The Rev. Erlinda Reyes suffers from polio and severe scoliosis and has survived a brain aneurysm. But a missionary must keep moving.
Reyes travels the remote mountain areas of the Philippines literally on the backs other people, preaching the gospel and ministering to the poor.
"My body cries with pain at the end of the day," said Reyes, 54.
So why does she do it? She answers without hesitation: "Jesus died for me. It's not too much to ask I die unto him and his people."
A native of the Philippines, Reyes is in the Twin Cities area to personally thank the Coon Rapids-based charity Feed My Starving Children and other donors to her ministry. On Thursday she'll head to out-of-state churches, where she will preach and thank them for their support.
Reyes operates a feeding ministry to 200 malnourished children, using rice meals distributed by Palawan Orphanage, a partner of Feed My Starving Children.
Holly Donato, marketing director for Feed My Starving Children, said the group does not have a record of how many meals Reyes has given out. But Palawan Orphanage has received 214,000 meals from Feed My Starving Children since 2009.
Last month Reyes spoke to Feed My Starving Children staff members at the Coon Rapids headquarters and helped pack meals.
"To get a call that one of the people distributing our food is in town and would like to come and personally thank us was a real thrill," said Donato. "Our staff doesn't often get to come face to face with somebody actually feeding children using our food. So it was really inspirational."
Reyes said she devoted herself to missionary work soon after she became a born-again Christian in 1979. She was ordained an Assemblies of God pastor in 1989.
She contracted polio when she was 2. In 1993, Reyes suffered a ruptured brain aneurysm. She said she was about to have an operation when God told her she would not die but go on to "declare the works of the Lord."
"I said, 'Doc, I will not go through the operation.' And the doctor said, 'You might die.' And I said, 'Doc, if I die I'll go to heaven. If I don't, I'll preach the gospel.'"
Since 1998 she has been preaching to tribes in the Luzon mountains, she said. A petite woman with soulful eyes, Reyes drags one leg when she walks. She tires very easily and depends on other people to carry her up and down the rugged mountains.
She tells her own tale matter-of-factly but easily cries when talking about her work and those who benefit from the clothes, food and other supplies she receives from churches in the United States.
Her thank-you mission has taken her to churches in Maryland and Texas. After Minnesota, she'll head to Florida and will return to the Philippines July 28.
"I would like to thank all of those involved in the packing and sending," Reyes said. "I know it will mean a great deal to them, to motivate and inspire them to keep doing what they're doing."
Rose French • 612-673-4352