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MenUnited Backyard Barbecue, an informal gathering of men in search of Christian fellowship, has grown and evolved over the course of four years into MenUnited Church Ministries, Inc., a nonprofit organization that meets weekly 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 during a time when he was needing “more help than anybody.”
“Over the years, it has evolved through God’s grace,” Castaneda said. “It’s helped me to find what God has called me to be. It’s 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 men to Christ and show them who Christ has called them to be, he said. For Castaneda, the ministry has provided accountability, consistency and fellowship, which all have contributed to his growth and well-being.
“A lot of men deal with abandonment issues and they need consistent support and encouragement in their lives,” Castaneda said.
The men gather every Tuesday beginning about 6: 15 p.m. for food and fellowship. They have been meeting at AJ’s Detailing but intend to gather at the Salvation Army moving forward. Around 6: 45 p.m., the meeting opens with a prayer, and the men sing a couple of praise and worship songs. For the next hour, they explore where the Holy Spirit leads 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.
“Personally, first and foremost, I have made my way into God’s kingdom, because this group helped me to change my life for the better. I have been drug-free for a long time. I’ve broken addictions,” Castaneda said. “I’m the best version of myself for everybody involved in my life, which means my wife, kids and friends. I’m the best version of me that I can offer to everybody else.”
And the ministry has helped many others through difficult times. Castaneda said it has helped save marriages and jobs. One man learned to control his temper by praying before reacting to situations at work.
“He said he’s seen atmosphere changes in his workplace, that God’s rubbing off on people he works with,” Castaneda said.
MenUnited also offers a Discipleship Program that meets every Sunday for men who want to more fully explore their faith, and a five-fold, seven-week Minister Course, which is an in-depth study of the different types of callings people have in their lives.
“It (the Minster Course) helps men find their gift. We teach on the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers,” Castaneda said. “To understand where you’re called, you need to understand what each gift entails. We help teach that, and hopefully, the spirit touches you and you say, ‘This is where I’m supposed to be.’”
Capt. Kenny Jones with the Salvation Army attends MenUnited meetings to offer his support to the men. Many, but not all, of the men have dealt with addiction issues, he said.
“They gear the ministry toward those afflicted by addiction. Those men at times find themselves lost as to where they can go,” Jones said. “They can be around like-minded people and people who have longtime recovery under their belts who can mentor, support and encourage them.”
The Rev. Manny Cuellar, 63, pastor of the People’s Church in Victoria, joined MenUnited a couple of years ago. He is a member of the board and belongs to an advisory group. He said the men, who often have been fighting many life battles, find a place at MenUnited where they feel accepted and comfortable. The men have reached points in their lives where they want to be better men — better husbands and better fathers.
“I see what God is doing in these men. I see God when these men come to MenUnited with personal issues, various addictions, emotional issues, traumas,” Cuellar said. “Whatever the walk of life or ethnic background, they feel welcome and they feel they can open up. I’ve seen grown men cry and it touches my heart to help these men battle their issues.”
AJ Villanueva, 30, an administrator for 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.
“I wanted to draw closer to God, and this group is doing amazing things, reaching out and encouraging people, which the world lacks today,” Villanueva said. “I knew my heart was with Jesus, and I knew I wanted to expand that and find people who also love him.”
At MenUnited, men find an open door and a safe, positive environment where they are not judged, Villanueva continued.
Chris Atkinson, 37, a personal trainer, has been a member since the organization formed.
“It gave me a safe place to go as a guy trying to find his way. I was able to speak my mind and share about things I was going through and not worry about being criticized or judged for not being perfect or being new to my walk with Christ,” Atkinson said. “Now, there is so much more purpose and direction in my life. It’s given me something bigger than myself to be a part of.”
MenUnited has started hosting FamilyUnited once a month when the wives, significant others and children of the members join the meeting. Atkinson said the evening gives those involved in the men’s lives a chance to join in the worship and fellowship.
“It gives them the opportunity to get connected to other children, wives and significant others of faith in their walk with Christ,” Atkinson said. “They bond and make new connections.”
April Castaneda, Steven Castaneda’s wife, also started WomenUnited, which meets on Tuesdays.
MenUnited is launching a “Celebrate Recovery” program in January. The organization also would like to eventually open a home for men where they can stay while they get back on their feet.
“We’ve been blessed to be able to do this in our group, and in order to do more for God’s kingdom, it’s time to start getting out there. It blows my mind how God works. I prayed for that and literally, you called the next day to do the article,” Castaneda said. “It’s so much more than just a ministry, it’s God.”
Elena Anita Watts is the features editor for the Victoria Advocate. She covers faith, arts, culture and entertainment, and she can be reached at 361-580-6585 or [email protected]
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