Raised by pastors in the heart of Mexico City, Marlene Portillo knew the love of Jesus from the time she was a little girl. At the age of 11, she began serving in her church’s children’s ministry. And though she was still a child herself, God gave Marlene a vision. In a small, brightly colored journal, a 12-year-old Marlene wrote these words:

I see a place full of kids, making a line to enter…I see smiles; I see full tummies and happy hearts. I see joy.

Serving the Seats of Power

Marlene grew up and stayed committed to her faith.  But she eventually forgot the dreams from that journal as she focused on a burgeoning culinary career. After attending elite schools in France and Spain, her reputation as a sought-after young chef earned her the opportunity to work for the Spanish Royal Family.

When Marlene returned to Mexico, she caught the attention of Mexico’s First Lady, and she became her chief event planner. She also started her own thriving catering company – executing world-class events for exclusive clients.

By 2018, Marlene had already achieved more success as a young adult than most achieve in a lifetime, but her faith had hit a plateau. Feeling restless, she prayed fervently for God to give her direction.

It was during this time that her aunt told her about the Haggai Leader Experience. “I was overwhelmed that someone who had never met me was willing to sponsor me to have this experience.”

Marlene attended the Haggai Leader Experience in June 2018, and it was there that God opened her eyes to His plan for her future. “It was 25 days of hearing His voice without noise. During that time, Jesus asked me some questions. He asked, ‘Are you fulfilling the purpose I created you for?’

At that moment, I got on my knees, and I knew I could do more.”

It was then that Jesus reignited the dream for a children’s ministry she’d had as a young girl. “I had no idea how I was going to do it. But I knew Jesus, and I knew how to cook.”


“It was 25 days of hearing His voice without noise. During that time, Jesus asked me some questions. He asked, ‘Are you fulfilling the purpose I created you for?’ At that moment, I got on my knees, and I knew I could do more.”

“I had no idea how I was going to do it. But I knew Jesus, and I knew how to cook.”

“We can completely change a generation. They are our future, and we are changing it. We are providing an environment for them to meet Jesus. I continue  to  run my catering business, but THIS is the purpose for which I was called. Proverbs 22:6 says, ‘Train up a child in the way he should go.’ I believe that they are going  to be good people. They will have hopes and dreams for a better life.”

Serving the Least of These

Located just 35 minutes outside of Marlene’s home in Monterrey, Monte Bello, Juarez, is one of many communities across Mexico that has been decimated by the ongoing drug conflict.

Since the 1990s, the Mexican Drug War has claimed more than 120,000 lives and upended Mexican law enforcement. Controlled by cartels, communities like Monte Bello are plagued with violence and often lack access to electricity, gas, and running water.

Marlene was familiar with the area, and upon returning from the Haggai Leader Experience, she knew this was where God was calling her. “God gave me this strategy in the Haggai Leader Experience to reach the children: through food, through games, and through loving them.”

In January of 2019, Marlene opened her first feeding center in Monte Bello. What began with 18 children gathering for breakfast under tents has grown to a bustling operation that serves two meals a day to hundreds of children as they play games, worship, and learn about the Bible.

Today, Marlene has a team of local volunteers who help to run the center, and she recently duplicated the model with the opening of another center in a nearby village.

While food is the mechanism Marlene uses to serve the children in these communities, her ultimate goal is much deeper:

“We can completely change a generation. They are our future, and we are changing it. We are providing an environment for them to meet Jesus. I continue to run my catering business, but THIS is the purpose for which I was called. Proverbs 22:6 says, ‘Train up a child in the way he should go.’ I believe that they are  going to be good people. They will have hopes and dreams  for a better life.”