Drugs, praying, and church

The August issue of Texas Monthly features an eye-opening article about teens smuggling drugs across the Mexican border from Piedras Negras. In the last eighteen months, 104 teens have been arrested in Eagle Pass with more than fifty pounds of marijuana each.

In my conversations with folks in the wider church, especially with those from mission partner congregations and potential mission partners thinking of visiting us at San Lucas, the most common question I hear is, “Is it safe?”

I personally feel relatively safe. Eagle Pass and Piedras Negras have not had nearly the major volume of violence that has terrorized other border communities, especially Ciudad Juarez, Nuevo Laredo, and Reynosa. However, whenever I pick up a copy of the local Eagle Pass News Gram, it seems the headline is almost always about another drug arrest on the bridge.

From San Lucas, we continue to cross the border every week to worship at Cristo Rey. I generally follow a few guidelines to help insure safety:

• Travel with at least one other person, preferably a native Spanish speaker.

• Go directly to church.

• Be back in the United States before dark.

• Use the church van instead of personal cars.

There is no denying that there is risk in ministry here. But isn’t there risk everywhere? Upon reading in Texas Monthly about so many young people taking major risks, I start to wonder. I wonder how many kids from our Vacation Bible School have families impacted by narcotraffic.

This week I heard the chief of the Eagle Pass Police Department speak to the Rotary Club, and he said that children as young as third grade have been caught with drugs at the elementary schools. I don’t really have easy answers to all of this. In Eagle Pass, there are drugs, but there’s also lots of poverty, unemployment, and under employment.

At San Lucas, we have a strong food bank that helps people with immediate hunger issues. I’m in the process of building a collection of business cards for agencies to which we can refer people for different forms of assistance. I’d love to eventually explore some congregational-based community organizing to address some of the root causes of the poverty here.

We can organize; we can advocate; we can give out food and start programs. This is all good stuff, but really what we need to do is be present. Prayer is advocacy. It might be a lot easier to be pastor in a different place. It might be more financially responsible for synods and congregations to put their money and prayers elsewhere. Where there’s violence, that’s where the Church should be. When there is poverty and despair, the Church should be present.

I hope that’s what we’re doing at San Lucas and Cristo Rey. On August 21, just before school starts, we’re going to have a special Blessing of the Students at San Lucas. We’ll also pass out school supplies collected by one of our mission partner congregations and surround the young people of our congregation and community with prayers for safety and wisdom as they begin a new school year.

Prayer in the midst of uncertainty is part of our usual practice. Week after week, we usually include in our prayers a petition not unlike this:

O Dios, oremos por los victimas de drogas, violencia, y guerras. Oremos por paz en este mundo. Favor de darnos un espíritu de justicia y hospitalidad para que podamos ser instrumentos de su paz. Señor, en tu bondad, escucha nuestra oración. Amen.

O God, we pray for victims of drugs, violence, and war. We pray for peace in this world. Please give to us a spirit of justice and hospitality so that we may be instruments of your peace. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer. Amen.