David Rizo with Mike Viola
(Editor’s note: Our weekly news updates often feature reports from the extensive youth ministries in Tijuana which are under the direction of Oblate Father Jesse Esqueda. The reports are submitted primarily by two individuals: David Rizo and Rich Reader. Rich recently sent a letter to staff writer, Mike Viola, expressing his gratitude to the Oblates for the help that made David’s recent graduation from university possible. His experience growing up in Tijuana is common to many of the young people and families to whom he now ministers. If there is a “success story” from the work of the Oblates in Tijuana, David Rizo is a prime example. )
My name is David Rizo and I am 30 years old and just graduated as a psychologist. I am writing this letter to thank the Missionary Oblates and the various donors.
I always dreamt of becoming a professional. I would see professionals in movies with big houses, large staircases and flat-screen T.V.s. But this seemed out of reach, given that often I did not eat for days or slept where the raindrops hit my face.
I wanted to be part of a family where my father would teach me to do things. My father died when I was five. I never met him because he was in prison when I was born, and that is where he died.
As a teenager I was a gang member because I thought it was my destiny to be like my father. I wanted people to fear me, wanted to belong, and wanted to be protected. At a SEARCH retreat coordinated by the Oblates my heart was changed. I had always been Catholic, but never took it seriously until that moment. That is when I decided to quit the gangs. That change during the SEARCH retreat probably saved my life or at least kept me out of prison.
I have learned that you can forgive even people who are not here. I yelled and cried out to my father for not being there. I needed that to begin to become free from the anger and sadness. I could finally really rest for the first time.
A few years later, the Oblates started a new scholarship program at the Tijuana mission, matching donors to students. I wanted to apply to a university. My family said it was a waste of time and money that they didn’t have. But an Oblate priest believed in me and encouraged me to apply.
Since then, I have met incredible people that believed in me without even knowing who I was, and yet were willing to donate money for my studies. That felt weird at first because nothing like that had ever happened, not even in my family. The world is so much bigger than my neighborhood.
In my family of six siblings, I am the youngest and the first to even go to high school. Now they and my mom are all proud of me. However, I will never forget the Oblate family who was the first to believe in me, and now thanks to that, I believe in myself.
I want people to overcome their challenges. Father Jesse Esqueda, OMI always says that 80% of one’s problems can be solved by just having the right attitude. Now, I want to have an influence in my community. Studying psychology has given me the tools to start. There is a lot of work to do but holding on to God makes everything possible.
I have been blessed, and I promise to pay it forward. Now that I have graduated, I am doing that already through the parish’s social-outreach program and all the families that they help. Thank you to the many people who have helped make this dream possible.
And a special thanks to the Oblates of Mary Immaculate.