The swirling, wind-driven dust stains the sky like a sallow bruise. Yet Aaron"Rudy" Fraire seems oblivious to the coarse, overwhelming pall, humming thetune of a song he penned while he works alongside a group of men who, forthe most part, are strangers.

"I feel honored having all my brothers here," the evangelist and pastor says,standing in a narrow hallway inside a Lutheran orphanage.

He then peers out the doorway across the rutted dirt roads of the squattervillage of Anapra on the fringes of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, and says: "Weare united in Christ. We all swallow the same dust and dig it out of ourears. But I am honored because my fellow workers all have a giving heartthat motivates me to continue moving forward."

Smiling, he turns to the group of men bowing their heads as a Spanish-speakingpastor blesses an unlikely meal of Mexican rice, beans, corn tortillas, tunacasserole, punch, and chocolate SnackWells spread out across four eight-footfolding tables.

Linking congregations
In this tense Southwest border region, Fraire is among a growing number ofLatino and Anglo pastors who are keenly aware that political and economicboundaries between Mexico and the United States are undercutting the workof the church. A new organization, Casas por Cristo, based in El Paso, hasdeveloped a program to link Latino and Anglo congregations through buildinghouses for the poor around Ciudad Juarez, across the Rio Grande from El Paso.

As their noontime meal begins, silence passes quickly as 12 pastors or religiousadministrators from El Paso and six pastors from Juarez, all of variousdenominations, begin to communicate.

Some of the men speak in broken, little-used phrases of high-school Spanish,and the others in English learned mainly from American top-40 radio stationsand television, whose signals bleed across the U.S.-Mexico border.

These men, most of whom sport facial masks to filter the strafing dust asthey work, have joined in an effort to build a new home in this village wherepotable water is hard to come by and electricity is stolen from power lineswith "diablitos"—thin copper wiring so called because the "little devils"often catch fire.

The busy religious leaders, who cannot often participate in hands-on efforts,may be building a two-room home for an Anapra family with 11 children nowliving in a cardboard-and-wood pallet shanty. But they are all consciousthat the construction project is only a foundation for building longer-lastingand more powerful cross-border relations.

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"We're building a home, that's true," says Barney Field, head of El Pasofor Jesus. "But we're also building a bridge between the two countries thatwe hope will benefit many, many people."

The group members soon discover how much they have in common as they exchangeE-mail addresses or comment on the quality of sermons on the "Best of theChristian Web."

As orphaned children scurry between and under the tables, some of the mencarefully dab half a spoonful of a red chile salsa onto their beans. Facescontort, and laughter erupts from Mexican pastors who bite off mouthfulsof jalapenos as they mix the tuna casserole with rice in a rolled-uptortilla.

Without hesitating, Rix Tillman, senior pastor at Immanuel Baptist Churchin El Paso, enlists Fraire in an impromptu rendition of a Spanish song oftenoffered as a prayer to Jesus Christ.

Tillman leads off in a heavily accented Spanish, but he is quickly outdoneby Fraire, who recently recorded a cassette tape of eight Mexican-style religioussongs he penned and dedicated to his wife and children. Fraire, pastor ofCentro Cristiano Bethesda in Juarez, puts his arm around Tillman and thankshim for the duet. "The house we're building is the end product of our labor,but everything else, like the singing and brotherhood, is the important part,"says Tillman, now thanking a group of five women who prepared the meal.

More than home building
Casas por Cristo, a nonprofit organization run by Wesley Bell, uses a networkof Juarez-area pastors to find the families, who must own the property onwhich the homes will be built.

"These men run churches and inspire members of their congregations andcommunities, but today they are little more than workers with one commongoal—building a house," Bell says.

"We just brought them together, but they have goals as individuals and asa group that Casas por Cristo, hopefully, helped move along."

It is not yet noon in El Paso, but across the border in Anapra, less thana quarter-mile from the Rio Grande, the pastors and religious leaders areback atop the low-lying hill where they are building the garage-sized home.

As the punishing dust storm continues, they cannot see the ornate towersof the Bhutanese-style building of the University of Texas at El Paso orthe mountains in Juarez where the massive words La Biblia Es La Verdad,Leela ("The Bible Is the Truth, Read It") have been whitewashedonto its side.

Indeed, reading the Bible is a vocation for these leaders. But it has nowbecome a passionate crusade. Under the direction of Pastors for Jesus andin cooperation with the Bible Society, more than 70 pastors—from Lutheransto Baptists and Catholic priests—have joined together to promote the readingof the Bible. Since January, the pastors have been working to get peoplethroughout the world to commit to reading the New Testament in one year.They ask that individuals, families, or friends sit for five minutes a dayand read the Bible.

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The project, called "1997: The Year of the Bible," is visible throughoutEl Paso and Juarez as billboards proclaiming Bible reading dot the highwaysand centers of the cities. To promote and support the effort, Bible passagesappear every Sunday in newspapers and other periodicals throughout the region.

The cross-border efforts continued in May when Argentina-born Luis Palaucame to Juarez for a five-day crusade and two-day Spanish-language rally,followed by a five-day crusade in El Paso.

Near the close of the workday, as the wind pulls insulation from the handsof those working around him, Juarez pastor Galdino Loaeza of Iglesia BautistaBetrean rests for a moment on a large toolbox. "It was 82 degrees yesterday,and now look around at how it looks like winter," says Loaeza, grabbing ahammer tightly as he begins pounding nails into a two-by-four.

"But this that we are doing, what's happening, not just building the house,but bringing religions, pastors, and people together, is a beautiful thing.What comes next is really the miracle."

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