Mennonite World Conference

Called to care, equipped to serve

Dr. Ela Castro and her mother, Domicila Castro, prepare to distribute medication in December 2020 to people who were injured or ill following Hurricane Iota and Eta. Dr. Castro and her mother were part of a group through Iglesia Vida in Abundacia, a Mennonite Church in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, that distributed medicine provided by MCC and administered medical care to those affected by the hurricanes. Photo courtesy of Adalina Castro

How YAMEN put this doctor on the path she’d always hoped for

Dr. Ela Castro always knew she wanted to spend her life serving those in need. By all outward appearances, this is what she was doing. She’d studied for years to earn her medical degree. She was working at a health-care clinic. She was helping people – but something was missing. She felt her heart calling her to serve, not just to work for a steady paycheque.

But it wasn’t until she took a step of faith that she truly felt like she’d found her purpose.

Through a connection at her home church, Iglesia Menonita Central in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, Ela Castro heard about and decided to try a one-year term of service with YAMEN (Young Anabaptist Mennonite Exchange Network). YAMEN offers young adults from outside Canada and the USA an opportunity to leave what they know for a year to serve, grow and learn in an international placement. YAMEN is a joint program of the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) and Mennonite World Conference (MWC).

Ela Castro’s education and experience made her a perfect candidate for a placement providing medical care to migrants being supported by an MCC partner in Guatemala City, Guatemala. And she says the experience was confirmation that she was moving in the direction of God’s call on her life.

“YAMEN is a great place for people to confirm their gift and their call, and for me, it was proof that I can do something different than other doctors are called to do,” says Ela Castro, 30.

Casa del Migrante (The Migrant House) provides shelter, food, and medical care to thousands of migrants passing through Guatemala as well as deported Guatemalans. Providing care to people on the move is challenging and incredibly rewarding, says Ela Castro, but there’s one story about a young girl that she carries deep in her heart.

“There was a nine-year-old girl who was a migrant and she was vomiting – she was not doing well. We didn’t have all the medicine we needed at the shelter to treat her well,” she says.

Ela Castro (left), a 2019-2020 YAMEN* participant, is pictured working as a doctor at Casa del Migrante (Migrant House) in Guatemala in early 2020. The client’s name is withheld for security.
MCC partner Casa del Migrante provides shelter, food, transportation, medical care, and basic human rights education to migrants who are in transit, have been deported, or are seeking asylum in Guatemala City. They offer services not provided by the government to migrants who leave their places of origin due to lack of economic opportunities, lack of government provision of basic services (health, education, housing, etc.), and violence. MCC supports Casa del Migrante with financial and human resources.
The photograph was taken prior to COVID-19 restrictions.
Casa del Migrante photo/Samuel Gaitan
*The YAMEN (Young Anabaptist Mennonite Exchange Network) program is supported jointly by MCC and Mennonite World Conference.

Ela Castro wanted to bring the girl to a hospital, but the girl’s parents pleaded with her not to because they’d been treated very poorly by other doctors in the past. After a few hours of Ela Castro’s care, the young girl recovered.

“They really thanked me more than I expected and needed because it wasn’t me, it was God working. That same day was a celebration at the Migrant House and the girl was hanging around with me until she was ready to go to bed. I told her I was going to keep her in my prayers all my life and through her life and I’ve continued praying for her even after I left.”

Ela Castro looks back at her time with YAMEN as a pivotal time in her life, and one that prepared her for one the most challenging years she’d ever faced.

When she finished her YAMEN term in June 2020, she returned home to find her parents both sick with COVID-19. Her father passed away from the disease just weeks after her return.

While caring for her mother at home before deciding what her next step was, Ela Castro, her boyfriend, and her sister also contracted COVID-19. They all recovered, but it was only months later that Hurricanes Iota and Eta struck Central America. Ela Castro and her mother joined a group run by a local Mennonite church to offer medical attention and relief to those suffering from the impact of the storms.

Her time in YAMEN providing medical care in challenging environments had prepared her perfectly for such a time as this.

She also says her time in YAMEN also played a pivotal role in her faith formation and in planning what is next for her life.

“It was my Gethsemane,” says Ela Castro. “It was an opportunity for me to experience my faith by myself without the support of my mom and dad and closer family. I didn’t know that after I came back from Guatemala that I wouldn’t have my dad with me.”


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