|Ciudad Juarez-El Paso|
My roommates and I look out our front window, astonished at the lightly sprinkled sidewalks of white, reminding us that snow is, indeed, possible in El Paso. It's a chilly, cloudy evening--the beginning of a cold spell of which many people are probably not prepared for. Especially those attempting to find a way to cross the international border from Murder City to Sun City.
Although the majority of my time I do not even think about the fact that I am living minutes away from a city with an average of 5-8 murders a day, it is still a reality. No matter how much I think about the extreme corruption or consider what can be done or listen to a heartbreaking story of loss or look out over the vast city; nothing fights the reality that lives are being lost in the most inhumane ways, for the most unjust reasons, and in the most extreme numbers.
"On the last day of June, bees attack seven people. On the last day of June, a fifty-four-year-old woman pulls into the parking lot of a convenience store after withdrawing eleven thousand pesos from a bank (found on the body) and is shot dead with ten rounds. On the last day of June, a man says his wife and children are missing. On the last day of June, the total number of murders for the month hits 139, and the total for the year reaches 541. Or 543, depending on which paper one reads. The numbers blur now. No one knows how many people have been snatched, nor what became of them. Just as no one knows where to file the corpses from the two houses of death. ... The city is fiestas, dust, cantinas, discos, and people savoring the weekends and dreaming of the nights when love will find them. There is song in the air. The culture of death becomes a life. The slaughtered die fast, the rest grind out time in dust, poverty, and bouts of terror. Only six months ago, everyone was horrified when forty people were slaughtered in one month. Now a hundred a month seems acceptable because in the culture of death. . .life goes on." (Murder City by Charles Bowden)
Welcome to the reality of Ciudad Juarez.
Now, I admit I haven't even visited the city across the border, and I get my information from stories (including the stories in Murder City that I just finished reading). But every story is a bit of reality that I do not understand nor know next to anything about. All I know is that these stories are stories of people--of his fear, of her abuse, of their grief. But among these sad stories, sometimes stories of hope arise.
Recently I have been obsessed with the song "God of this City" (originally recorded by Bluetree). I think this obsession comes from a realization that my perception of the song's lyrics--as well as my perception of God--will never be the same now that I have lived across from a city that seems to live in the midst of so much evil, ungodliness, despair--whatever you want to call it.
You're the God of this city,
You're the King of these people,
You're the Lord of this nation,
You're the Light of this darkness,
You're the Hope to the hopeless,
You're the Peace to the restless,
When eight lives are being lost every twenty-four hours, how can one still hold the belief that God is present in Ciudad Juarez? In a city with so much darkness, hopelessness, and restlessness, where do we find this God?
I appreciate this song because it captures the huge extent of who our God is. God is not some external being that does not give a shit about what is happening to the people of Juarez; God is revealed in the situations where light, hope, and peace overcome. "Yes, God is real, intensely real, for me, but God is not a being--external, supernatural, or theistic--to whom I seek access. God is rather a presence discovered in the very depths of my life, in the capacity to live, in the ability to love, and in the courage to be." (John Shelby Spong) I cannot explain why God would allow so much violence and corruption to happen, or so many lives to be lost--if I could explain, well, then I'd be God. But from what I know and what I've experienced, I have at least discovered that the God I believe in is a God who brings about life in situations of death. And in Murder City, death surrounds everyone and everything. Although life overcoming death might be rare, it is not impossible.
If we want to live lives that reflect the Divine, then we will join God in the quest for Redemption. I don't know how to end the violence in Juarez, and I have had conversations about how hopeless the situation seems to be. The culture of the city is death. The police, the government, the army--all are corrupt. Hardly ever can you find someone in power who is not part of the corruption. So what will happen? Will everyone flee? I doubt it, considering the very low numbers of migrants who receive the "pass" to actually be in the states legally. Will the murders continue happening--decrease, increase? Will hope be restored?
For there is no one like our God.
There is no one like you, God.
We cannot answer these questions. But we can still live out Redemption in our own way. Even though the work that I do--hanging out with middle schoolers, attempting to give them meaning, hope, and joy--will not bring about Redemption for the world, or even for Juarez, I can still allow the Divine to work through me and bring some sort of strength, love, and joy within my own reality and the realities of the people I am in relationship with.
I still have hope for this city. Even if its problems are far too big for me to comprehend. And even if my hope is too impractical to explain.
Greater things have yet to come,
And greater things are still to be done in this city.
Greater things are yet to come,
And greater things are still to be done here.