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Border school strengthens spirits


7:00 A.M. EST August 20, 2010

Members of Lydia Patterson Institute’s lay ministry team with the Rev. George Miller, the school’s chaplain. Photo courtesy of George Miller.
Members of Lydia Patterson Institute’s lay ministry team with the Rev. George Miller, the school’s chaplain. Photo courtesy of George Miller.

Ernesto Velazquez Pinela is aware of the sacrifice his mother made for him.

She was nine months pregnant, waiting in a line to cross the border from Juárez, Mexico, to El Paso, Texas, on July 21, 1992, when her water broke. Instead of leaving, she waited another two hours, slowly advancing in the line, before someone came and took her to the hospital to give birth to her son.

“I cannot describe the words to thank my mother for what she did for me,” said Pinela, now 18, a senior who graduated from Lydia Patterson Institute, a United Methodist-related school in El Paso.

Graduating from high school, going to college and becoming a man of God are just some of the things he owes to his mother.

Lydia Patterson is the only United Methodist Church-sponsored campus in the U.S. with a predominantly Hispanic population. Every year, the bilingual private high school offers children from impoverished homes a future, said Socorro De Anda, school president.

“Our students are unique in that they are comfortable in two languages, two cultures and have, living on the border, experienced firsthand the transnational issues such as migration, drug trafficking, and many issues of justice and equality,” said the Rev. George Miller, chaplain. “By the time they have graduated from university, The United Methodist Church has invested an enormous amount in developing these leaders for both church and society. They are very capable of speaking to both sides of many of the issues and become bridges for reconciliation as well as outreach for the church.”

Kaitlin McMichael, director of young adult ministry and social media at Williams Memorial United Methodist Church, Texarkana, Texas, developed a relationship with the school as a student at the University of North Texas, and remains close to the students.

“We were there to do some construction work, but quickly found out that we were making more of an impact by simply hanging out with the kids and building relationships,” she said. “We had been on a lot of mission trips out of the country and to ‘exotic’ places, but all of us came back saying that this was by far the best mission experience we’d ever had.”

Dangerous commute

Many of the students, from sixth to 12th grade, live in Juárez and must cross the U.S.-Mexico border checkpoint and clear customs on their way to school every day. It’s not uncommon for them to have to wait in lines for an hour or more to enter Texas.

Hilka Vega, 16, said, “It’s really strange to be in the U.S. and see how easy it is to go to other countries when it’s so different for us. At the bridge, there are lines for Americans and lines for Mexicans. I’m an American citizen and my line goes faster, and sometimes I see my friends waiting and waiting in the other line.”

Students from Lydia Patterson Institute perform during a cultural celebration at the Global Young People’s Convocation in Berlin, Germany, in July. Photo courtesy of Kaitlin McMichael.
Students from Lydia Patterson Institute perform during a cultural celebration at the Global Young People’s Convocation in Berlin in July. Photo courtesy of Kaitlin McMichael.

In addition to the time it takes the students to get to school, they must walk through dangerous areas in Juárez.

“I live in one of the most dangerous cities in the world,” said Arturo Jacobo Garcia, 15.

A recent article in the El Paso Times supports his claim. Two boys, 10 and 15, were killed when gunmen attacked the car they were riding in, firing 36 rounds into the vehicle. They were two of a dozen killed during the 2010 Memorial Day weekend in Juárez.

Big opportunity

“I walk from my house to the international bridge every day with my school friends,” said Mariana Guerreo, 17. “But, believe me, this school has been a big opportunity for me. I have not only learned how to speak English, but I have also learned about Jesus. … He has become the key during my entire journey.”

Guerrero and Lizeth Baltazar take part in the lay ministry group headed by Miller. Baltazar said it is one of the best things about the school.

“I really don't know where I want to study, but my goal for my future is to be a missionary in three places,” she said. Her choices are India, Africa and Juárez.

“I want to come back to Juárez and start a children’s home for poor people so they can have a place to stay. I want that for them, to feel like someone cares about them.”

“Before coming here, I dreamed of being a pop star or an actress, but the school has helped me realize I want to serve God and I want to serve my brothers and sisters,” said Vega, who is also part of the school’s lay ministry.

“Not only do we get a good education, but Lydia Patterson has helped each of us grow spiritually,” said Corina Garcia, a 17-year-old senior. “You don’t need anything else if you have God in your life.”

*Gilbert is a writer of young adult content at United Methodist Communications, Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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