Annette Zingbé Castillo makes a home for children wherever she goes – often amid desperate conditions. Her current commitment is to bring healing to a generation of children whose lives have been ravaged by Ivory Coast’s civil war, a conflict that spans the past decade.
Zingbé started working with homeless children 17 years ago in the West African country of Burkina Faso. In 2000, a year before beginning their biological family, Zingbé and her husband, Francisco (Paco) Castillo, opened the doors of La Casa Grande, a home in Benin, Burkina’s neighbor to the south. Now, in April, Zingbé began her trip home in a deeper sense. She returned to Ivory Coast, her birth country, to fulfill a ministry to which she was called as a child.
“I kept begging the Lord to allow me to gather abandoned children together and care for them,” Zingbé said.
As a young girl growing up in the city of Man, located in the western part of Ivory Coast, Zingbé longed to reach out to street children in a way that would make a lasting difference in their lives. However, her family and her church community, where her father served as pastor, did not have the financial resources for such a ministry.
After four decades, God is answering Zingbé’s childhood prayer. She, with her husband and their three children, are on their way to Man to make a home and provide vocational opportunities for those who have not known peace in their lifetimes.
“There are other agencies in Man helping to educate and train ‘war children’ now that the wars are seemingly over. However, [we] are of the opinion that lives are not being changed, because Jesus is not part of the answer,” Zingbé said.
Zingbé and the children arrived in Ivory Coast’s capital, Abidjan, in March and Castillo joined them in early April. They have spent the past months completing mountains of paperwork required by the Ivorian government to register CerÁfrica, the agency through which they will work.
CerÁfrica, a not-for-profit organization, began three years ago when congregations in Spain responded to a call for help from the evangelical churches in Man. Comunidades Unidas Anabautistas (the Mennonite church in Burgos), a Mennonite Mission Network partner, is one of CerÁfrica’s founding bodies.
While waiting for the bureaucratic wheels to grind out documents, Zingbé is reaching out to kids through a neighborhood children’s club on a mission station in Abidjan, located near a refugee camp.
Zingbé is not alone in feeling God’s call on her life; Castillo also senses a clear leading to reach out to children without families.
“After living in the hell of the drug world, I absorbed the love of God through the ministry of Christians,” Castillo said. “Having been pardoned, delivered and healed by God, I received a vivid summons to work among marginalized people.”
Castillo’s work has taken him to several African countries. He was attending an evangelistic service in Ivory Coast when he first met Zingbé in 1997. They met again in Burkina Faso where they were both involved in mission work. After their marriage in 1999, they served in Equatorial Guinea. Following this, they spent a year in Spain with the Burgos Mennonite Church as they prepared for ministry in Benin.
Mennonite Mission Network has partnered in a variety of ways with the Castillo-Zingbé couple since they began laying the groundwork for La Casa Grande. In 2004, the couple was forced to leave Benin due to Castillo’s health. They returned to Burgos, leaving the children’s home in the capable hands of Annette’s sister and husband, Esther and Paulin Bossou, who continue to work closely with a team from Burgos Mennonite Church to assure that the vision of empowering children continues.
“After several years of healing and a fresh experience of spiritual renewal, the Spirit has led Annette and Paco to return to Africa yet again with the joyful support of their 12-year-old son, Daniel,” said Connie Byler of Mission Network, who with her husband, Dennis, helped to plant the Burgos Mennonite Church in Spain in the 1980s.
Mennonite Mission Network helps support the Castillo-Zingbé family through consultation, logistical support, and a grant, said Steve Wiebe-Johnson, Mission Network’s director for Africa.
“Paco and Annette bring together passion, conviction, and program development skills to make things happen,” Wiebe-Johnson said. “There are so many at-risk children in war-torn areas, and their need for loving community is desperate. I am grateful to God for the way this ministry is bringing together people and resources to respond to critical needs.”