Since 2012, Albert Reyes has served as president and CEO of Buckner International, which includes the subsidiaries of Buckner Foundation, Buckner Retirement Services, Buckner Senior Living, Baptist Memorial Ministries, Buckner Children and Family Services and Buckner Adoption and Maternity Services. Reyes began working for Buckner in 2010.
From deep in the heart of one Texan, he shares his background and thoughts on church and ministry. To suggest a Baptist General Convention of Texas-affiliated leader to be featured in this column, or to apply to be featured yourself, click here.
Where else have you worked, and what were your positions?
I served in telecom customer service management for seven years while in seminary; as a Texas Baptist pastor-church planter in Dallas and El Paso for 13 years and concurrently as a chaplain (First Lieutenant) in the US Army Reserve for three years; and as president of Baptist University of the Americas for seven years.
Where did you grow up?
I was born in Corpus Christi. When I was 18 months old, my family moved to San Bernadino, California, until I was about 11 years old, when we returned to Corpus.
How did you come to faith in Christ?
I heard Pastor Bill Thornton (a Texas Baptist transplant now living in Telephone, Texas), my pastor at Memorial Baptist Church, Rialto, California, preach about the need for a savior when I was nine years old. I went home that day and asked my mother how my sins could be forgiven. She shared the gospel plan (Roman Road) with me, and I prayed to receive Christ with her and my father. I was baptized at Memorial about a year later.
Where were you educated, and what degrees did you receive?
I graduated from Angelo State University with a Bachelor of Business Administration in management, followed by Master of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry (Missiology) degrees from Southwestern Seminary and a Doctor of Philosophy in Leadership (focus on global leadership) from Andrews University.
I have also participated in executive management seminars at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and completed a postdoctoral tutorial at Oxford Center for Mission Studies at Oxford, England.
Why do you feel called to your particular vocation?
I believe all followers of Jesus have a calling to pursue in their vocation. Vocation, from the Latin vocare means “to call.” Literally, your vocation is your calling, or could be. I sensed a call to a ministry vocation when I was 15 years old. It was a clear as the words I am writing in this interview. Yet, the call was not audible.
All that was coming to me in verses, sermons, music, voices and in conversations seem to point to this very real sense that the Lord was calling me to serve. Since my dad was a US Marine and raised me to respond to his voice, I found it quite easy to say yes and respond positively to what I sensed to be the voice of God when he called me.
The answer was yes, even though I was not sure what I was being called to do. That same call has sustained me now for 43 years. I preached for the first time when I was 16.
Please tell us about your BGCT institution—the breadth and nature of its work, including its mission, measures of scope, etc.
The biblical foundation and impetus for Buckner ministry is James 1:27 (NIV) as identified by our founder, Dr. Robert Cooke Buckner. It says, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”
As such, Buckner serves vulnerable children and their families as well as senior adults. We build strong families for children through Buckner Foster Care and Adoption; Buckner Family Pathways; and Buckner Family Hope Centers. We believe the best place for a child to grow up is in a healthy, Christ-centered family.
Senior adults should age with dignity and respect in a high-quality-life planned community. We currently serve seniors across Texas in five communities (Longview, Beaumont, Houston, Austin and San Angelo), and we are building a new life planned community in Dallas called Ventana by Buckner, scheduled to be open in 2019.
We serve children and families in Amarillo, Lubbock, Midland, Dallas, Longview, Lufkin, Conroe, Houston, Beaumont and McAllen, Texas. Internationally, we serve vulnerable children and families in Kenya, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Honduras and Peru.
Each year, we serve approximately 400,000 lives through our services.
What do you like best about leading your institution? Why?
That is really hard to say since I thoroughly enjoy my work. I suppose every vocation has parts of the job that we don’t enjoy doing as much as other parts we really enjoy doing. Administrative processes that keep me from serving our staff and our clients would probably be at the top of the list.
What aspect(s) of your institution and/or its mission do you wish more people understood?
Honestly, I would hope that people understood that Buckner is a Christ-centered ministry delivering holistic mission. That is, we share the good news of the gospel as well as serve the needs of our clients like two sides of the same coin.
Caring normally precedes sharing, and we have no shortage of opportunity to share the good news with those seeking and asking questions. We connect with local churches in areas where we serve our clients because we don’t specialize in discipleship, but if a church does not exist, we find ways to gather new believers where one is needed.
Having served as a pastor and church planter with a specialization in missiology, I have a keen eye for how Buckner and churches can collaborate for powerful kingdom impact.
How has your institution and its mission changed since you began your career?
Our mission has not changed. I have the privilege of following Dr. Ken Hall in the role of CEO and working with an outstanding board. For over 139 years, Buckner has been on the cutting edge of providing human welfare services and a vibrant gospel witness. What has changed about Buckner is the way in which we do our work.
In the beginning, we were known as an “orphanage.” In fact, we were the first orphanage in the USA west of the Mississippi. However, over the years, our society has advanced, and we now know that an orphanage, commonly known as an institutional setting, is no longer the best place for a child. While this format of caring for children may have been the best option at the time, social work philosophy and research have proven that the best place for a child to grow up is in a healthy home with loving parents.
We have shifted in the field of children services to think about our work in two ways: child permanency and family preservation. Child permanency (foster care and adoption) is the idea of moving children toward permanent and healthy family environments. Family preservation seeks to keep families intact so their children can remain in their family of origin.
We accomplish this through Buckner Family Pathways programs, where single parents can keep their children with them as they rebuild their families through educational opportunities, counseling and life-skills training after having suffered from domestic violence or economic disadvantage.
Buckner Family Hope centers utilize family coaches to help families fill the gaps for healthy family life with customized solutions. Family preservation programs keep children in their families and out of Child Protective Services.
How do you expect your institution and/or its mission to change in the next 10 to 20 years?
We will change as the needs of hurting people demand. Dr. Hall presented me a small framed picture when I was elected as the sixth president of Buckner in January of 2010. The picture was a snapshot of the campus chapel built by Dr. R. C. Buckner after a wrecking ball destroyed it. Dr. Hall turned to me, presenting the photo frame to me, and said, “Buckner is still here after all these years because we never have been afraid to change.”
On the other hand, I am committed to a few things that I hope will never change: a kingdom-oriented view of our purpose and mission, a commitment to holistic mission, a passion to serve others, especially vulnerable children, their families, and seniors, a reliance on Holy Scripture as our guide for faith and work, a commitment to do our very best while also adhering to historically held biblical-theological convictions and a desire to imitate Jesus every day through our ministry.
Name the three most significant challenges and/or influences facing your institution.
One of the most significant challenges is to function as a Christ-centered institution in an increasingly secular environment.
Another significant challenge is to reach new levels of stewardship. That is, learning how to do more with less, how to be better stewards.
A third challenge is learning how to develop leaders for the next generation of leadership and preparing them to take the helm of leadership for the next chapter of Buckner history.
What one aspect of your job gives you the greatest joy or fulfillment?
There is no question here in my mind. My greatest joy is to watch, observe and experience a life redeemed. We see children and families come from unbelievable circumstances to encounter hope through Buckner programs and then find new purpose and vision through faith in Christ. To experience the transformation of a life, a life redeemed, is my greatest joy.
What are the key issues facing Baptists?
A key issue facing Baptists today is determining who we are, who we will be, given our current environment. Actually, we only need to recover our past. We have been a powerful source of hope for past generations. We just have to figure out new ways to be who we have been.
We have historically blended evangelistic passion, a missions vision and a focus on education and ministry. This is who we are at our best.
What would you change about the Baptist denomination—state, nation or local?
I am less certain that current generations care much about denominational life. While I do, they may not. Denominations at all levels will have a bright future as they rediscover their purpose and mission. Purpose and mission must be centered in serving local churches and institutional ministries.
All denominations must discover who their customer is, what the customer needs and demands and whether or not they are providing the service their customer wants. Denominations are service organizations that serve member organizations (churches and institutions). There are plenty of opportunities for denominational bodies to convene and lead collaborative efforts where possible. We can usually do more together than we can alone.
Who were/are your mentors, and how did/do they influence you?
I have been blessed with many mentors.
In pastoral ministry, I would include Rev. Bill Thornton, Dr. Rudy Hernandez, Dr. Rudy Sanchez, Rev. Fortunato Gonzalez, Dr. James T. Draper Jr. and Dr. Thom Wolf.
In higher education, I would include Dr. Daniel R. Sanchez, Dr. William Kirkpatrick, Dr. Jimmie Nelson, Dr. Justice Anderson, Dr. Lorin Cranford, Dr. Ebbie Smith, Dr. Boyd Hunt, Dr. Bruce Corely, Dr. Bruce Leafblad, Dr. Russell Dilday and many more from Southwestern Seminary.
From Andrews University, I would include Dr. Shirley Freed and Dr. Erich Baumgartner; from Fuller Seminary, I would include Dr. Juan Francisco Martinez. In denominational ministry, I would include Dr. Omar Pachecano, Dr. Charles Lee Williamson and Rev. Elmin Howell.
Other than the Bible, name some of your favorite books or authors, and explain why.
“Summoned to Lead” by Leonard Sweet. This book helped me understand that leaders have to lead from the place where God calls them, not always the place of their choosing.
“Success Strategies for Leaders at Every Level: The First 90 Days” by Michael Watkins. This book helped me realize that the right leadership approach depends on your leadership context. Not all styles and approaches are appropriate in all situations. Diagnosis of your leadership context is key to success.
What is your favorite Bible verse or passage? Why?
Who is your favorite Bible character, other than Jesus? Why?
Paul. He was an incredible and thoughtful leader.
Name something about you that would surprise people who know you well.
My great-grandfather was born in Scotland.
If you could get one “do over” in your career, what would it be, and why?
Spend more time with your wife and children. What does it profit if he gains the whole world and loses his family? It is not a good trade.