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, Castro heard about YAMEN (Young Anabaptist Mennonite Exchange Network) and decided to try a one-year term of service. The joint program of Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) and Mennonite World Conference (MWC) offers young adults from outside Canada and the United States an opportunity to leave what they know for a year to serve, grow and learn in an international placement.
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.
She says the experience was confirmation that she was moving in the direction for 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 Castro, 30.
Migrant House (Casa del Migrante) 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 Castro, but there is 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,” Castro says. “We didn't have all the medicine we needed at the shelter to treat her well.”
Castro wanted to bring the girl to a hospital, but the girl’s parents pleaded with her not to, because they had been treated very poorly by other doctors in the past. After a few hours of 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,” Castro says. “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.”
Castro looks back at her service with YAMEN as a pivotal time in her life, and one that prepared her for one the most challenging years she had 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, Castro, her boyfriend and her sister also contracted COVID-19. They all recovered, but a few months later hurricanes Iota and Eta struck Central America. 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 played a pivotal role in her faith formation and in planning what is next for her life.
“It was my Gethsemane,” says 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.”
Castro recently got married and is providing medical care locally through home visits or phone calls, as she determines the next step for her path to helping people who need it most.