MCFARLAND -- Fr. Stan Martinka, the founder of San Alfonso Mission in Mexico, has been visiting Christ the King Parish in McFarland for approximately 25 years requesting support for the mission's education and health programs aiding the poor of Juarez, Mexico.
This August, Father Martinka will speak at all three parish Masses the weekend of August 22 and 23.
In search of a better life
Juarez is a city located in the northern part of the state of Chihuahua, Mexico, directly across the border from El Paso, Texas. This city is known throughout the country for the large number of people who move from the south in search of a better life. Most of the population comes from large families who do not have anything beyond an elementary education.
The city itself has many problems. There is a notable difference in economic status between the rich and the poor. There are a few parts of the city where families have enough money to fulfill all their dreams, while other parts west of the city face extreme poverty and often are without basic services such as water and electricity.
Families in these situations simply work to survive and live from day to day. In Juarez, a great number of the poor work at the maquiladoras, or factories. These maquiladoras are the main source of work in the city.
People who haven't completed their higher education are hired as operators or workers in these places of employment. They earn approximately $50 each week. This is barely enough money to survive on a week-to-week basis.
All children of these workers usually complete their elementary education and occasionally go on to middle school. However, attending high school or college becomes an almost impossible feat.
Father Martinka started the San Alfonso mission in 1975 with money he saved while serving as an army chaplain and later as a member of the Reserves. He used his background as priest, teacher, sociologist, handyman, and beggar to help those impoverished families with a contagious energy, bringing literally thousands of people into his plan for a solution to poverty in that huge Mexican city.
His plan has evolved into an effective and excellent system of education for the poorest of the poor in Juarez. That same plan has involved hundreds of people from Christ the King Parish and the McFarland, Madison, Plain, and Baraboo communities. People from many other states have aided this far-reaching ministry.
At San Alfonso Mission, the educational facilities have grown to where there are at least 150 young students who have scholarships through the BECA (which stands for scholarship) Program to attend high school and/or college. These are young people who have excellent grades and a great desire to continue their education.
The students work and study industriously to support their families with the hope of breaking the cycle of poverty within their families and make their communities better places in which to live.
The request for continuing education beyond sixth grade level has increased drastically. Presently San Alfonso schools have very limited space. Double shifts of school scheduling have been initiated. These shifts also are overextended and the need to acquire another school building is inevitable.
Also, Mexican students attending college sponsored by the mission are increasing. Graduates have been choosing to return to Juarez as teachers, lawyers, nurses, doctors, engineers, and skilled laborers, proving the overall success of the program.
For more than 25 years, Christ the King Parish members have responded generously to this missionary effort, providing ongoing support to the schools and the BECA scholarship programs, helping the poor help themselves.
Turning lives around
Eleven years ago, Southern Exposure, a component of Spirit of Christ Church in Arvada, Colo., developed a house building program with the mission. As of February 2009, approximately 230 homes have been built by participating groups in several states.
Christ the King Parish has participated in this program for eight years with missionaries from within the parish and surrounding area finishing 22 houses plus building the shell for a free-standing kitchen/dining room at the mission.
The building crews have included friends and relatives of parishioners, members of McFarland UCC, McFarland Lutheran Church, and various other parishes in the Madison area.
These house builds are a total immersion experience into the everyday lives of the Mexican poor. It enables those participating in the builds to see first hand what Father Martinka has observed for so many years. It also fosters an understanding of Mexican culture and family life.
What seemed almost hopeless years ago is now turning around. Innumerable poverty stricken Mexicans have been helped by Father Martinka's programs, giving entire areas of the city cause to hope and better the lives of families too numerous to count.
In 2010, one more Christ the King house build is planned. It will take place the week of January 10 to 16. Any group or organization interested in conducting a house build should call Lindy or Clyde Birringer at 608-838-3617 for more information. Houses and workers are always needed.
The people of McFarland, Madison, and the surrounding communities through Christ the King Parish have helped provide young Mexican students hope for a better future. Thanks to monetary donations and much physical effort, our Mexican neighbors can continue to study and live out their dreams in Mexico, assured that fellow Christians in the U.S. are ready and willing to support them, enabling them to lift entire families above the poverty level.
Anyone further interested in helping the San Alfonso Missions and Fr. Stan Martinka support the poor of Juarez are invited to hear him speak and meet him after Masses the weekend of August 22 (5 p.m.) and 23 (8:30 and 10:30 a.m.) at Christ the King Parish.