By Emily Thorn
We have come to Juarez to build a house for a family. It is Lent, and the disciplines of prayer, fasting and almsgiving motivate us toward actions of peace and justice. We are seventeen people, total, traveling by car: sixteen Catholic young people and one Evangelical. Tired. We have been hammering all day, cutting wood, laying cement foundation, stuttering in Spanish. We have come, literally, to build a house for Christ. This is Casas por Cristo, after all.
It is others' physical need that has brought us down to Juarez; but just as much, it is our own spiritual needs that carried us this whole way. I believe deeply in the social teachings of the Church, in meeting the physical needs the poor; yet, at the end of a day of physical labor, I realize that my participation in short-term missions changes me more than I change anything else. It is God’s love that infiltrates the hearts of people, whose lives become agents of peace.
Development is not an act of one-sided giving- the rich giving to the poor- but an equal reciprocity that recognizes we not only need to give, but must receive from the very people we desire to serve. If we are to be true agents of the Gospel of Peace, we must be recipients as well as workers. Christ came to us a poor man, and received from his friends many gifts. He gave eternal life. The physical and the spiritual are intricately connected, and inseparable, both in my life and in the family whom we went to serve and in the two dozen children who played in the street, eagerly talking to us as we build walls.
I wonder after the lives of these children whom we meet on the street here in Juarez. My grandmother, who grew up in the Depression, would tell brave tales of growing up poor. She reiterated that her childhood was happy- she had nothing, but neither did anyone else she knew. These children in Juarez are happy, open, welcoming. Poor. Yet at what point their poverty will cease to be beautiful, and they will begin to be broken under the strain of poverty and oppression. Henri Nouwen writes, “The poor are called blessed not because poverty is good, but because theirs in the kingdom of heaven.”
As a teacher, I think about the lives of all the children I know, but especially of the poor young women, who often have no option in marriage, childbirth, or occupation. Will their lives be better than their mothers’ lives? Their grandmothers’ lives? What afflicts them when they go home to closed houses at night? Are they loved? Will they be loved? Will their minds, bodies, and souls be regarded as the true children of God they are? Will they know God?
Standing under the eave of the newly-built house, the product of four days, with the children, eating sweet corn tamales and feeling a little drunk in the expression of joy on each face, I think of what will happen in that house tomorrow and the next day, and the next week, year, and decade. I think of my own life, and the lives of my friends who traveled here for the same purpose. And I pray:
Lord Jesus Christ, teach us to love like you, a selfless, giving, and hopeful love. Teach us to die with those who are dying in our midst, in order to bring new life to your creation. Be with the little girls here in Juarez, in Albuquerque, and in the world. Love and protect them. Work through your people to create a world where they might live with hope and peace. Amen.[The author, a science teacher at Menaul School in Albuquerque, is involved with Bread for the World and Aquinas Newman Center campus ministry at the University of New Mexico. She was part of a delegation that went to Ciudad Juarez during the week of March 11-16 to build a house through the Casas por Cristo program. Emily also took the two photographs used for this piece].