to provide something for each part of the family in order to strengthen the whole.
“Buckner provides workshops and discussions with the mothers and fathers because generally, in this area, the father works all day and the mother is in charge of taking care of the kids,” Hernandez says. “So there comes a point when it becomes stressful. Part of our project is to strengthen the marriage of the father and mother. We understand that they work, but we program the activity so that they can ask for time off.”
Looking at the Hope Center and the neighborhood it serves, Hernandez reflects on what the place means to the community and moving families from clients to those with servant hearts.
“To build this, everybody helped. I mean everybody,” she emphasizes. “I feel it really helped Selene’s family to be more united, because it was everybody doing everything. Some think it was the mason who did it. No, some were painting, some were picking up in the garden with the children. We have a volunteer who is a biologist, and he told us when to plant the plants, and we came and did it. The children did it with so much love that everything grew.
“It is beautiful for us to see,” Hernandez says. “We are all a part of this, we were all happy. We all got to know each other really well because there were times when we would get stressed, but whenever someone was stressed, there was someone else who would pick them up. It carried on and became a chain in which everyone supported one another because we got through the moments of stress.
“With the children, with the mothers, with everyone, everyone is involved. This goes little by little, but it is causing changes, and the changes are noticeable.”
Perhaps the biggest transformations aren’t just in the community, but in the life of a 19-year-old woman who stepped up and asked for help for herself and her family more than a year ago.
“Because of the work here, I am more social,” Castellanos says. “I am usually in a better mood. I am more tolerant. I was the kind of person, my mother says, ‘would walk by with my head down and wouldn’t talk to anybody,’ but now I am more sociable, and I am tolerant with the children, because I could not stand children before.”
Because of the educational help she received, she “began to develop a taste for education. I discovered a passion to study,” which led her to finishing high school. She has been admitted to one of the area’s top universities, Universidad Autónoma de Chiapas, to study environmental engineering.
But her “biggest” transformation, in her words, is the change in her relationship to Jesus Christ.
Prior to working with Buckner, she says her spiritual condition “wasn’t very clear. I did not know about Christ. Yes, I had my own concept of God, but, like everyone says, ‘I know God and so I believe in God.’ But I think that he is the one who helped change who I was. His love, only his love, is what transformed me completely.
“Before I felt I was a person going through the world without a destination. But now I know I have someone who listens to me, who sees me, with whom I can talk to and tell all my troubles to. From what I have read in the Bible, well, we can see what he is asking from us, and it is there where I am noticing what I am doing.”
Story and photos by Russ Dilday