MenUnited Backyard Barbecue, an informal gathering of men seeking Christian fellowship, has grown and evolved over the past four years to become MenUnited Church Ministries, Inc., a nonprofit organization that meets every week to help men find their way to God.
Steven Castaneda, 43, who works in pest control for Oscar’s Pest and Termite Control in Victoria, started the ministry at a time when he needed “more help than anyone.”
âOver the years it has evolved thanks to the grace of God,â Castaneda said. âIt helped me find what God called me to be. It has helped me to be a better father, a better husband, a better friend, a better member of our community.
The main purpose of the ministry is to introduce Christ to men and show them who Christ has called them to be, he said. For Castaneda, the ministry provided responsibility, consistency and camaraderie, all of which contributed to his growth and well-being.
âA lot of men face abandonment issues and they need constant support and encouragement in their lives,â Castaneda said.
The men meet every Tuesday from around 6:15 p.m. for food and fellowship. They’ve reunited at AJ’s Detailing but intend to reunite with The Salvation Army to move forward. Around 6:45 p.m., the meeting opens with a prayer, and the men sing a few songs of praise and worship. During the next hour, they explore where the Holy Spirit is leading them before closing the evening with another prayer. Twenty to 30 men meet each week. Since its inception, the ministry has helped more than 200 men, Castaneda said.
âPersonally, first and foremost, I have made my way into the kingdom of God, because this group has helped me change my life for the better. I have been drug free for a long time. I broke the addictions, âCastaneda said. âI am the best version of myself for everyone involved in my life, which means my wife, my kids and my friends. I am the best version of myself I can give to everyone.
And the ministry has helped many others through difficult times. Castaneda said it has helped save marriages and jobs. A man learned to control his mood by praying before reacting to situations at work.
âHe said he saw the atmosphere change in his workplace, which God rubs off on the people he works with,â Castaneda said.
MenUnited also offers a disciple-making program that meets every Sunday for men who wish to explore their faith more fully, and a five-part seven-week ministering course, which is an in-depth study of the different types of callings that people have it in their life. lives.
âIt (the minister’s course) helps men find their gift. We teach about apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, âCastaneda said. âTo understand where you are called, you must understand what each gift involves. We help teach that and hopefully the spirit touches you and you say, âThis is where I’m supposed to be. “
Salvation Army Captain Kenny Jones attends MenUnited meetings to offer support to the men. Many, but not all, of the men have faced substance abuse issues, he said.
âThey direct the ministry to those who suffer from drug addiction. These men sometimes find themselves at a loss as to where to go, âJones said. âThey can be surrounded by like-minded people and people who have had long-standing recoveries and who can mentor, support and encourage them.â
Reverend Manny Cuellar, 63, pastor of the People’s Church of Victoria, joined MenUnited a few years ago. He is a member of the board of directors and is part of an advisory group. He said that men, who have often fought many battles in life, find a place at MenUnited where they feel accepted and at ease. Men have reached stages in their lives where they want to be better men – better husbands and better fathers.
âI see what God is doing in these men. I see God when these men come to MenUnited with personal issues, various addictions, emotional issues, trauma, âCuellar said. âWhatever their living environment or their ethnic origin, they feel welcome and they feel they can open up. I have seen grown men cry and it touches my heart to help these men deal with their problems. “
AJ Villanueva, 30, administrator of the Courtyard Rehabilitation Center and owner of AJ’s Detailing, joined MenUnited about three years ago. He and Castaneda have been friends for a long time.
âI wanted to get closer to God, and this group is doing amazing things, reaching out and encouraging people, which the world is lacking today,â Villanueva said. “I knew my heart was with Jesus, and I knew I wanted to expand that and find people who love him too.”
At MenUnited, men find an open door and a safe, positive environment where they are not judged, Villanueva continued.
Chris Atkinson, 37, personal trainer, has been a member since the inception of the organization.
âIt gave me a safe place to go as a guy trying to find his way. I was able to speak my mind and share the things I was going through and not fear being criticized or judged for not being perfect or for being new to my walk with Christ, âsaid Atkinson. âNow there is so much more purpose and direction in my life. It gave me something bigger than me to be a part of.
MenUnited has started hosting FamilyUnited once a month when members’ wives, relatives and children join the reunion. Atkinson said the evening gives those involved in men’s lives a chance to join in worship and fellowship.
âIt gives them the opportunity to connect with other children, wives and other significant people of faith in their walk with Christ,â said Atkinson. “They bond and make new connections.”
April Castaneda, wife of Steven Castaneda, also launched WomenUnited, which meets on Tuesdays.
MenUnited is launching a âCelebrate Recoveryâ program in January. The organization would also like to eventually open a men’s home where they can stay while they get back on their feet.
âWe have been blessed to be able to do this in our group, and in order to do more for the kingdom of God, it is time to start going out. It amazes me the way God works. I prayed for it and literally you called the next day to do the article, âCastaneda said. “It’s so much more than just a ministry, it’s God.”
Elena Anita Watts is the feature editor for the Victoria Advocate. She covers faith, arts, culture and entertainment, and she can be reached at 361-580-6585 or [email protected]