'God put the mission in front of me'


By the Rev. Lourdes Calderón*
Sept. 22, 2011

The Rev. Lourdes Calderón (left) visits with Luz Maldonado and her children Yessenia (right) and Charlie at their home and farm in Pajarito Mesa, near Albuquerque, N.M. UMNS photos by Mike DuBose.

God called me to serve. God called me to be in mission with my people, God’s people.

Since 2001, I have learned about families I met in the markets, parking lots and restaurants of Albuquerque, N.M. Listening to what they said about their community led me to find out how they lived.

When I first became aware of this community, I was a layperson in an Anglo church in the New Mexico Annual (regional) Conference and was part of the conference's Hispanic ministry committee. I taught elementary children in a Christian school where almost 40 percent of my students were recent immigrants from Mexico or children of non-English-speaking parents.

I was eager to learn more about the struggles and hopes of the immigrant families, but it was when someone took me to Pajarito Mesa that I saw where God really wanted me.

Pajarito Mesa, a deserted area south of Albuquerque, is a steep, 300-foot hill with a flat top.

The community has no utility service, sewage connection or running water. Three years ago, the school bus could not get to where parents take their children for bus pickup. There is nothing but dirt over that hill.

Five years ago, the situation was worse. Emergency vehicles, police and firefighters had no access to the Pajarito Mesa area because there was no 911 service. The streets have no names, so the homes have no addresses. The streets are simply paths people built according to needs. Homes are scattered, without numbers, because the block really does not exist.

Junior Maldonado watches over his family's cattle at their home and farm in Pajarito Mesa, near Albuquerque, N.M.

I asked myself, “How is The United Methodist Church helping this community?”

A plea for help

One day I received a desperate call from a woman whose neighbor was in the hospital. The neighbor had tried to commit suicide because her husband had left her. Her children – 15 and 13 – had called emergency services. People had to carry the woman up the hill to the ambulance.

This tragedy moved me to get involved with Bernalillo County decisions that affected the Pajarito Mesa area. I started working closely with County Commissioner Art de la Cruz.

Now the residents share a water fill station called “Noria.” The 911 service, sheriff and firefighters use a map drawn of the area to respond to emergencies.

The community still lacks electricity, roads and street markings. Emergency personnel frequently have difficulty responding.

When I speak with single mothers, I realize they need — and desire — a better life for their families. Many parents want to help develop a community with jobs and education, but they do not know how.

The youth do not see a need to continue their education because they lack Social Security cards and legal status. Most drop out of school before age 12 and may end up in jail.

Some 350 families live in Pajarito Mesa, south of Albuquerque, N.M. The community has no running water or electricity.

Many young people at Pajarito Mesa think their future will be in poverty and without education. They cannot understand or value their parents’ effort in crossing the border in search of a better life.

Social action and help

For more than four years, I have been involved in social-action work in Pajarito Mesa. Led by de la Cruz, a board of directors now works with the community.

Every year, my congregation and the chaplain’s office at the sheriff’s department organize a food and toy distribution. Twice a year, we open a food bank in my church, St. Andrew’s United Methodist Church in Albuquerque.

Working with the medical team at the University of New Mexico and at the family medical clinic, we have taken a mobile food bank and a medical clinic to Pajarito Mesa.

My church launched a project called “Stand” to improve the education of youth. Stand provides tutoring in English, mathematics and science. Some students now help translate for their parents.

Saúl Espino and Crystal Banks of the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry provide invaluable support to our clergy and assist in education for our Hispanic communities.

Highland Park United Methodist Church in Dallas provided meals, school supplies and uniforms to Pajarito Mesa children. The church also donated $10,000 for community food and assistance.

The Rev. Lourdes Calderón (left) comforts Luz Maldonado at her home and farm in Pajarito Mesa, near Albuquerque,
N.M. At right is her son Junior.

The Dallas congregation decided to build three modular buildings for a clinic, food bank and community center, and possibly classrooms for tutoring. We are negotiating with Bernalillo County for the donation of a site for the buildings.

Mission to empower

Ten years ago, a woman named Nohemi invited me to dinner at her mobile home. I was shocked to see she had no electricity, water or gas.

From that day on, Nohemí and her family welcomed me every week for Bible study. My husband, other church members and I have ministered to them for more than a decade. Six members of Nohemi’s family have joined the church. I have celebrated a wedding in Nohemi’s family.

Nohemí’s children are confirmed and active participants in the church’s liturgy. It was their idea to form a tutoring class for elementary and high school students. They think their parents can learn English.

Seeing through Christ’s eyes, I realize my mission is to empower this community.

In my struggle to help Pajarito Mesa, I have seen many doors close. Churches, congregations and clergy tell me, “We cannot help the undocumented.”

If we truly wish to be disciples of Christ for the transformation of the world, however, we must believe God calls us to transform all areas in need. We must be missionaries and be involved.

I hope to continue seeing United Methodists and those from other faith traditions who want to assist people in search of a better life in Pajarito Mesa.

I hope that, together, we can follow the example of Jesus Christ.

*The Rev. Lourdes Calderón is pastor of St. Andrew's United Methodist Church in Albuquerque, N.M.

News media contact: Amanda Bachus, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org .

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