Alumni Spotlight: Missionary Cynthia Castillo
Looking back over the major transitions in her life, Cynthia reflects on God’s goodness through the changes, “…you’re never really ‘ready’ for any of it. It’s a process. He prepares you as you go.”
Sometimes “as you go” looks like changing your ministry focus, or maybe it looks like adopting when you’re a single missionary. And every once in a great while it looks like staying put during a pandemic.
Shortly after graduating with her bachelor’s in Secondary Education (’98), Cynthia moved to Mexico City. She began her ministry by joining a local church and leading women’s and children’s ministry and training members to step into leadership. She also completed her MA with a concentration in Biblical Counseling.
When Cynthia met 9-year-old Hector and his family in 2006, she had no idea that is was the beginning of a new phase of ministry.
However, within a few short months it became apparent that Hector needed a place to stay. Cynthia opened her home to him, providing some much-needed stability in his life. This arrangement remained in place for several years. Cynthia gradually took on more and more responsibility for Hector and his upbringing until they finalized the adoption in 2010. Now Hector is 23, finishing up medical school, and planning to be married!
Often, people ask if she felt prepared to adopt a teen. She smiles and says, “I simply opened up my home to a kid who needed it, and things went from there.”
In 2013 Cynthia accepted a position at EBI, a Christian publishing house serving the Hispanic population.
“EBI was looking for someone who had Theology training, was fluent in Spanish, had writing skills, and had the ability to train others. It encapsulated so much of what I love.” EBI had a huge project in mind: revising and editing all the children’s curriculum they had – some of it hadn’t been revised since the 70’s. Accepting this position represented a major shift in ministry that included extensive technology training, transferring to a new mission board, and raising support all over again.
In addition to the curriculum project at EBI, Cynthia travels internationally to conduct training seminars and continues doing ministry in the local church.
The past few weeks brought yet another unexpected shift: conducting ministry during a health emergency lock-down.
Living in one of the largest cities in the world has unique challenges. Mexico City is a densely populated area that relies heavily on public transportation. “Just like in other areas that have been hit so hard by this virus, people here live on top of each other – it’s a huge city and we all share the space.”
As Mexico enters phase three of the pandemic, 50% of public transportation has been shut down and non-essential businesses are closed. Compared to the US, “non-essential” is a bit ambiguous in Mexico. Wages, work, and food is a day-to-day enterprise so stocking up is simply not an option for the general population. Even though restrictions have been implemented, people are still forced to go to work just so they can eat.
Cynthia is learning new technology as fast as she can.
Between her ministry responsibilities in Mexico City and her employment at EBI, Cynthia has learned six different communication platforms in as many weeks.
“Different areas of ministry and work are learning which technologies offer the functionality they require to be effective. It has been interesting to watch. My ladies’ Bible study was the first to take action. When lockdown was first mentioned, they immediately asked, ‘Ok, so how are we going to keep meeting?’”
But technological limitations have been a challenge. Not everyone has a computer – and even if they have a computer, many times it is not equipped to make video communication possible. Smart phones are becoming fairly common, but still present many limitations.
Regardless, the local church is praying that this will be a time of growth for everyone.
“We are being very intentional with what we teach. Right now, men are captive audiences in their homes which is highly unusual. We want to take advantage of this opportunity.”
As a side job, Cynthia teaches English to Chinese students online. This connection with individuals in China gave her some insight into how she should prepare when it became apparent that COVID-19 was spreading world-wide. “It was weird. I felt a little bit like the paranoid crazy person when I tried starting to prep for my own quarantine. Of course, now we are experiencing the seriousness of the situation.”
At EBI things have kicked into high gear. “The physical office isn’t open, but my work load has increased because we are pushing to get so much online. I’m not only working on the curriculum project, but also recording myself teaching the material. I don’t remember any missionary training on how to be a YouTuber! Fortunately, I like technology, but it’s still a crash course.”
With her son preparing to graduate from medical school in May and enter the medical field, Cynthia is paying close attention to the news.
Hector was scheduled to begin clinical rotations at the main hospital and then move on to an internship when the crisis hit. For the time being, all this has been postponed and they are waiting to hear news about graduation.
As any mother would be, Cynthia is concerned for her son. “Do pray for Hector please. Uber and other transport companies refuse to serve medical professionals saying they are spreading the virus because they work in the hospital. Some nurses and doctors have been attacked physically and had bleach thrown on them. Instead of being hailed as heroes, here they are being vilified. Hector is aware of it of course but knows this is what God has called him to.”
Cynthia has decided to stay in Mexico City for the duration of the pandemic.
“I’ve had people ask if I’m ‘coming home’ to the US until things get better. Honestly, unless I’m forced out, this is home and I’d rather stay here. No, I don’t know what’s going to happen. Yes, I end up missing out on special times with family – even big, important things. But that’s all part of the missionary life package… you’re never really ‘ready’ for any of it. It’s a process. He prepares you as you go.”
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