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“So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” — Matthew 20:16

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Susan Stack
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Cristo Rey Outreach, Inc. (Sunland Park, NM)

Is Honored with the 2004 Community Transformation Award, presented by PHEWA’s Community Ministries And Neighborhood Organizations network (COMANO)

“Dear Presbyterian People - This letter is to inform you of all the success we are having at La Casita. My Name is Rosa Nuñez and I’m with the Cristo Rey Project.” So begins a remarkable letter written by a remarkable woman.

Rosa Nuñez continues: “The Cristo Rey Project has its ministries in the whole town of Sunland Park, New Mexico. I live in a little subdivision in Sunland Park called Anapra. To society, Anapra is a big problem to Sunland Park. I have lived in Anapra for 28 years and I truly disagree that we are problem people. Anapra has never ever been taken under consideration if we are in need. Anapra has all kinds of needs, like a lot of other places I’m sure, but this is a neighborhood where nobody has ever cared.”

Cristo Rey Outreach, Inc. in Sunland Park – located in southern New Mexico, not far from El Paso – came into being in 1994 through a Bicentennial Fund grant. But Cristo Rey didn’t turn into another “feed the hungry” program as originally described in the grant proposal. They had much bigger plans. During the past ten years, the project always has endeavored to empower the people in the communities being served. The goal of the women who initiated and who have sustained the Cristo Rey Project follows the familiar philosophy, “Give someone a fish, feed them for a day; teach someone to fish, feed them for life.”

Cristo Rey Outreach, although officially an outreach program of the Presbytery of Sierra Blanca, depends more than many other programs on the work done by community residents. Its focus is on providing technical assistance and other resources needed so that the community can move toward self-sufficiency and improvement. According to Executive Presbyter Shannon Webster, the Presbytery does well just to keep up with the amazing group who are the women of Anapra.

Two truly shining lights are Anselma Nieto and Rosa Nuñez. Mrs. Nieto, with five other local women, began the first Daycare program in Sunland Park. In finding and renovating a building in the community, and then securing the necessary licensing, they were answering a basic need in the Anapra community – providing child care so that others in the community could begin to work and earn a living for their families. The Daycare Center also became a community meeting center – a first for a neighborhood lacking the most basic infrastructure. Mission work projects from a variety of Presbyterian churches, including some from Southeastern New Mexico and neighboring Texas, also helped, especially to construct the Center’s playground. As a result of these efforts, Sunland Park Daycare, with financial help from the Presbytery and the Synod of the Southwest, is now an independent business owned by these six local women dedicated to meeting an important local need.

Another Cristo Rey project is La Casita, a simple pink adobe house in Anapra. Not long ago, this house had the malevolent reputation and physical scars typical of the drug house it used to be. That changed

completely when Cristo Rey helped the community to transform the place into a Neighborhood Center and a remarkable sign of hope.

Under the steady hand of Rosa Nuñez, changes continue to take place in Anapra and Sunland Park. A Girl Scout troop; an after-school tutoring project; a Christian Education program; and a quiet space for kids to read, do art projects, and work on one of La Casita’s computers – all these activities have sprung up in a place that used to be a community eyesore. Rosa, who lives about a block from La Casita, now works in the community, representing the Presbytery as she organizes local women in everything from economic development to after-school tutoring, ESL classes, and a VISTA program. A recent GED program at La Casita graduated 18 people. The leaders of Cristo Rey ministry, in their spare time, also have organized a food-buying cooperative, citizenship classes, a Spanish language camp, and a border ministry immersion program.

The Girl Scout troop looked like so much fun that the boys wanted one, too. That led to organizing a local Boy Scout troop, chartered and given seed money by the Presbytery. Neighborhood interest in these youth organizations fits the Presbytery’s ministry strategy, as young boys and girls turn their backs on gangs and opt instead for membership in the troops and their different sets of “colors.”

Finally – at least for the moment – there is the new “Anapra Community Builders” group, a neighborhood-based affordable-housing coalition. The group will seek to improve substandard housing conditions in Anapra, the poorest neighborhood in Sunland Park, and to empower residents to be proactive in acquiring and maintaining adequate housing for neighborhood families. Recently, this group received a start-up grant from the Stone Soup Collaborative, which includes the New Mexico Conference of Churches (NMCC), Catholic Charities of Central New Mexico, Jewish Family Service, and the New Mexico Association of Food Banks.

These are the opening chapters of the story of Cristo Rey Outreach, Inc. and the Anapra neighborhood. This is more than the typical faith-based community organizing effort. With so much enthusiasm and commitment from the women of this neighborhood, God surely has done a new thing in Anapra and Sunland Park.

Let Rosa have the last word: “We have a full schedule now for the week. We have a monthly newsletter, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, parenting classes and much, much more to come. All these, thanks to you. I also think I am very blessed, I think God sent you [Presbyterian] people here because he knows how we as parents are suffering the discrimination our kids are getting. And when I see La Casita full of kids and people caring for them, that’s all I’m asking for.”

Want to know more? Contact J. Shannon Webster, Executive Presbyter, Presbytery of Sierra Blanca, Roswell, N.M. phone (505) 623 6235.

– Ann Euston