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Featured, FRONTLINES, June 2022

A Whole New Worldview

At least a mile from the nearest paved road, down a long dirt path lined with piles of large tires, sits a small, isolated structure in the middle of a large plot of land. A large container sits near the structure—it is the only access to water for cooking, cleaning, and bathing and is trucked out regularly from town. Electricity is provided by a generator. This is where the Neri family lives.

They live just thirty minutes outside of San Antonio, Texas.

Jorge Ramirez, the Mercy Ministry Director at Bethesda Church of God first met Hugo Neri at a tire shop in town. Hugo provides for his family by repairing and selling tires for large vehicles and tractors. He purchased fifteen acres of land to store tools and tires for his business. Shortly after purchasing the land, Hugo was in an accident that left him with a broken pelvis and femur. After two surgeries, it is still difficult and painful for him to move. Though he is healing, he is unable to work until he is back to full health.

His wife, Elena, has her hands full raising their four children and now caring for Hugo, as well. Their two-year-old son, Luca, is autistic and requires Elena’s constant supervision, as he has been known to take off running and there is no fence around their property to keep him out of harm’s way.

Their daughter Maia is eleven and she helps to care for her younger sisters, who are one and two years old. When she’s older, Maia thinks she wants to be a doctor. “A family doctor,” she shared. “I want my dad and my brother to be healthy. My dad can’t walk well. I help him by getting things he needs, opening doors, or helping him sit down.” Even though she is currently attending school virtually, Maia enjoys her classes. She spends her free time decorating the trees around her house with chalk drawings and practicing her wooden flute.

Since the accident, Hugo hasn’t been able to do much around the property and it has been up to Elena to replenish the family’s water supply and make sure there is propane for the generator. With Hugo unable to work, the family relies on food stamps to purchase food, but it isn’t enough to cover all their needs.

When Jorge learned of the Neri family’s situation, he reached out to them with Food Paks. When he visited their home, he asked them about an altar in their home that displayed a figure of a skeleton draped in garments.

Jorge learned that they belonged to a cult known as “Santa Muerte”—or Holy Death—which follows the teaching that Death is a holy spirit just as powerful as Christ, who they believe was defeated by Death. Prayers and offerings made at the altar in their home were believed to bring protection from all varieties of violent death.

Knowing the seriousness of this cult worship and how difficult it can be for people to remove themselves from that lifestyle, Jorge and his family decided to pursue a relationship with the Neri family. In addition to bringing them Food Paks every other week, he began sharing the gospel with them. In December, Jorge invited the Neri family to his home to celebrate Christmas with his family.

The Food Paks provided to the Neri family have eased a tremendous burden. They are now able to use their limited resources to purchase additional items such as meat and formula for the baby. The church also helps them refill their water container and brings gas for their generator.

As Jorge continued to visit Hugo and Elena and share the gospel, the family began to show more openness to the gospel message. They have since taken down the altars in their home and have allowed Jorge to pray for Hugo’s healing and for their own spiritual needs.

Though the family has yet to make a declaration of faith, it is clear to Jorge and his family that God is softening their hearts. Even Maia has shared a desire to go to church once her father is healed enough. We at Children’s Hunger Fund continue to be amazed by how God uses the faithfulness of our church partners, the donations of food from our generous supporters, and the power of the gospel to transform hearts and minds and bring hope.

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