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The Big House bursts seams


Dec 28, 2004
-by Lynda Hollinger-Janzen


Annette Castillo maintains a smile even during a chickenpox epidemic at La Casa Grande, an orphanage she directs with her husband in Benin. The white kaolin powder, a traditional remedy, helps dry the pustules and reduce itching.

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Allada, Benin — Although Annette Castillo holds the unenviable position of managing an orphanage during a chickenpox epidemic, she continues to smile broadly. Clearly, Castillo loves the place to which God has called her.

That place is La Casa Grande, located just north of Cotonou – the largest city in the West African country of Benin. Castillo and her husband, Francisco (Paco), created a home for abandoned children in 2000. Today, more than 20 children thrive in La Casa Grande's caring environment. 

Multiple ties link La Casa Grande to Mennonites.  Workers with Mennonite Board of Missions, a predecessor agency of Mennonite Church Canada Witness with a long history of ministry in Benin, helped to lay the groundwork for the orphanage. Also, the vision for La Casa Grande grew out of the Burgos (Spain) Mennonite Church, a congregation begun by Mennonite Board of Missions workers about 20 years ago. Today, MC Canada congregations help support ministry in Benin through Nancy Frey (St. Jacobs MC, Ont.) and Bruce Yoder (Martinsburg MC, Pa.), and in Spain through Connie and Dennis Byler (Fellowship of Hope, Ind.). In addition, Heather Schantz (St. Jacobs MC, Ont.) is serving at the orphanage as an MC Canada Witness intern, and Canadian Mennonite University student Mariam Entz (Zion MC, Kan.) also serves there. Entz’s parents are Witness workers in Burkina Faso.

The Castillos have long desired to serve needy children. “After living in the hell of the drug-world, I absorbed the love of God through the ministry of Christians,” said Paco Castillo. “Having been pardoned, delivered and healed by God, I received a vivid summons to work among marginalized people.”

Annette Castillo grew up in a Christian family in Ivory Coast. As she taught Sunday school, she longed to reach out to street kids. However, neither her church, nor her family had the financial means necessary to help her accomplish her dream. 

“I kept begging the Lord to allow me to gather abandoned children together in a centre,” said Annette. “I bless the Lord because now I’m able to do what I’ve yearned to do for years.”

Because the Castillos' ministry through La Casa Grande shows love to the rejected and most vulnerable members of African society, their preaching and teaching has credibility in the surrounding communities.

The Castillos speak of extending healing to children who have suffered. Many of the children’s parents have died with AIDS-related diseases. 

Within the atmosphere of a loving family, the Castillos want to prepare the children God has given them to thrive in the world. The Castillos’ hope the children of La Casa Grande will, in turn, become healers of their own broken communities. 

Each child is sponsored by a family or an individual member of the Burgos Mennonite Church.  Sponsors help to provide financially for their child’s food but their main role is to be a loving link between the child and God’s people, the church.

La Casa Grande, meaning The Big House in Spanish, is becoming too small for the increasing numbers of children needing a family. The Castillos have acquired 5 acres of land and dream of building a Christian community that would include a school. According to United Nations’ statistics, only half of Benin’s children have the privilege of attending school.

La Casa Grande organizes an annual Bible camp for community children. Last July, 110 children attended the camp, an event that attracted the attention of the national media.

Although, volunteers from local congregations helped with teaching, meals and recreation, hopeful campers were turned away in droves due to limited space and resources. Many campers made a decision to follow Jesus during the week of camp.