Pastor Ezekiel* is from Sinaloa. He grew up in Mocorito, (meaning "place of the dead") a small town located in the mountains of Sinaloa. At the time, the population was less than 100 people.
Pastor Ezekiel serves in Tecate, Baja California.
Like many children in rural Mexico, he quit school to help cultivate the corn fields. However, unlike most kids from his town, he was able to reach the 6th grade and learn to read and write, which was the stepping stone to his future.
At age 18, Pastor Ezekiel left his hometown to seek better job opportunities. He was working in the fields and living in a shelter for migrant workers when he met his wife, Esther.
Esther: “My father was a grocer and my mother cooked meals for laborers in my hometown in Culiacan. As far as I can remember we always had house guests. At times, people who had come from the mountains to find jobs would settle in our front yard.” Esther said.
Pastor Ezekiel was one of those workers. They began dating, and four years later they got married. He first wanted to save enough to have something to offer Esther. They got married and had seven children.
Esther, Pastor Ezekiel's wife, creates the menus and buys the ingredients for the week
After getting married both became Christians and dedicated their lives to helping others in the name of Jesus. One of the elders at the church they attended noticed that young Ezekiel had a gift for preaching, so he began nurturing his gift. He instructed him in the Bible, which he says he has read thoroughly over 35 times, and provided him with other resources to help him with his mission. That’s how Pastor Ezekiel began his ministry many years ago.
“I was born a poor farmhand, yet God sees fit to use me to do his labor. And as long as I have these hands I’ll serve Him.” Pastor Ezekiel said as he washed the dishes.
With those hands, Pastor Ezekiel has worked as a carpenter, builder, welder, and church planter. He began planting his first church in Mexicali, moved to downtown Tecate for the second, and now ministers in Cerro Azul (rural Tecate) where he planted his third congregation, “Iglesia de Cristo”.
“We thought we were going to Ensenada, but I saw a need in Cerro Azul and couldn’t look away.” He said.
"There is nothing more gratifying than to serve," said Pastor Ezekiel
As soon as they arrived at Cerro Azul, Pastor Ezekiel began praying that God would provide them the resources to open a dining hall for the poor.
“We saw a huge need among the children, many of whose parents were often gone all day, leaving them to fend for themselves. It was heartbreaking to see children who rarely had a warm meal.” Esther said.
The couple began serving food in their home to families and children using the resources that they received from the Amor Food Bank. However, Pastor Ezekiel was convinced that God was calling him to serve more people.
“I thought he was crazy and I saw that it was going to be a lot of work, but I told him that if God opened the way I was on board.” she said.
After many years of prayer, God opened a way. A man named Daniel began attending Iglesia de Cristo. He was a new Christian and was on fire; he reached out to Pastor Ezekiel and asked if there was anything he could help him.Daniel had been working as a translator for missionaries and knew some people from a church in Wisconsin.
Daniel and his family help Pastor Ezekiel manage the dinning hall
He began sharing with them the crazy dreams of his pastor, and they agreed to get them started. In the meantime, Pastor Ezekiel petitioned the Ministry Planning Board of Amor to build a dining hall.
They all agreed and soon after the pastor and his wife began serving the children in their community. The money they receive each month from the Amor Food Bank helps cover some of their expenses, but they’ve created numerous partnerships to account for their growth.
“We thought we would have about 20 to 30 children; however the first day 50 children showed up. Those children began telling their friends and in four years we more than doubled.” Esther said.
Nati, one of the volunteers, says she feels like a grandmother to the children she serves
The dining hall at “Iglesia de Cristo” in Tecate serves 120 children.
It is open from 12:00 p.m. to 2:00 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays (the days that most families run low on money) and it’s entirely run by volunteers from the Iglesia de Cristo church: Esther, Lily, Nati, Perla, Sarah, and Elvia (Danny’s wife) begin preparing the food at 10:00 a.m. on camping stoves.
When the children arrive, Juan and Jesus help serve food, refilling cups with milk, juice, or soda.
Meanwhile Pastor Ezekiel talks to the children, washes dishes, mops floors, cleans up spills, etc. Upon arriving at Iglesia de Cristo, children sign in on the sheet where Elvia keeps track of the children that visit them.
She needs it to keep their information updated, like their age, shoe and clothing sizes, and address. Some organizations and companies from Tijuana and Tecate make donations for special occasions. Elvia also says that it helps them create a sense of integrity and accountability with their benefactors.
The children receive a homemade meal. Up the street, there is another cafeteria run by the government, but many parents say they can’t pay the $5 pesos per child per meal that it charges. Other children say they prefer the food offered at Pastor Ezekiel’s place.
Esther recognizes there have been times she feared there would not be enough for everyone by doing that. -- Despite this they have never run out of food, even when the number of guests soars past 120 children. The atmosphere in the dining hall is lively and not at all institutionalized. It feels like a huge family. When I asked the volunteers why they had remained faithful for so long, they say they feel compelled to help the children.
“[Unlike the government kitchen] we don’t limit them on how much food they should take. Who am I to judge how hungry they are? If they want more, we always have more for them.” Pastor Ezekiel said.
“Some children are raising themselves and their siblings. Their parents are absent, either because they are working making bricks all day or because they are victims of addictions. This is a sanctuary, and I feel like a grandmother to all of them.” Nati, one of the cooks, said.
“I just love children and hearing their stories from school.” Perla, another volunteer, adds.
Volunteers from Iglesia de Cristo cook and serve meals for about 100 children every Thursday and Friday
The dining hall used to serve breakfast, but they changed their schedule so they could help the children who go to school in the afternoons. The only requirement is that the children are under 12 years old; older children can also eat if they are still attending school. Half a dozen high school kids show up in the afternoons to help them clean up.
Although some mothers accompany their children, the vast majority of the children are alone. They get their plates, sit among friends, give thanks, and eat among laughs and lively conversations. During those two hours, children eat, exchange toys, and borrow each other’s bikes.
“We don’t see most of them on Sunday; they are not required to do so, although it is our dream. But some of their parents don’t want them to go to church.” Esther said.
One of the kids told me he would like to become a pastor.
“People change when they learn about God.” He said with wide eyes and a tender smile, and then he added…”It changed my dad.”
Pastor Ezekiel says his job is to keep seeding the ground.
“It is amazing to preach about salvation. The Bible speaks of that and points to Jesus. But when he came, he asked us to serve so that people would know we were his disciples, and that’s what I’ll do. There is nothing more gratifying than to serve.”
*This story was originally shared during 24 Days of Disrupt Day 22: Beans and Rice