Last year’s graduating class included two students from Juarez, Mexico, a city plagued by drug-related violence that borders El Paso, Texas.
The students — who came to Nebraska Wesleyan University by way of the Lydia Patterson Institute — shared stories of their nervous commutes to and from school and how they tried their best to stay out of harm’s way.
“The sun would be going down and you could just feel the environment around you,” 2012 NWU graduate Rebeca Chavez said of her daily walk home from high school. “There were days my mom would be running late and I would start to worry if she was killed.”
In recent years, Nebraska Wesleyan University, the United Methodist Church, and the Lydia Patterson Institute (LPI), a private United Methodist preparatory school in El Paso, have formed a special partnership. LPI students can apply for international scholarships to attend NWU. The scholarships cover tuition; United Methodist churches cover room and board. Students serve as interns at the churches. Four LPI graduates now attend Nebraska Wesleyan; two others graduated from NWU last year.
In January, Nebraska Wesleyan students were offered the opportunity to spend part of the semester break at Lydia Patterson Institute. First United Methodist Church Pastor Larry Moffit — who also teaches religion courses at NWU — led the trip.
“You see lives changing right before your very eyes,” Moffit said of the experience. Moffitt said it was important to include NWU students on the trip to have them interact with the LPI students and give them an idea of what college life was going to be like.
Four NWU students, a NWU staff member, and members of First United Methodist Church spent much of their time preparing school rooms for a major building renovation. The group visited during the school’s homecoming and joined in many of the celebratory activities.
But perhaps the biggest eye-opener came when the group made the walk from LPI to Juarez — the same eerie walk that Chavez talked about with her classmates in Lincoln.
“It’s in moments like those that I think the students collectively realize what effort they put into making it to school every day, and it instills in them a desire to continue doing so,” said NWU junior Meg Nickman.
Junior Sam Fisher said LPI students face the daily obstacle of long bus rides through the violent streets of Juarez followed by an hour of getting through U.S. immigration security.
“One of the biggest things for me and many members on the trip was realizing how little the students have and how happy they were,” he said.
“Students each day struggle and make great sacrifices so they can have a meaningful education,” said senior Tom Schroeder.
And that realization was one of the most important lessons students learned.
“Don’t sacrifice the opportunity and gift you have to study at Nebraska Wesleyan,” said Schroeder.
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