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Sunday, May 1, 2016

Villagranas find changes in Monett as they resume mission work to Hispanic community

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Alma and Fausto Villagrana, shown above, have returned to Monett after a three-year reassignment for the United Methodist Church. Now officially semi-retired, the Villagranas have returned to Monett to continue their ministry to Hispanic residents in the community. [Times Photo by Murray Bishoff]
Fausto and Alma Villagrana found Monett had changed when they returned this summer.

Having gone to El Paso, Texas, to serve separately at different churches, the Villagranas were coming back to Monett to retire. They served as missionaries to the Hispanic community in Monett through the First United Methodist Church for 10 years before taking the Texas assignment in 2006.

The district supervisor for the United Methodist Church offered the Villagranas the opportunity to continue their original mission in Monett on a part-time basis. They liked the idea and returned to Monett at the end of June, retaining an active role with the church.

"We got a welcome from both the American and Hispanic people," Alma said.

"We wanted to arrive quietly," Fausto said. "They were waiting for us. They cleaned our house and had a party. We appreciate what people did for us, both Anglo and Hispanic."

Fausto said there are fewer Hispanics in the Monett community. The mix of Hispanics was about half from Mexico and half from Central America. Now much of the Central American group has left, leaving a predominantly Mexican Hispanic population.

Reasons for leaving, Fausto speculated, include the economy, legal problems, family interests and feeling homesick. The raid on the George's plant in Butterfield on May 22, 2007, left a lasting impression. Alma said some may have gone to work in other states where there is less sensitivity about illegal workers.

"Some have learned that if it is more difficult to find a job now, maybe it's better to go home," Fausto said.

As a result, the Hispanics remaining in Monett are more rooted than the fluid population the Villagranas had seen before. Many have been here for years and are now buying homes.

"Most are citizens," Fausto said. "They want to raise a family in places like Monett: a small town with no gangs that's safe."

"That's why we came back," Alma said.

Children that the Villagranas knew earlier now talk about attending college with pride. They may have been the first generation of their family to attend high school. The Villagranas said when they were in Texas, it was common to find a bi-lingual population, both Hispanics and Anglos. That day is coming closer in Monett as well, the Villagranas said. Hispanics still speak Spanish at home, but the next generation is speaking English now.

"All the time we tell them, 'Don't believe just because you are Mexican or from South America, you are nothing. You can do it.' We promoted self-esteem," Fausto said.

"When we came the first time," Alma said, "we were more like social workers. [Hispanics coming to Monett] needed everything----doctors, houses. Now it is more like counseling. Now we are focused more on the spiritual."

Although on the job part-time, the Villagranas still find themselves at work during non-traditional business hours. The Hispanic community keeps later hours than traditional Monett businesses, and many work the night shift at Tyson Foods and EFCO. The Villagranas said they make themselves available as needed, even if that means time at the church office and visiting with families at 10 p.m.

The Villagranas are linked to the Hispanic community through their cell phone. People also come by their home as needed. The part-time job does not led itself to regular office hours at the church, they said.

"The job for us is not just to preach a sermon on Sunday or lead a Bible study," Fausto said. "We try to educate them about the culture and the law. These are intelligent people. They don't have enough education to understand."

For example, Fausto said the church encourages Hispanics to serve on church committees. Such participation was not open to them in their home countries. Knowing what to do or say is not clear to them, so the Villagranas encourage the first steps. They are also able to help Hispanic residents move into programs like Al-Anon and couples groups to foster better relationships.

The education process goes both ways. Alma recalled that the U.S. Census Bureau enlisted the Villagranas and other Hispanics to help with the count in 2000. When the actual tally began, however, the census people never called them. Consequently, Alma said a large percentage of the Hispanic community in Monett ignored the census forms and remained unreported.

Communication within the Hispanic community is still largely by word of mouth, the Villagranas said. Published messages and public service announcements are still not getting through by traditional channels. Alma said with the maturing of the next generation, many of these problems would improve.

"People are behaving better," Fausto said.

"I'm happy to see people buying houses and keeping their houses in very good shape," Alma said. "The inside is perfect, very neat. That's very good."

The Villagranas say they are back in Monett permanently. Finding their services still sought out and needed, they are pleased to still be busy in their community.

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