Amy’s engaging and interactive presentation began with a discussion of the PC(USA) philosophy of mission — partnership, not paternalism — and then proceeded to unwrap some of the key issues that face mission work in the neighborhood of El Paso-Ciudad Juarez. Most members of the audience named them: the disappearance of working women, and the possibilities of the linkage of these disappearances both to violence against women and to the realities of class — most have been working women, who have disappeared on their way home from work; the presence of the maquilas, large factories that have drawn an immense new urban population to Ciudad Juarez from southern Mexican states in search of higher wages; and drug cartel violence — as Amy points out, significant, but targeted. Part of her work is dispelling the miasma of racist myth that American media coverage of these phenomena creates, correcting the impression that the residents of Ciudad Juarez are mostly violent kidnappers and drug-runners, and reminding her audiences that how most people live in the area is not what makes the news.The dialogue prompted by Amy’s observations was wide-ranging. We talked about issues created by US immigration policy, the presence of the wall and the realities of border checks and documentation (entering the US via the Santa Fe bridge linking Juarez with El Paso can take about 3 hours; entering Mexico from the US side can take about 5 minutes), and similarities and differences between this situation and other well-known border contexts, such as those between Israel-Palestine. We talked about the challenges of cross-cultural mission, in particular the challenges raised by differences in values — for instance, says Amy, Presbyterians in Juarez are often more concerned with “personal purity” than many Presbyterians in the United States, but have a more populist economic outlook, which makes talking about some issues, including some gender issues, challenging — and, a site of learning.
When asked what in her situation gives her hope, she was frank: it is easy to lose hope in this context; but doing the work, realizing that keeping on with the work and communicating with members of the wider church and informing them about the situation on the border, may bring change — that realization creates hope.
We were grateful to Amy for sharing her time with us at the Women’s Center, appreciated this glimpse into the work of the Border Ministry, and wish her well with the work in the future.