Suffering and Salvation in Ciudad Juarez

When I was in high school, I spent two weeks in Juarez for a youth group mission trip with the church I attended in the suburbs of Philadelphia. If I remember correctly, that was the summer of 2003. So, encountering Nancy Pineda-Madrid’s book Suffering and Salvation in Ciudad Juarez hit “close to home.” Close to home in the sense that I know the name of the place and carry with me the profound experience of walking briefly in partnership with the community of faith there. And yet, I had no awareness of what Pineda-Madrid reveals as a horrific feminicide that would have been ten years in the making at the time of my trip there. Perhaps the leaders of the trip didn’t know. We were warned against wandering the city at night, and we worked to build a women’s shelter for victims of domestic violence. I cannot imagine a more important context for facing the realities of systemic violence in the community we served. This course is not my first encounter with the history of feminicide in Juarez since that trip, but this is the first extensive opportunity I have had to reflect and write of the experience.

Almost ten years after that trip, I can’t help thinking: “Our leaders should have told us.” the church, more than any other organization or community should have been responsible and held accountable for making us keenly aware of the realities that our brothers and sisters in Christ were and are facing. Martin Buber and others would argue that our own humanity is inextricably linked with those in encounter with us, and I think they are correct. I lived in Texas for almost ten years before my visit to Juarez. Though I was hours away, Juarez might as well have been in my backyard. And yet, I had no idea.

In our class discussion last week, I couldn’t help but realize how little we talked about the experiences of the women and the community that surrounds them. The theology of salvation is central to the confessions of all Christians, and it was critically important for our class session. What seems most important to me, however, and which was not appropriately addressed, is the way in which this salvation is lived out in the world. If we are to live as “resurrection people,” it seems reasonable to explore radical definitions of salvation. This is all the more important in an era of globalization which has so dramatically made possible the encounter with the “other.” The internal-looking church would do well to consider seriously the claim of Pineda-Madrid that “We can understand salvation only through our communion with one another, with God, and with creation” (152). When we are ignorant of or inactive in the face of such great trauma to the global community of faith, we are complicit. We fail to live out the individual gift of salvation in the choice of inaction.

I am convinced that the Holy Spirit continues to make manifest salvation in the radical transformation of both individuals and the world. I would go so far as to suggest that humankind has a responsibility for the salvation of the world through the work of the Spirit. Looking back through these remarks, I recognize a lack of significant dialogue with the details of the text assigned. But I hope that these humble remarks still respond to the tensions of the text and the human emotions and commitments that this text has raised for so many colleagues and friends.

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