Presbyterians host NCC at the Texas-Mexico border

March 13, 2015

Ciudad Juarez, Mexico

The Stated Clerk of the General Assembly, the Reverend Gradye Parsons, and members of the Office of the General Assembly and World Mission of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) were honored in February to spend a day with our ecumenical partners from the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. (NCC) and international partners from the Waldensian Church of Italy addressing issues of migration and border policy in El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. The NCC lends their collective voice to issues of migration and wrote a powerful statement just this summer addressing our country’s treatment of families and children fleeing Central America.

PC(USA) mission coworkers, Amanda Craft and Omar Chan, from World Mission’s binational ministry in Texas, hosted the group of twenty-two as they visited ministries and outreach organizations on both sides of the border. The day ended with a dinner at Divino Salvador Presbyterian Church in El Paso, Texas, where Teresa Waggener from the Office of Immigration Issues, the Reverend Mark Adams from World Mission, and the Reverend Jessica Vaughn Lower from Grace Presbyterian Church, shared about U.S. immigration policy and how it affects the communities they each serve.

Parsons, also an officer of the NCC, said of the event, “Our PC(USA) co-workers Amanda Craft, Omar Chan, and Mark Adams, along with El Paso pastor Jessica Vaughn Lower and Office of the General Assembly’s Teresa Waggener, provided wonderful and insightful hospitality. The folks at Divino Salvador Presbyterian Church feasted us. The event was a reminder that there are no geographical borders to God's love.”

General Secretary and President of the National Council of the Churches of Christ, James Winkler, wrote a piece about his experience of this day for the NCC’s weekly newsletter. Read more below:

Femicide At The Border

Last week, the executive committee of the National Council of Churches met in El Paso, Texas at the Lydia Patterson Institute, a United Methodist school for 7th-12th graders, most of whom are from Ciudad Juarez. During our time on the border we traveled to Ciudad Juarez, where we visited a Presbyterian Church and “Casa Amiga,” an organization providing services to women and children who are victims of domestic violence.

Hundreds of women have been murdered or gone missing in Juarez over the past 20 years as a result of the rise of drug cartels, “maquiladores" (factories) on the border, and a deep-seated culture of misogyny.

At the church we heard a Bible School teacher who is also a plumber and electrician tell of the skill-building classes he has developed for young people who would otherwise be on the streets. He told us he wants to help them be spiritually prepared to deal with the world, and to have skills to get an honest job. For several years, when the violence in Juarez was at a peak, ministries such as his had to be put on hold.

The local pastor, Roberto, told us he has been waiting for answers from God and asked for our prayers. Now, his congregation is developing a health ministry and a community kitchen. This church is located within sight of the US-Mexico border. As I drove along I-10 in El Paso and looked into Mexico I saw miles of extremely modest housing. It was a reminder to me of the systemic nature of poverty and exploitation that benefits the United States over Mexico. 

“Femicide” is the term that has been coined to refer to the crisis of mass killing of women in Juarez. At Casa Amiga, a prevention program director explained to us theirs is the first organization in Juarez to receive women who are victims of violence. Their response to this crisis is to provide psychological, medical, legal, counseling, and emergency housing services to the women and children who survive.

a therapist doing a demonstration

Our group was privileged to observe a therapist demonstrate to a group of prospective counselors a technique utilizing dolls to help children open up about violence they have experienced and observed. One doll is male and the other is female. A child is asked to point to where the doll has been hurt and then asked what size bandage is needed. The child places the bandage on the doll and is told the bandage helps the doll feel better and better.

Soon the child understands and tells the therapist when the doll doesn’t hurt anymore. Then, the child is asked what happened to the doll. What part of the doll was hurt It’s an interview but without a lot of questions. The therapist wants to be sure the child identifies with the healing of the doll.

Thanks is given to God that the doll feels better. The child is asked how long the bandages need to remain on the doll. Since open-ended questions can be confusing, time frames such as one, two, or three days are given as options. The child understands that she/he has helped to heal the doll. This enables children to understand they, too, can be part of their own healing process. 

I am grateful for the Presbyterian Border Ministry and all they do to share the love of Jesus in a hurting city and for all those in our churches across the United States who are seeking just and fair immigration reform. Unless we understand our profound connection as children of God to people everywhere regardless of borders that have been created by humans we face a future of pain and misery.

Yours,

James Winkler
General Secretary and President of the National Council of the Churches of Christ

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