Helping a neighbor: Mom-turned-missionary lands in Mexico

The training center where Carmen Melendez-Collado works as a missionary operates as a model farm helping local residents in southeastern Mexico increase the yield from their land. Photos from Carmen Melendez-Collado.

Carmen Melendez, left, with daughter Deborah and husband Alejandro Rodriguez
Missionary Carmen Melendez-Collado, left, with daughter Deborah and husband, Alejandro Rodriguez.

LAKELAND – It was her husband’s idea.

But it was God’s call.

That’s the way missionary Carmen Melendez-Collado tells the story of how she went from being a teacher and mother of three who volunteered for youth missions at Ocala West UMC to heading a mission project in the rural hillsides of southeastern Mexico.

She said her husband, Alejandro Rodriguez, who was missions chairperson at Ocala West at the time, had a dream in which the Lord told him the family should go into mission work abroad.

“I said, ‘Really?’ And he said yes,” Melendez-Collado recalled. “I said the Lord will have to tell me, too.”

She said she worried about not being near her older children and about taking her youngest, who is still in school, away from the Ocala community.

Carmen Melendez-Collado is itinerating in Florida through June 13 and has a few dates available to make presentations at churches in the Florida Conference. Click here to see the missionary's Global Ministries profile. 

Contact Icel Rodriguez, Florida Conference Global Missions director, at (850) 408-4246 or for information.

Churches interested in supporting missionaries through a covenant relationship can do so for a little as $5 per member. Click here for details and a list of other ways United Methodists can support missionaries like Melendez-Collado and her family in Mexico.

“Sometimes we feel comfortable where we’re at and with what we’re doing,” Melendez-Collado said. 

But later she also had a dream in which God called her to missionary work, and the couple began exploring a path to becoming missionaries in The United Methodist Church. By November 2013, they were sent to lead a ministry in the Mexican state of Puebla. The project was founded by another missionary couple in 1977.

Melendez-Collado is a General Board of Global Ministries missionary, and her husband serves as an individual volunteer. Their mission, Give Ye Them to Eat, involves running a training center in an impoverished area about two hours' drive southeast of Mexico City.

A year and a half into her stint at the training center, Melendez-Collado reports that more than 10,000 lives have been affected by helping the community learn how to better use available resources, however spare. In a part of the world where people live in crudely constructed lean-tos fashioned from scrap metal and other discarded materials, running water and first aid are luxuries.

“We meet people as they are with what they have and teach them how to build upon what they have with training and resources,” Melendez-Collado told listeners gathered Monday at the Florida United Methodist Center.  

Local residents learn to make a water-less toilet at the United Methodist mission project in Puebla, Mexico.
Residents of rural Puebla, Mexico, learn to make a sanitary, water-less toilet at the United Methodist training center of the mission Give Ye Them to Eat.

People can learn how to build water-less toilets from composting materials, how to build homes from straw bales and soil and how to increase wellness and life expectancy through prevention methods that reduce illnesses. The training center also functions as a model farm, where local growers can learn how to increase their yield through agricultural techniques developed for the arid conditions.

With publisher permission, Melendez-Collado also is working to tailor Vacation Bible School materials from years past so that they have cultural appeal for the people of the Puebla area. The materials will be provided free or at a steep discount to local churches.

Thanks to funding from the Florida Conference, she said, the mission also hosted a spiritual retreat for men in December. The mission also welcomes mission teams who come from Mexico and the U.S., thus encouraging relationships with local families. As a result, the mission has been able to establish a scholarship program to help young people pursue education. This year, scholarships were awarded to three college students and three younger children.

The training center also employs about 10 local residents who receive good wages and benefits, Melendez-Collado said. 

The missionary cited Galatians 5:14, in which Christians are admonished to “love your neighbor as yourself,” and pointed out that United Methodists in the U.S. don’t have to look far to live up to that scripture.

“Mexico is our neighbor.”

– Susan Green is the Florida Conference managing editor.

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