In the pages of Charles Bowdens “Murder City” we are introduced to a character called “El Pastor”
He was called by the Lord to care for the most unwanted people in Juarez…those whose minds have been ruined by drugs or disease and for whom there is no help from social services.
He built an asylum by hand and filled it from the dirty streets of his bloody city.
This is true religion…
The mural depicts a conquistador. A sign says, VISIÓN EN ACCIÓN. Vision in action. But one of the N’s has fallen off. In the corner stands a metal statue of a man in armor. This is the office of El Pastor, José Antonio Galvan, the evangelist who took in the battered remains of Miss Sinaloa and gave her succor in the asylum. His office was once a drug house where addicts punctured their veins and savored their dreams. El Pastor arrived here as a street preacher raving in the calles. The local priest called him a devil. But he drew others to him. As for the devil, he fights him daily—he keeps a black and red punching bag near at hand and slams it with his fists as he fights Satan. Everything about El Pastor is vital and coarse, his language often vulgar, his feel for the crazy people visceral. He is sitting in front of me, with a mop of graying hair, a fleshy body, a ready smile—but rough edges remain and keep him honed. He has a tattoo of a good-looking mestiza. And another of a beautiful indigenous woman.
He is showing me a movie of the asylum—men beaten by police and dumped half-crazy on the streets, addled addicts with seeping ulcerated wounds, women who will never remember what happened to them and never want to remember.
I stare at the ruined faces in the video and ask, “Does your congregation support this work?”
He smiles, points to the screen, and says, “This is my congregation.”
El Pastor spent sixteen years as an illegal immigrant in Los Angeles, where he learned to be a crane operator. He did lots of drugs and drank lots of alcohol and earned sixteen dollars an hour. Then, in 1985, he was reborn. He returned to Juárez to do God’s work, mainly preaching on the street to drug addicts. In the winter of 1998 El Pastor says he was driving through a bad storm when he saw a mound on the street and swerved just as a man stood and shook off the snow that had fallen and covered him. “I was driving that day and singing to the Lord and it was snowing. I said, ‘Lord, I’m working with you,’ and the Lord pulled my hair.” So El Pastor rounded up friends and spent the day gathering the wounded of the streets—brain-damaged addicts, ruined gang members, everyone left out in the snow in a city without mercy. That is the moment when he began scooping the crazy people off the streets, the moment when he began creating his asylum in the desert.
“Oh, they smelled bad,” he says, “covered with shit and all that.”
Originally, he came out here and lived in a hut with his wife. He had two donkeys for gathering wood. He started stacking up blocks and bricks. This went on for three years. The police would bring the rejects of our world—whores burned out by drugs and men’s lust, illegal immigrants kicked back by the US because they did not want to tend to their damaged minds, topless dancers who had lost that half step and were discarded, street people who had sniffed so much glue and paint they were now residents of oblivion.
El Pastor now houses and feeds a hundred of them. He walks me around and shows me his expansion dream that will give him the capacity for 250 souls. He will have the patients making bricks—those who can still function well enough to mix up mud. He will sell these blocks and so give the patients a kind of dignity and himself some cash flow to pay for the medicines they require in order to bottle up their rages. At present, he must raise ten thousand dollars a month on the radio simply to meet the medical, food, and staff costs of this crazy place he has created.
But now El Pastor is jubilant because he is talking about Juárez.
“I love Juárez,” he says, “I know it is dirty and very violent but I love it! I grew up in Juárez. I love it. It is a needy city and I can help my city. I can make a little difference.”