Save the Women Event - Ciudad Juarez
Sunday, April 3rd was a meaningful and memorable day as I joined hundreds of Presbyterians from Mexico and the US as we gathered in song and worship for the "Save the Women Event."
The day began in the morning with worship at First Presbyterian Church in El Paso, Texas. I preached at the worship service, which was attended by many people who came from out of town to attend the Save the Women Event. First Presbyterian Church showed us great hospitality, providing lunch following worship. Then we traveled by vans to the U.S./Mexican border and walked in a procession across the bridge into Ciudad Juarez. It was a warm and dusty day, but spirits were high as we joined sisters and brothers from the National Presbyterian Church of Mexico for worship in the park.
The purpose of this gathering grew out of the 216th General Assembly, which passed a commissioner resolution (item 13-08), which expresses concern and grief over the deaths and disappearances of young women in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico. As many as 400 women have been murdered and thousands are estimated to be missing in Ciudad Juarez over the past twelve years. Those killed tend to be between the ages of 13-22, with many showing signs of having suffered sexual violence before being murdered. Amnesty International reports that investigations of these murders have been marred by negligence. One of the action items included in the commissioner resolution calls for the Presbyterian Church (USA) to join with the church in Mexico in "public witness and worship that cries out for justice and claims the promise of resurrection."
That public witness and worship is what we were about on April 3, 2005 in Ciudad Juarez. It was a moving, meaningful, and memorable day. Choirs from the Presbyterian churches in Juarez and from El Paso provided music throughout the service. Over 600 people were in attendance. The worship service lasted about three hours, and it was truly a collaboration between the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the National Presbyterian Church of Mexico. The event was organized by Pasos de Fe Border Ministry and the Presbyteries of Tres Rios, Sierra Blanca, Palo Duro and Chihuahua (National Presbyterian Church of Mexico). There was also a strong ecumenical presence at the event, with representatives attending from the New Mexico Conference of Churches and the Texas Conference of Churches.
I joined Lic. Teodoro Villanueva, the Treasurer of the National Presbyterian Church of Mexico in preaching for the worship service. It was an emotional experience, and I found myself choking back tears as I expressed on behalf of our denomination the depth of grief and care that we feel for the victims and families of victims. Here is a short excerpt of what I said:
"God has brought us together this day, across national borders, to witness to the unity that we share in Christ. What a blessing it is to be here with sisters and brothers from the National Presbyterian Church of Mexico, as we stand together and speak with one voice. What a blessing it is that Christians from many churches have come together to speak for justice. We want to make it known that when one of God’s children is hurt or suffers, the whole of creation groans and cries for justice. When one of God’s children is abused, murdered or disappeared, all of the human family experiences the brokenness of sin and evil. When one of God’s children is in need, we all have a responsibility to reach out in love."
"Across the church – whether we live in Mexico of the United States – we are bound together by God’s love. God created us as one human family to care for each other. And we do care deeply about what happens to each other. We care deeply that over 400 women have been murdered and thousands disappeared. We care deeply for the families of the victims. We care deeply for the rights of women to be safe – free from abuse and violence. We care deeply that these crimes against women have gone unsolved."
One of the most poignant parts of the worship service was when we heard from those who had been victimized by the violence. The father of a fourteen year old girl who disappeared and has never been found read a poem that he had written. At the end of the service, another young woman, who had been abducted and stabbed, spoke of her ordeal, her gratitude for the public witness we were sharing, and her desire for justice, safety, and protection against such crimes.
It was truly an emotional day of worship as we witnessed to the resurrection, expressed our solidarity for sisters and brothers who suffer, and spoke for justice. What I want to share with you, from the experience at the "Save the Women Event", is the depth of gratitude that people expressed to the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the National Presbyterian Church of Mexico for our concern and our solidarity. I cannot count the number of people, especially women, who came up to me and thanked me for our witness and support.
Several pastors from the National Presbyterian Church of Mexico in Ciudad Juarez commented to me that they had been discussing among themselves ways to respond to the violence against women. It was not until they learned of the General Assembly action of the Presbyterian Church (USA) that they felt empowered and galvanized in partnership with the larger church to take action. As I was leaving with others to walk back across the border to El Paso, I said good-bye to the Treasurer of the National Presbyterian Church of Mexico. He indicated, as we said our good-byes, that he wanted me to take the lapel pin off his jacket and put it on my dress. The pin had on it the insignia of the National Presbyterian Church of Mexico. It was a moving gesture that affirmed the unity that we share as Presbyterians across borders and nationality.
If you are interested in pictures and further reporting on the event by the Presbyterian News Service, please visit www.pcusa.org/pcnews/2005/05194. I also encourage you to share with others the reality of what is happening to women in Ciudad Juarez, so that we can continue to raise public awareness about the violence. International pressure continues to be felt by the Mexican government as we press for investigation of the crimes. Please remember in prayer those who have been victimized by the violence, as we all pray for justice and for peace in our world.