‘Messenger Angels’ flap media-friendly wings

In my time with The Associated Press, I spent a week in Juarez, Mexico, reporting a story on a Texas church group that had developed a special relationship with Mexican orphans.

Given my experience in the crime-riddled border city, headlines from Juarez always catch my attention.

The latest has a strong religion angle:

Angels Send Message of Peace to Juarez, Mexico

The piece, aired Monday by NPR, benefits from colorful writing and details. The top of the story:

In the violent border city of Juarez, Mexico, young evangelical Christians are dressing up as “Messenger Angels” to bear silent witness against murder and corruption, to the dismay of the police.

On a recent Saturday morning in the barrio called New Land, at the ragged edge of Juarez, the angels get ready to go to work.

Fifteen young people glue goose down recovered from cast-off comforters onto plastic wings. Others smear on silver makeup, which is, presumably, the color of angels.

This scene is not that different from any church youth group preparing for a Christmas pageant. But that’s about to change.

Carlos Mayorga, an intense 33-year-old man who wears black glasses and a T-shirt that says “Love for Juarez,” is the youth leader for the Psalm 100 Church, to which these young people belong.

“What we’re doing here is preparing signs and wings and robes, so that we can go out into the streets to give our message of peace to this dangerous border city,” he says.

This is one of those “slice of life” reports that takes readers/listeners to the scene of the action. The reporter goes with the angels to a crime scene where a corpse is sprawled facedown as the evangelicals with wings encounter police.

A telling scene:

Two angels climb onto a tin roof and hold up their signs for the cops to see.

A plainclothes officer wearing sunglasses is asked what he thinks of a sign that says, “Corrupt police, seek God.”

“We’re a free country; they can say what they want,” he answers, walking away. “We’re all searching for God.”

After 20 minutes, the angels gather around a group of neighbors that has been quietly watching the strange tableau. The church group prays with them for employment, for better living conditions, for salvation from sin, and for an end to the murders.

After the prayer, several of the residents are weeping.

After finishing the story, I had a mixed reaction.

On the one hand, I saw value in the approach NPR took — which was to shine its camera lens (symbolically speaking) on key pieces of action and let the story unfold naturally.

On the other hand, I found myself wanting to know more about the evangelicals in the angel suits: their beliefs, their spiritual motivations, their faith backgrounds.

My question: Was the glimpse of the angels that NPR gave me all I needed to understand this story? Or would more background have helped the piece? I’m torn on the answer. I’d welcome your feedback, angelic GetReligion readers.

Meanwhile, I was ready to give NPR full credit for a nice piece of original enterprise reporting. But after a quick bit of Googling, I discovered that NPR was late to the “Messenger Angel” party.

The New York Times did this story a month and a half ago. CNN had it a month ago. Fox News featured it about the same time. I may be missing other media coverage.

I can neither confirm nor deny that every time the media report on this, an angel gets his wings.

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About Bobby Ross Jr.

Bobby Ross Jr. is an award-winning reporter and editor with a quarter-century of professional experience. A former religion editor for The Oklahoman and religion writer for The Associated Press, Ross serves as chief correspondent for the The Christian Chronicle. He has reported from 47 states and 11 countries and was honored as the Religion Newswriters Association's 2013 Magazine Reporter of the Year.

  • Julia

    I can neither confirm nor deny that every time the media report on this, an angel gets his wings.

    Very clever.

    But actually Hollywood is getting Christian angels wrong. They are not deceased humans, but incorporeal beings separately created before the events in Genesis.

    Angels doing extra-credit work post-mortem do make for interesting movies, though.

  • Roberto

    Some of the background was there but but it was literally lost in translation. For starters, I’m 90% certain that they were Pentecostals. The name of the church, the fact that the pastor was a woman, and the way that the leader prayed “en el nombre de Cristo Jesus,” (“in Christ Jesus’ name”) sounds familiar to anyone who spent time in the Latino Pentecostal world.

    In my opinion, the story got it right. Given the extraordinary violence being waged in Mexico over the right to sell Norteamericanos drugs, the courage it takes to confront the malefactors and the creativity displayed is far more important than the particulars of their beliefs.