This post may contain things that you may disagree with. I am writing this from the perspective of a 22-year-old, half-Korean/half-white woman who has only lived here for about two weeks. My opinion may change in the next few months, but here is how I currently see El Paso:
As I prepared to move to El Paso, I had numerous people caution me of how dangerous it was to be moving here. The most frequent response I’d receive was, “Oh that’s not safe at all. Be careful. Why do you want to move there?” Quite frankly, these responses would make me upset. It felt like a judgment. It almost seemed to come off like, “why the hell would you ever want to move there?!” Definitely not the kind of response I wanted when I was excited about this big transition. But I would smile and say something like, “I feel very at peace with moving there and am excited for the work that I’ll be doing.” I had other people tell me to never enter into Juarez because I would “definitely be mugged or killed,” which also rubbed me the wrong way. I recognize that most people said these things because they care about me, and perhaps they had some very valid reasons for why it “isn’t safe.” Their comments weren’t meant to be upsetting in any way. However, in the depth of my heart, I wanted to reply with, “Well, nowadays everywhere you go it isn’t safe. We just become adjusted, comfortable, and accustomed to what we grow up with. I don’t want to live in fear. And if I am being called to work in El Paso, then El Paso is where I will go. Being a Christian isn’t supposed to be comfortable – Jesus literally tells us to die to ourselves and pick up our cross to follow Him.” (I know that there’s a difference between common sense and plain stupidity… but I felt as though very few people truly trusted my sense of peace with this decision.)
A frequent lesson the Lord has been teaching me is “How far are you willing to go for me?” It’s a tough question to answer. I would love to say, “I will do anything and go anywhere, Lord!” But in reality, if I had to give up the slightest bit of comfort, then it would be challenging to let it all go. I’ve thought about staying here longer than just 10 months. I’ve thought about what it would take, like finding housing, the money to afford rent/food/gas, getting health insurance figured out, etc. It would be so uncomfortable to stay here longer than 10 months, especially since I made plans to come back home in June 2018. But if God wants me here, then this is where I’ll stay. I heard Him tell me, “Don’t worry about it right now.” And so that’s what I’m doing…not worrying. I’ll keep you updated on how that’s going in future posts…
El Paso is a change of comfort, but to be quite honest, I am still very comfortable. I am living in a beautiful home, meeting incredible friends, and being warmly embraced by an awesome community. Life here is pretty sweet. But down the road, maybe less than 30 minutes away, lies the city of Juarez. The Mexican border lines up right next to the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP). You can look out from the campus and see Mexico span across for miles. Almost every day I drive past Mexico and see the broken down buildings, streets, and homes. Can you imagine what it would be like to be live in Juarez, look up at the “city upon the hill” and dream about going to college – it’s an arm’s reach away – yet not being able to cross the border? There are some children in Juarez that will wake up early to cross the border just so they can attend school in the U.S. It’s always humbling to me how willing and dedicated children and families are to achieve an education, especially when I went to public school and saw many people not appreciate the free education that was gifted to them.
The city of Juarez and El Paso desperately rely on each other for their economies to function. They are intertwined and everything is connected somehow. A lot of people from Virginia associate Juarez with danger. One woman even told me that her husband had the choice of choosing Fort Bliss (in El Paso) or go to Afghanistan, and he chose Afghanistan because he thought it was more dangerous here! Although yes, there has been violence in the past, there isn’t violence lurking on every corner. And you have to be smart, as you always do in any city you’re going to. The people in El Paso are ridiculously friendly. It seems to be a common practice to approach strangers and strike up a conversation. I typically am a quiet person, plus in Northern Virginia, you are considered “out of the norm” if you start a conversation with a stranger, but here it’s an everyday thing to chat with the people in line with you. The coolest part is that El Paso was recognized as the 2nd safest city in America!!!!!! (check out the article) Does that blow your mind? If so, then why? What pre-judgments did you have prior to reading that? It’s okay. I let certain fears and judgments affect my thought processes too, but let me encourage you to think differently about this city. It’s really quite wonderful. The diversity is beautiful. I was told that the population is about 80% Hispanic or Latino. I think it’s so cool to be in a city where the people who are typically considered the minority are actually the majority!!! It’s a growing city. El Paso isn’t a city plopped in the middle of the desert left to fend for itself. And while yes, there is a very distinguished divide between the rich and poor, I have seen the communities work hand-in-hand with each other.
Alright, I’ll step off of my soapbox for now. But please please please try to think of El Paso as wonderful. It is not the dangerous city that people make it out to be. Sure, there are a lot of things that need to be changed and worked on, but that’s true of any city. I love this city because of what it has to offer. Even more, Jesus loves the people here. He sees them as worthy. Will you join me in loving this place, too?
Now, if you’re interested in what I’ve been doing day-by-day, here’s a quick debrief of the past few days:
Saturday, August 19 – I realized that drinking water is very vital to the health of my chapped lips. I am always thirsty! I went into Juarez with Keisha, Karina, and Gustavo. We walked across the border and got dinner at the Kentucky Club. I got a cheap margarita and tacos 🙂 Then we went dancing at a place called Chess. It was a bit hectic trying to figure out how to pay in Pesos. In Mexico, they do not split the checks, so if you’re in a group you just have to scramble and hope you have enough cash on hand. Thank goodness for Venmo.
Sunday, August 20 – It was raining in El Paso!!! It’s their monsoon season, which coming from NoVA I had to laugh…but apparently, it’s a lot of rain for the desert. I attended the Church of St. Clement for the first time. It was youth Sunday, so they had a lot of the youth students participate in the service. I met Callie in person! We have been texting since late June, so it was awesome to finally meet her. I attended the church picnic after the service and met even more people! Later in the afternoon, I met up with Dianne, who owns a few Jazzercise centers in El Paso and Las Cruces, NM. I chatted with her and Callie about when we could teach Jazzercise. Then Callie and I went to Ross and Target to shop for apartment supplies for Callie. It was so fun getting to spend time with Callie and hearing more about her life.
Monday, August 21 – I had a 5-hour training/meeting for Ciudad Nueva at Sami’s house. We spent most of the time sharing our personal testimonies and why we started working for Ciudad Nueva. It was also the Eclipse!! We had a lot of fun looking through our solar glasses and trying to capture pictures.
Tuesday, August 22 – I was introduced at the church staff meeting at 9:00 AM. Then Sami drove me around El Paso for 2 hours. He showed me parts of the Upper Valley. There is so much wealth up there. There’s a stark contrast between the Upper Valley and the East side. There are pipelines where people can flood their lawns just so they can have green grass. It’s insane. We talked about the justice issues of water – we live in a desert, yet people use the water superfluously to water their grass instead of conserving it. Sami then drove me into New Mexico to see Anapra, the border along New Mexico and Mexico. We got up really close to the border, and Border Patrol was watching us very carefully. Then Sami drove me through the downtown El Paso neighborhoods, like Segundo Barrio and the Rio Grande.
I went to lunch with a guy named David at L&J Cafe. David took me to three different possible part-time job interviews, but I didn’t like any of them. They were banking companies and law firms. Most of the places I want to work at (social work and counseling places) only want volunteers. I need a part-time job in the morning because that will help me afford my living, plus it’s part of the Border Fellow program to have a paid part-time job. So…prayers that I can find a part time job! I felt defeated because I had an expectation that the Fellows program would find a job for me and I wouldn’t have to search for one myself. I panicked a little bit, but then told myself to let it go and not worry about it. A job will come because God always provides.
Below are pictures of the border along New Mexico and Mexico and the border highway.
Wednesday, August 23 – I met with Bethany and Simon at Ciudad Nueva and they told me that I’d be working with the middle schoolers. They explained how the program ran and what some of my responsibilities would be. I get to pick up the kids from school in a 15 passenger van! Simon and I drove to a family’s house to get the kids registered for the program at Ciudad Nueva. It was slightly awkward since I didn’t know this family at all and was just chilling in their home for about 30 minutes. But hopefully, I’ll get to know the families soon enough.
Thursday, August 24 – I attended the Praise and Worship team practice at the Church of St. Clement. I’m planning on getting involved with the worship team. I had to turn in a copy of my Driver’s License and car insurance to the church and Ciudad Nueva so that I could drive the middle schoolers in the church vans starting next week. Then, I met with Simon and I practiced driving the 15 passenger van. I practiced driving the loop I’ll be making next week. These vans are almost 20 years old…and was told that they break down a lot. That should be fun. Then Simon and I delivered food to a family in the neighborhood.
Friday, August 25 – I met with Steven for lunch at P.F. Changs near the El Paso airport. I am doing some work for him in the meantime as I look for a part-time job. He’s paying me for the work, so that’s a bonus. After lunch, I went to his house to do more work for him on the computer. It’s a lot of data input. Nothing too difficult, and it’s actually fun for me because I can listen to music and jam. In the evening, I went to the Greek Festival with Keisha. There was a crazy thunder storm and many of the roads were flooded. Thankfully, we made it there safely. We got some Spanikopita and a cheese pastry and enjoyed the music/dancing. Then, we went to Ode Brewery to meet up with some people neither of us had ever met. The group was very nice and welcoming. Keisha knew one of the girls through a co-worker. We spent a few hours talking with the group. I had an awesome time chatting with one of the girls who is a Philosophy major and writing her thesis for her Masters. We talked about institutionalized racism, gender and sexism, mixed culture, and pretty much everything in-between. It’s so cool to meet someone who also highly values social and economic justice issues. From there, Keisha and I walked around UTEP’s campus and enjoyed the lovely evening. The rain stopped and left El Paso in the low 60’s – perfect evening weather.
Saturday, August 26 – I drove to Las Cruces, NM to meet up with some old family friends. I haven’t seen them since I was a baby, but they were my parents’ really good friends when they lived in El Paso. It was nice meeting them. They treated me to lunch and drove me around the Las Cruces area (specifically in Old Mesilla. We went to lunch at this place called La Posta. It had really good Mexican food). I spent about 3 hours with them, and they told me that “the choices you make will dictate the life you lead.” Once I said goodbye to them I decided to get my car checked at Jiffy Lube (since there isn’t a Jiffy Lube in El Paso, I had to take advantage of the one in Las Cruces!), and then I came back to El Paso and took a 4-hour nap. And now I’m writing this blog! 🙂
Below are pictures of the Las Cruces mountains, volcano, and the Rio Grande river.
Hope everyone is well. Missing my family and friends, but I’m not homesick. Everything is great, and if you want to send me a care-package…I’d never say no to that 😉 Just ask me for my address in a private message! Thanks for reading today’s blog! ❤