Article Published by New World Outlook
The Mission Magazine of the United Methodist Church - May/June 2002

In the 1970s, a Mexican Methodist bishop, Dr. Alejandro Ruiz, dreamed of a ministry that would address the needs of the resource-poor people of rural Mexico. The ministry became a reality in 1977. Bishop Ruiz, citing Mark 6:37, “You give them something to eat,” named it Give Ye Them To Eat (GYTTE). This inter-connectional ministry of the Methodist Church of Mexico is an Advance Special of the General Board of Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church.

UM missionaries Muriel and Terry Henderson were appointed to design and direct the program headquartered in the city of Puebla. GYTTE offers development opportunities in six program areas: community and family health, agricultural development, community development, livestock development, Church and Faith development and the Alternative Work-study and Reality Experience (AWARE). In October 2000, GYTTE dedicated the Tree of Life Center in Tlancualpican, Puebla, where the various services offered by GYTTE are showcased. An experimental farm is maintained for agricultural training, a reproduction center provides livestock for the livestock development program, and a learning center provides classroom space for courses and workshops offered through GYTTE.

More Than a Bandage
In the village of San Juan Amecac, Puebla, a woman’s son seriously injured his leg one evening. He could not be treated at the government clinic because it was closed at night and on weekends. The woman heard from a neighbor that another villager, Isidra, knew first aid, so she took her son to Isidra’s house in the middle of the night. Isidra efficiently cleaned and dressed the wound and then continued treatment until it healed. The mother was surprised that the wound healed quickly and without infection. Isidra had learned first aid through the GYTTE ministry and thus was able to prevent a serous injury from becoming worse because clinical help was unavailable. Her continued voluntary care for the boy also saved the family’s meager financial resources from being depleted by costs for medical supplies.

More Than a Bandage, GYTTE’s community and family health program, gives rural  families the opportunity to learn about preventive health measures. It does so by training village women as volunteer workers for community-based health care, enabling them in turn to teach others. The program empowers people to prevent serious disease by changing the conditions that cause it and by treating an illness or injury in its earliest stage right in the local community.

Agricultural Development
Francisca and Manuel’s hillside in Tlancualpican, Puebla, produces fast-growing trees for firewood, papaya trees for fruit, and prickly pear cacti for salads and soups. It also provides space for the pen that they hope soon will be home to a few sheep and goats. Moreover, it is the perfect place for the garden they are planning for the summer. It wasn’t always this way. At one time, erosion on this rocky hillside threatened to reduce their tiny property each time it rained. But with the help of GYTTE, this young family learned to create contour terraces to convert their threatened land into a productive agricultural endeavor. GYTTE gave them the opportunity for which they had hoped.

GYTTE’s agricultural development program is striving to teach villagers good soil and water conservation techniques. Contour terracing, drip irrigation, composting and manure usage, and multipurpose trees and crops improve the condition of the land and increase agricultural production, thus increasing a family’s income. Family gardens and the propagation and use of medicinal plants also improve  family health and nutrition.

Livestock Development
The villagers of Huilango, on the slope of the volcano Popocatépetl in Puebla, did not own any dairy animals, which meant that only nursing infants had milk in their diets. The rest of the children of that mountain community did not have milk, butter, o cheese. Then, with the help of GYTTE, three families had the chance to buy one dairy cow each, at a subsidized price, an arrangement that introduced milk into Huilango. Five other families each received a heifer, along with training to care for the livestock, so there would be more milk in the not-too-distant future. Thus they could improve their diet and generate some extra income by selling the dairy products. For these families, opportunity came in the form of livestock.

GYTTE's livestock development program to genetically improve the livestock of the region genetically, increase livestock production, provide animal protein, and increase family income. It accomplishes these goals by training people in environmentally sound livestock management practices and by distributing food and income-producing animals. GYTTE provides families with dairy cows, milk goats, swine, and sheep. Participating families agree to share an offspring from their animals and their newly gained knowledge of animal husbandry with their neighbors.

Community Development
Doña Camila, of Tlancualpican, Puebla, raised her two daughters, Teófila and Flor, by herself. They had only one tiny adobe room with a packed-dirt floor and an open fire for cooking. When Teófila and Flor were teenagers, they learned through GYTTE about two technologies that would eventually transform the way they lived. The first was the dry-composting toilet unit. Doña Camila wasn’t sure the girls were telling her the truth when they said they could build a toilet that didn’t use water and didn’t have an odor problem. Was that really possible? The girls convinced their mother that it was true, and they built the first dry composting toilet unit in the village. Not only did it work, but their neighbors kept asking to use it because, like most rural families, they had no indoor plumbing. In a matter of a few years, GYTTE helped the community build 25 of these toilet units! Encouraged by that success, the girls moved on to the next project: a two-room house whose walls were made of straw bales. The straw construction provided a comfortable living space for the family even in the hot climate. For Doña Camila and her daughters, opportunity through GYTTE gave them a “Home Sweet Home.”

The objective of GYTTE’s community development program is to increase people’s awareness of the nature and causes of community problems and to teach them how to overcome these problems in an atmosphere of mutual support. Appropriate technology is an integral part of the training offered: straw-bale house construction, dry-composting toilets, fuel-efficient mud stoves and solar cookers, pumping systems, and resource recycling.

Church and Faith Development
In the little country town of Tepetitla, Tlaxcala, the two weeks of Vacation Bible School were a busy time at Bethel Methodist Church. Weeks before, the teachers had attended a VBS fair organized by GYTTE in the city of Puebla to learn about participatory teaching methods and how to use the new curriculum. Although they were sure the children would enjoy the learning process, they didn’t expect the children to be as enthusiastic as they were about the material. But the church children came to class and then started bringing their friends to VBS! Soon the children of Tepetitla were singing songs and sharing stories about Jesus. Some of the church leaders remembered their own experiences, from years before, when they had first encountered Christ by being invited by a friend to attend VBS. That opportunity had changed their lives forever. Possibly it would do the same for these children.

GYTTE supports the spiritual growth of Mexican Methodist congregations through its church and faith development program. Staff members conduct training workshops for laity and clergy as well as develop, produce, and distribute Christian education materials for local churches.

In the village of San Matias Atzala, Puebla, Pastor Cornelia Márquez motivated his congregation to take part in livestock-development projects to improve their animal and crop production and supplement their family income. He also convinced them to renovate their decaying church building and then helped them organize an evangelistic campaign in the village.

It is important for Mexican pastors to receive the theological training that is necessary for their work. However, since most Methodist pastors in Mexico, like Márquez, work in small towns (40 percent) or rural villages (40 percent), it is also important for them to be prepared to be resource people in agricultural communities. The Alternative Work-Study and Reality Experience (AWARE) program gave Márquez the opportunity to acquire such preparation through a scholarship to a week-long program at the Tree of Life Training Center near the village of Tlancualpican, Puebla. There he took part in workshops presented in community, agricultural, and livestock development.

God has used Bishop Ruiz’s vision; the Methodist Church of Mexico’s priority for social outreach; the talents and dedication of GYTTE’s board of directors, missionaries, and staff; and the participation and contributions of United Methodist churches, districts, and conferences in the United States to convert a dream into a successful outreach ministry. That ministry provides the marginalized people of Mexico’s rural sector with realistic opportunities to transform and improve not only their lives but also the lives of others.
Terry and Muriel Henderson have served as United Methodist missionaries with the Methodist Church of Mexico since 1972.