Juarez violence pushes a pastor and his flock across the border

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EL PASO – Because of a lawless environment in Juarez in which churches are forced to pay protection money to gangsters or else suffer terrible consequences, the congregation of the Centro Cristiano Familiar Vencedores church felt threatened.

Gunshots would regularly disturb services and Pastor Ramiro Macias’ church didn’t know what to expect when strangers appeared at the church door.

Ramiro Macias, pastor of Centro Cristiano Familiar Vencedores. (Ytzel Arrunada)

Ramiro Macias, pastor of Centro Cristiano Familiar Vencedores. (Ytzel Arrunada)

Macias recalled recently that family dinners would be interrupted by the sound of gunfire in the neighborhood and the doorbell of his house rang at 3 a.m. on a regular basis. Not knowing what they wanted or why, he wouldn’t open the door and his family endured the sleepless nights in fear.

The murder of a church member was the dreadful, final act of violence that motivated him to move his family and his church to El Paso.

Already a U.S. resident, Macias had established his church in Ciudad Juarez in February 2004. He decided to start another church in El Paso in September 2009 and his congregation supported the movement. Some 50 of the 250 parishioners now attend the new church in El Paso. The rest of the congregation, however, was not left unattended. Macias left his co-pastor Aldo Gonzalez in charge.

“We predicted the exodus. It came as no surprise.  Safety is important.  We can be here one day but we don’t know what tomorrow brings. Regardless, the calling continues,” Macias said.

Macias found peace in the new location, but his income from the smaller congregation could not cover his living expenses. He began working in construction in addition to ministering at the church in order to feed the five members of his family.

His youngest daughter, Corina, 16, had been enrolled in an El Paso school. For eight years they crossed the border and waited long hours at the bridge to receive an education. Basically living in both cities, they spent half of the day in El Paso and the other half in Juarez.

The move allows her to do more with her time and she devotes the newfound hours to extra curricular activities. “I like living here. I can sleep comfortably and I feel safe…unlike Juarez where I literally witnessed violence often,” she said.

Adjusting to a new life was not easy for Pastor Macias. Problems with language and lack of money became barriers and finding a job and a place to call home was also difficult. Finding a church building was a struggle as well.

But the most painful heartache came a month after the move.

Macias' flock celebrating September 16. (Courtesy of Ramiro Macias)

Macias' flock celebrating September 16. (Courtesy of Ramiro Macias)

The Pastor’s two-year-old grandson was diagnosed with cancer at only seven months of age. Now three years old, he is in treatment with chemotherapy and intensive radiation at Sierra Providence of El Paso.

Dr. Jorge Perez Lucio, the family pediatrician in Juarez suggested the child go to St. Jude Children’s Research hospital because they specialize in helping children with catastrophic diseases at no charge. The Institute is known as the number one pediatric cancer hospital.

Pastor Macias, although sad, remains faithful. The trial has tested his faith, he said, yet he lives what he preaches and continues to believe. When discussing “miracle cases” in which cancer vanishes, he said, “ We walk by faith not by sight. I believe in miracles. I am certain they exist.”

However a struggle comes not without purpose. Pastor Macias assured his congregation that with faith all is possible. He said that the outcome of divine intervention will always be the right one. Juarez needs a miracle, he said.

“Juarez violence is out of control. There is no respect or fear to follow regulations, but where there is an abundance of sins, there will be an overabundance of grace.”

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Editor’s Note – This is another in a continuing series of Borderzine articles on the migration to the U.S. of Mexican middle-class professionals and business owners as a result of the drug-war violence along the border.  We call this transfer of people and resources, the largest since the Mexican Revolution, the Mexodus.

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