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The power of UM Connection

Rev. Rey Mondragon baptizes an infant at BIrch Run UMC.

This second article in a series for Hispanic Heritage Month features Pastor Rey Mondragon’s spiritual journey from Mexico to Michigan.

REV. JACK HARNISH
Michigan Conference Communications

When asked about his journey to Michigan and ordained ministry, the Rev. Rey Mondragon said. “I remember a movie called “The French Connection.”  Well, for me, it was the Methodist Connection.”

Rev. Rey Mondragon at the Hispanic Youth Leadershp Academy in 2017
“Inspire – Dream – Believe” says the table topper at the Hispanic Youth Leadership Academy. Those words also characterize the spiritual journey of Rey Mondragon, now a pastor and supporter of HYLA. ~ Facebook

As a teenager, Rey visited a cathedral in downtown Acapulco and prayed for a way he could be helpful for his family. He said, “I knew traveling to the United States would be difficult, but I believed if anything good came from it, I would know God had intervened.”

In January 1996 at the age of 19, Rey arrived in Los Angeles, California. The next month he moved to Lake Geneva, Wisconsin where some friends were waiting for him and there he found a United Methodist Church with a Spanish-speaking worship service.  That was the beginning of Rey’s “Methodist Connection.”

One afternoon, while he was practicing guitar in the sanctuary, the pastor, the Rev. Jorge Mayorga, asked him if he had ever considered going into the ministry, and that was the beginning of the journey which led Rey to Michigan and ministry.

But of course, the story is more complicated than that. In order to get started in the immigration process, he had to return to Mexico. The Rev. Joe Perez, a United Methodist pastor and staff person at the General Board of Global Ministries, connected him with the Bishop of the Methodist Church of Mexico who supported his application to come to the USA to go to college. At this point the Connection involved both the United Methodist Church in the US and the Methodist Church of Mexico—another link in the chain that would ultimately bring him to Michigan. Rey says, “So you see, the Methodist Connection is international, and it is very powerful. It is spiritual as well as organizational and it works in amazing ways.” 

“So you see, the Methodist Connection is international, and it is very powerful. It is spiritual as well as organizational and it works in amazing ways.” ~ Rev. Rey Mondragon

Years later when a friend at Duke Divinity School asked how he got to Michigan, he said, “I took the bus”, which was true. When he returned to the USA, a bus brought him from Chicago to Detroit where the Rev. Saul Trinidad met him at the station and invited Rey to stay in his home until he went to the home of Joe and Joanne Perez who introduced him to Adrian College. Rey said, “My father always encouraged us to get an education, but with little money, there was no way I could do that in Mexico. He planted the dream of going to college and through the support of the United Methodist Church, that giant dream was fulfilled.”

At Adrian College, Rey was the only international student from Mexico and the only international student studying for the ministry, so he received scholarships for both. The Perez family and the congregation at Adrian First United Methodist Church also supported him. The United Methodist Women in Adrian collected quarters to help him do his laundry, so he says, “In large and small ways, the Methodist Connection made it happen.”

During this time another key player in his journey was the Rev. Melanie Carey who was heading up the work of the Hispanic/Latino Ministry in the conference and the North Central Jurisdiction. She was committed to raising up Hispanic pastors so she encouraged and supported Rey in his education. Ultimately, they would work together on the staff at Ypsilanti FUMC—more Methodist connections at work in his life.

One more significant person would play a crucial role in Rey’s journey toward ministry. When Rey graduated from Adrian College, he began to explore seminaries. Dr. Bill Quick, pastor at Detroit Metropolitan UMC, was teaching at Duke Divinity School. He encouraged Rey to go to Duke and through the Metropolitan scholarship program and other sources Bill made it financially possible. He followed Rey through his years at Duke and became a mentor for Rey when he graduated and returned to Michigan as a candidate for ordination. 

Rev. Rey Mondragon blessing Hispanic youth
One who was mentored becomes a mentor himself. The Rev. Rey Mondragon (left) blesses young participants in the Hispanic Youth Leadership Academy (HYLA) hosted at Adrian College in 2017. ~ Facebook/Michigan Area Hispanic-Latino Ministries

Finally in 2011, the Rev. Rey Mondragon was ordained as the first Mexican-American Elder in the Detroit Annual Conference. Through the work of individuals and congregations, a United Methodist college and a United Methodist seminary, the journey which began as a dream in Acapulco 15 years earlier had come to fruition. Rey says, “There were times when I felt like I was in a storm. I felt scared and depressed, but after surviving, I can now look from above the storm and see how the Methodist Connection carried me through.” 

Rey has served appointments at Ypsilanti and Hartford and is currently the pastor at Birch Run and Burt United Methodist churches. 

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