Juarez Christians face violence, disunity
EMBLAZONED ON THE RUGGED, dry eastern slope of Cerro Bola, which looms over the northwest corner of Ciudad Juarez, enormous white letters form a message visible for miles: “Ciudad Juarez, the Bible is the truth. Read it.”
“I remember helping paint those letters as a teenager,” says Gustavo Arango, the 42-year-old pastor of JOPE Christian Center and a lifelong resident of Juarez. “That was somewhere around 1985.”
“That is the last thing the evangelicals of this city did together.”
As drug-related violence has plunged Juarez into the greatest crisis in the city’s history, even a mortal enemy has not convinced the evangelical community to come together. That dis-integration has hobbled the city’s second-largest religious community at a time when the city can least afford it.
Ciudad Juarez, like all of Mexico, is overwhelmingly Catholic, but evangelicals are present here in unusual numbers, perhaps as high as 10% of this city of 1.5 million, according to Juarez-based journalist and activist Daniel Valles, himself an evangelical.
Valles, who also contributes to TMP, has been a vocal critic of the “extremely feeble” efforts to bring these evangelical thousands together.
“The religious community has organized protests, but in these marches for peace, less than 3,000 church-going persons have shown up. This is especially poor when we consider that is not even 10% of those identifying themselves as regular church-goers, to say nothing of the nominal Christians,” Valles wrote in his column in 2010, reacting to a two-day killing spree that took 56 lives.
Since the 1960s, scholars from Christian Lalive d'Epinay to David Stoll have predicted that this sort of dis-integration is the rock that evangelical social and political movements will dash themselves on in Latin America. This has defused any hope that secular analysts might have placed in this fastest-growing segment of the Christian population to be agents of social progress and change.
Of course, another explanation for the organizational failures in Juarez could be the security situation itself. The powerful stimulus for action, in this case, becomes an even more powerful depressant.
In a country where the drug-war death toll has exceeded 50,000, according to government reports, Juarez has paid a particularly heavy price. According to leading border watcher Molly Molloy, a research librarian at New Mexico State University and moderator of the Frontera List, 10,821 people have been killed in the city since 2008, making it, statistically, the world's most dangerous city.
It is important to note that the violence appears to be leveling off in Juarez for now, and some normalcy is returning to the city’s daily rhythms. The 74 people killed in the city in May 2012 was the lowest monthly toll in more than four years.
Like a person who has lived for a time with a disability, Juarenses seem tired of being asked about the violence. No one denies the very recent, very bad days, but Juarenses are quick to point out the ways their lives are not handicapped by the violence.