Joy, but no peace
BACKSTORY | Daily life in a drug cartel war zone
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Mississippi-based WORLD writer Kim Henderson spent part of her summer vacation in one of the most dangerous cities in the world: Juárez, Mexico. Her story in this issue details the city’s history with violence and what it’s like for Christians to live in such a desolate environment. But as Kim discovered, it’s not all doom and gloom across the border. Here’s what she told me about the story behind the story:
What was it like driving through the streets of Juárez? Did you ever feel unsafe? On one of the main roads we traveled every day, there was a lane blocked so you came to a choke point. Guys in military uniforms were stationed there, surrounded by sandbags. They carried assault rifles. Our van would ease up beside them and have to wait to be waved through. Sometimes they’d pull over a car and check it out. You’re vulnerable. It makes you think.
What was the most striking evidence you saw of the city’s pervasive violence? When Lynn Vincent and I first discussed the possibility of reporting from Mexico, she suggested I listen to a podcast about the missing women of Juárez. I did. I also read a lot about the hundreds of women murdered in Juárez in recent years. Months later when I was in the city, a friend pointed out a cross someone had painted on a light pole. They’re all over the place. They’re a symbol of the femicide, a reminder that daughters still disappear. That’s when my research became very real.
What most surprised you in reporting this story? I learned that people perceive the threat of violence in Juárez differently. One El Paso, Texas, resident told me she has a sister in Juárez she hasn’t seen in years. She’s terrified of having car trouble or a fender bender in Mexico, so she won’t go there. Contrast that with Susana Cisneros, a young woman I interviewed who got an MBA from New Mexico State University. Top of her class. She chooses to commute to work in El Paso while living in Juárez, where the low cost of living means she can afford to own a ranch. Susana believes if you keep to yourself, you don’t have to worry about the sicarios (killers).
What was the brightest sign of hope you encountered? I sat down with a couple named David and Carol, thinking they could tell me about the challenges of raising a family in Juárez. Instead, through Carol’s broken English, I got to hear a border story. When he was 20, David crossed the U.S. border illegally and wound up in a jail outfitted with Spanish Bibles. He read steadily for two months and returned to Juárez a saved man. Carol came to Christ, too. Today, they’re active in their church, homeschooling their three kids, and busy living out their faith in a city known for its violence. They exuded joy, and I didn’t need an interpreter to tell me that.
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