Article from the Christian Reformed Church of North America
TEACHING STUDENTS DURING A DRUG WAR
November 16, 2010 – A group of West Michigan Christian Reformed Church congregations, along with support from Holland Christian Schools and others, has built relationships and helped construct Eagle College, a school in a church in Miguel Aleman, a small Mexican city now being torn apart by fighting between rival drug cartels. The city of about 25,000 people sits just across the border from Roma, Texas.
Despite murders and constant gun battles in the streets, Hope for Kids Mexico—the ministry that oversees the project—continues construction, mostly with indigenous labor, on a building outside of town that supporters hope will house 440 students in a pre-k through high school facility.
"We have had to slow down our work on the new building because of all of the violence occurring down there right now," says Ron Brouwer, a contractor and member of Victory Point CRC in Holland, Mich., who has been spearheading this project along with his wife, Jane Brouwer.
Although there is violence in Miguel Aleman, The Wall Street Journal reported last week that dozens of families fleeing drug cartel violence in the town of Ciudad Mier, about eight miles away, have taken up refuge in a local Lions Club building in Miguel Aleman. "They were joined by residents from a second town called Guerrero who appear to have also been threatened," said the newspaper.
Almost every weekend the Brouwers visit CRC congregations telling the story of the troubles in the town and of the school and what it has meant to people. The last time Ron Brouwer and his wife, Jane, were down there, a drug gang burst into a nearby police station and killed the police chief. "When that happened, it became even more important for us to be involved with the school," says Jane Brouwer.
Holland Christian High School, which is part of Christian Schools International, a ministry approved for funding by the CRC, has forged a sister school relationship with the school in Mexico, and teachers have been down there to help cement the relationship. Teachers and administrators from the school in Mexico have also visited West Michigan.
"We see ourselves as an alternative to the drug gangs," says Ron Brouwer, who has been in Miguel Aleman many times and has seen first-hand the gun battles and carnage occurring in the town. "We want to teach young people about Christ and provide a good education in order that they can build a life for themselves apart from the cartels."
Having been working on this project for more than six years, the Brouwers are finding they need to increase their base of support, reaching out for partners and support to help them achieve the vision of "Building Generations of Excellence" in the violence-torn town. There are other schools, but not necessarily with a Christian focus.
"We're hoping that, through the school, God will supply the city the next mayor, police officer, pastor, teacher," says Jane Brouwer. "Already we have seen many changes happen and lives transformed."
Jane Brouwer mentioned a young student, whose father was killed by a cartel, who gave his testimony to fellow students and emphasized that his father told him before he was murdered that he wanted him to continue in the school and continue to learn of Christ.
"We believe this school gives these kids hope and a chance and a choice to make changes," she says. "We also believe that what we do is all about building relationships with the people of Miguel Aleman. This is a joint project between us and the people who live there."
The Brouwers first visited Miguel Aleman about six years ago when they were in the area on a short-term mission trip. They ended up meeting with the two pastors at the largest Protestant church in town and learned that for 22 years, Pastors David Martinez and Ramon Solis had been "leading people to Jesus Christ" and dreaming of one day opening a Christian school that would also teach English as second language.
Inspired by the vision of the pastors, and yet novices in this type of mission work, the Brouwers began to talk to members of their church and other churches about the Mexican city and the dream of the long-time pastors. In relatively short fashion, they raised enough support to help fund and joined with Mexican workers in building six rooms in the church to use as a school. A Calvin College graduate joined with teachers from the area to initiate education at the school.
Consuelo Silva, principal of the school, has spoken to child after child who tells her how much they appreciate the school and how they hope and pray it can improve their lives and perhaps, through prayers offered at the school and with the help of Christ, provide safety to their families.
"Eagle College has given us the task of praying for the students and their families," she says. "We have been calling to say hello and to tell them that we are praying for all families and our city. We have had very positive responses and we can see little by little what God is doing."
Valeria, a sixth grader, says she loves the school. "For me it is a great blessing to be in here, especially at this time that has been so hard. I think is a testimony to all those who do not know God (that they) can come and seek him."
Perla Cecilia, a fourth grader, came off the streets and was among the first students. She not only attends the school, but has become active in the church, coming to every service and prayer meeting.
"We thank God for what he has called us to do. We believe that God wants us to focus especially on kids, because through them Jesus can get into their homes and we have seen it," says Pastor Ramon Solis.
"Eagle College is an institution that was created to accomplish that mission…God wants this generation, that is preparing (academically, physically and spiritually), to be a generation that will be part of the change and transformation that God wants for this world."
Although the drug war has slowed progress on the construction of a new school, there are organizations waiting to help out when they are able.
Steve Geurink, an official with Worldwide Christian Schools, says his organization has been monitoring the progress of Eagle College and are in support of the project. They have done a number of things, including sending a consultant down to the school to help with the program. Worldwide Christian Schools is another organization that the CRC has recommended for support.
"We will probably send work teams down there once the situation becomes more safe," he said. "We have been trying to help them as we can."
—Chris Meehan, CRC Communications