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Unbroken: Life beyond the drug wars in a Mexican village

Thanks to historically Presbyterian racial-ethnic school, Monika Ruiz is following her dreams

by Paul Seebeck | Presbyterian News Service

KINGSVILLE, Texas – As a young teenager, Monika Ruiz made a life-altering decision.

The village she’d grown up in, San Fernando in the state of Tamaulipas, Mexico, was being destroyed by drug wars that included killings, violence and corruption.

“I couldn’t even go to my back yard,” says Ruiz, who is sophomore at Presbyterian-affiliated Schreiner University in Kerrville, Texas. “I came home from school every day wondering if I’d make it, or get kidnaped.”

Ruiz remembers waking up one day to the news, “Your uncle got killed today.”

She started crying and ran up the stairs of her house shouting, “I’m leaving, I’m leaving.” Her uncle, a doctor was her favorite, always encouraging her to follow her dreams.

“It was at that point, that I broke,” says Ruiz. “Other than my dad, he was my hero, a doctor who encouraged me to follow my dreams.”

Ruiz went online, applying to Presbyterian Pan American School (Pan Am) in Kingsville, Texas. She remembered the historically Presbyterian racial-ethnic school from trips she’d taken as a little girl, to visit relatives in Houston.

“The school looked like it was out of Harry Potter,” she says. “I remember as we drove by the Presbyterian Pan Am sign. I would say, ‘Dad that’s my school.’”

Laughing, Ruiz says she believes “God works in mysterious way.” After completing the application process to Pan Am on her own, the school’s admission counselor reached out to her.

“Mr. Joe Garcia said, ‘You know your parents have to sign a contract?” says Ruiz, who remembers going to her dad and having the following conversation.

“What are you doing this Saturday?” “Nothing, why?” “You have an appointment at Presbyterian Pan Am school.” “We can’t afford that, it’s another country, it’s going to be too expensive.” “No, please take me.”

Because Ruiz got a scholarship for grades, her family didn’t have to pay full time tuition. She enrolled at Pan Am in 2012 as a sophomore—graduating in 2014.

“Pan Am helped me define my purpose and calling,” says Ruiz. “It helped me improve my gifts and talents, and be ready for college.”

After Ruiz graduates from Schreiner, she wants to join the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Young Adult Volunteer program for a year. Then she hopes to go to seminary to become a chaplain or missionary nurse.

“I’ve seen how Presbyterians work and believe in what they’re doing around the world,” she says. “They were so welcoming to me. I would love to help people the way I was helped, when I was seeing the violence it Mexico. Presbyterians are like family to me now.”

To support students like Monika Ruiz, give to the Christmas Joy Offering which supports historically Presbyterian-related racial-ethnic schools and colleges, and also provides financial assistance to current and former church workers and their families in times of need.


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