Eradicating systemic poverty through education

Presbyterian pastor works with mission partners to launch new bilingual Christian school in Mexico

by Tammy Warren | Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. Dr. Mark Snelling (right) with students at a Christian school in Dakar, Senegal. (Contributed photo)

LOUISVILLE — The Rev. Dr. Mark Snelling, a lifelong Presbyterian and pastor in the Seattle Presbytery, wants to see impoverished children in Mexico break out of the cycle of poverty in a wholistic and sustainable way. He is confident this is possible through education, specifically Christian education.

Centro Cultural Tikvah, a new Spanish-English language immersion school is expected to open in August in Mazatlan, Mexico. This international school for hope, as it is called, is an outgrowth of Snelling’s work with mission partners in a dozen nutrition centers throughout Mazatlan’s poorest neighborhoods and his current work as executive director of a multi-denominational mission organization, GO on the Mission, a nonprofit he and other church and business leaders helped found in 2008. The organization works on holistic and sustainable development projects to help eradicate systemic poverty in Mexico and Senegal, West Africa.

Snelling grew up as a “missionary kid” in a small town in Alaska where his parents had been called to plant a church for the indigenous Tlingit people. This experience taught him the importance of cross-cultural ministry. In his years as a pastor, he served in mission outreach to a long-ignored people group deep in the mountains of Southern Mexico.

Snelling’s favorite quote is “Why worry when you can pray?”

The new school will start small, with kindergarten and primary year one classes only; then it will add a grade level each year until it serves students through grade 12, just like the Christian schools have been built in Senegal. The students will represent a blend of economic backgrounds studying in small classes of 15-20 students per class. The curriculum will encourage oral and written fluency in Spanish and English, critical thinking skills and developing a deep personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

In Senegal, Snelling said, 95 to 100% of Christian school students pass their advancement exams, compared to less than 50 percent of their counterparts in public schools. “People are lining up to get their kids into these schools,” he said — not only in Senegal, but in many places across Africa. “You care for kids and you’ve got the hearts of the parents,” Snelling said.

In Mexico, two lead teachers, yet to be hired, will have the opportunity to create and build upon the school’s organizational design: one for the kindergarten program (K1-K3) and one for the primary program (grades 1-5). Middle and high school programs will be added in the years to come. The school will provide top-quality bilingual education, computer training and entrepreneurial financial management skills training.

Camp de Futbol, a soccer camp for students served by nutrition centers in Mazatlan, Mexico, has brought 1,000 to 1,500 students together each summer for the past decade. (Contributed photo)

Similar to the Christian schools in Senegal, the school in Mexico will have a balance of tuition-paying students and scholarship students. Classes will initially and temporarily be held in a church, but the plan is to build a separate building for the school.

Many of the children do not currently attend school, particularly the children Snelling works with in the nutrition centers. And, those who do attend public schools seem to be struggling in passing their advancement exams.

“As the basic needs of the people are met,” Snelling said, “doors are open to help meet emotional and spiritual needs as well,” Snelling said. “Every effort matters.”

For more information about Centro Cultural Tikvah, an international school for hope, email Snelling at

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