Have you ever felt like you narrowly escaped something horrendous? A couple of days ago I read an article about the city of Juarez, Mexico which shares the border with El Paso, Texas by Sam Quinones of National Geographic. Read Article The article details the rampant violence and danger in the city of Juarez from 2008 to 2012 as two duelling drug cartels fought for access to the US market. They extorted millions from local businesses for so called protection and kidnapped adults and children for ransom. In 2010, at the peak of the violence, over 3700 people were murdered in drug related deaths. A city, about the population of Calgary, exceeded the entire country of Canada’s homicide rate by seven times!
We were there, at the peak.
Matt and I left on a bus with a bunch of other Canadians to drive down to Juarez in February 2010 to help out at a local mission for a couple of weeks. We knew Juarez could be violent; we didn’t know it was more violent than anywhere else in the world. We do now. Looking back, I did wonder why the local leader of the mission’s base refused to leave the US and check our progress as we painted our way through his building. I assumed he was upset because one of the welding students had been shot, drug around behind a truck, and left in the sand beside the gates a couple of days before we arrived.
As a team, we went about our days building, cleaning, and helping with just a vague notion of the violence swirling around us. But these things I do remember:
· Jeeps full of soldiers with machine guns holding onto the roll bars and staring down into our vehicle as they passed
· Mario, our interpreter, crying and wanting to leave the city the day after fourteen people were killed at a girl’s birthday party
· A giant, silver ball shaped disco burned out with its doors hanging off the hinges
· Desolate shacks up on the mesa because of a gunfight
And one afternoon, a white car with blackened windows pulled up alongside three of us as we walked across the sand from the community hall to the base. I’d spent the afternoon on my knees, under the stairs, tiling a portion of a closet floor amidst garbage and rat poop. I was so cold; it felt like my bladder had turned to ice. We were covered with drywall mud and tile grout. A car window rolled down and the teenagers inside … laughed and then pulled away. I guess we didn’t look like money.
“For He will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.” (Psalm 91:11 ESV)
Thank you, Lord.