Emmanuel “Manny” Méndez spreads joy, hope and wisdom beyond his years with volunteers, employees and retreatants as Rostro de Cristo’s Ecuador Program Manager. Get to know him better with this RdC Q&A:
R: Tell us about yourself. Where are you from and how did you learn about Rostro de Cristo?
M: My name is Emmanuel José Méndez Acevedo. I was born and raised in the beautiful Caribbean island of Puerto Rico. That’s where my roots and heart remain, and that’s where family and childhood memories remain. I am 29 years old and graduated with a B.A. in Chemical Engineering from the University of Puerto Rico in Mayagüez.
I learned about Rostro de Cristo through the Director of the Salesian Lay Missioners Program, Adam Rudin. After three meaningful years of volunteer service with this program in Bolivia, New York and Zambia, I returned home to pray, discern and seek within my heart where God was calling me next. In one of many conversations with Adam, he mentioned Rostro de Cristo and this position.
R: What attracted you most to the position of Ecuador Program Manager?
M: One of the things that attracted me most to this position as Ecuador Program Manager (EPM) was the opportunity for accompaniment. The idea of being present to young people as they experience a challenging but beautiful faith transformation filled my soul with purpose. I also felt strongly attracted to the idea of having a role that was going to allow me to continue a life of mission, of service and charity. The idea of a role that was going to challenge me to strengthen my spiritual values and commitment with Love was very appealing.
R: How are you supporting the mission of Rostro de Cristo in this role?
M: As EPM I find myself supporting the mission of Rostro de Cristo in many ways. I’ve been learning as I go to balance the management responsibilities of daily operations, the volunteer support and new projects of expanding our mission. Support goes from lawyers to bank accounts, from one-on-one’s to visas, from retreats to medical care, from budgets to cars and dogs. I’m very blessed to be part of a team that seeks to support each other, and very grateful to share this experience with Henry Edwards as Retreat Group Coordinator.
R: What’s your favorite part of your role? How about your least favorite part?
M: It’s hard for me to choose, there are many! Coordinating and leading many of the retreats for the volunteers has been a great experience and opportunity for me to share my heart. It’s been one of my favorite parts. I also cherish the many moments where one-on-ones with the volunteers have provided deeper conversations where we are able to learn from each other’s light and I can provide mentorship.
My least favorite part of this role would have to be all the paperwork that goes with management responsibilities. But it teaches me a lot of patience, and for that I’m grateful.
R: What does Face of Christ mean to you? How do you live it, how do you notice others living it?
M: The Face of Christ, to me, means Love. It is Love that does the work of this mission. The faces of Christ are all the small or big details that bring life and connect us all. It could be a smile, it could be an act of charity, it could be a sunset. Christ, to me, is an example of transformation and growth, and I see that happening in the volunteers. I see how there is a beautiful exchange of Christ’s face between the neighbors and the volunteers.
R: Has there been something humorous or funny that you experienced as you enter into the Ecuadorian culture and context?
M: I’ve had many humorous moments as I enter into the Ecuadorian culture and context. We are a big latino family with Spanish as our main language, but still have some differences in meanings of words. So I’ve had people look at me in a very interesting way when I say habichuelas, revolú, jíbaro…I’ve also had many funny moments as I enter the American culture and context with the volunteer communities.
R: When communicating with people from the United States who have never visited Arbolito or Monte Sinai, what’s the hardest thing to put into words?
M: The hardest thing to share is that poverty does not happen by accident. That many parts of the system that we live in today are responsible for creating the conditions for poverty in other parts of our world.
R: Do you have a prayer, mantra or quote that helps encourage you?
M: Gratitude is my prayer. Gratitude keeps my soul rooted in God.
R: To end on a light, easy note: what’s your favorite Ecuadorian meal?
M: Lentils menestra with aguacate salad and patacones! Just thinking about it made me hungry.