People of Willmar: Javier Valenzuela

A man with a mission.

When Javier finished school, in Chihuahua, Mexico at 16, he knew that his best options were north of him in the United States. His father had applied for green cards for the kids, but it was a long and complicated process. Javier decided to go the route that so many in his area use; to go across the river illegally into the United States. It was a frightening process. It was pitch black, there were threats of being caught by Border Agents, and gangs that watched the border for vulnerable people crossing with everything they had. In Javier’s case, that was a backpack that held two pairs of jeans and a few shirts. With the darkness surrounding them, his little brother asked what that howling was, Javier said not to worry. But, he was terrified.

Their uncle, who had papers, was waiting for them at the bus stop. They knew that if they were stopped at any checkpoints, that the boys would need to get out and run. It was the Fourth of July. They picked the holiday, because a lot of border agents requested vacation then and they worked short staffed. After a short stay in El Paso, they made their way to Los Angeles.

With just that backpack and a whole lot of determination, Javier went to work. He took day labor jobs, and many days there was no work available. There were nights he slept under bridges, and days when he went hungry. He came with no English, and it bothered him when he couldn’t understand. With determination, he set out to learn English.

Javier’s father had applied for the green card in 1985. In 1993, he finally received the letter that it was approved. Javier returned to Mexico and completed the legal immigration system, heading back to L.A. as soon as he could.

A tireless and motivated worker, he worked the labor jobs available to him, but knew that he wanted to be in Customer Service, helping people. While in LA, he found a place where he could afford to live in the Mexican Ghetto. He spent five years working full time days and going to school full time nights. Any days he had off, he offered to work for free in customer service departments to watch and learn. This left little time to be at home, but he soon found that trying to walk home late in the evening was dangerous in his neighborhood. The gangs ruled the area. He learned very quickly that he could not avoid them or overcome them. “If you can’t beat them, join them” became his only option for survival.

Javier hangs his head and looks troubled as he talks about that era, saying he is not proud of it. He goes on to proclaim how God saved his life many times and that If God didn’t abandon him then, he certainly won’t now. It was a necessary evil in the circumstance he was in. He had to survive. Knowing right from wrong, Javier walked the line with survival in a gang environment, and was never arrested for anything. He came out with a clean record, his life, and later, God would use his experiences for good.

After 12 years in L.A., Javier’s little brother called from Willmar, MN and asked him to move. Javier found work at Jennie-O in Willmar, and his brother recommended that he take his first paycheck to Bremer bank to cash it. As Javier walked in, he observed the environment. He noticed that he didn’t see a Spanish speaking presence in their customer service. He cashed that first check. The next week, Javier went back, and he opened an account. He also filled out a job application. He would do the same every single pay period from December of 2002 until March of 2003. Each paycheck, an application.

They finally contacted him for an interview and he passionately explained how he could fill a niche at the bank. When he was called back for his second interview with higher management, he met Roger. He and Roger had something in common. Roger was a missionary, and Javier grew up with missionaries coming to his hometown. After another interview with the president, Javier was hired.

Javier took that job but also kept his Jennie-O job. With his determined to survive and thrive personality, he wasn’t ready to give up Jennie-O just yet. Three months into the job at Bremer, they learned of him working two jobs. They encouraged him that he was secure in his position and could let go of his other job.

Javier laughs that he went to Jennie-O and asked about part-time. Instead, he ended up with a second part-time job right at Bremer. Javier notices things about his environment and has the type of mind where he wonders if there is something he could do to make it better. He noticed the bathrooms weren’t as clean as they could be. So, this man who is not too proud to take on any kind of job, went to management and asked if he could clean the bank after he completed his regular work day. He brought along a bag with clothes to change into, and spent both his days and his nights at Bremer.

Little did Javier know, that the conversation during his interview with Roger about Missions, would change his life. Javier became involved in and passionate about missions. While on a mission to Guatemala, on Thursday, June 27, 2013, Javier became a believer and follower of Jesus Christ. With an innate passion to serve others, his job at Bremer opened the door to serving in a new way.

Today, Javier is an American citizen, a Christian, a happily married man, involved in his community, and has a great job. But, he doesn’t sweep any part of his journey to get there under the rug. He notes that God protected him in all his times of trouble; when he didn’t have a place to stay, enough to eat, and when he was surrounded by danger. He knows his story shouldn’t be a secret, because, instead it is a testimony. Javier doesn’t know what God has in store for him next, but he knows God isn’t done with him yet. “Whatever God has planned for me, He is just getting started.” Javier knows that whatever the plan is, it will be good. Having volunteered in the community for fifteen years, Javier has positively impacted the area in many ways. He spearheaded the local Cinco De Mayo celebration. With support from local schools and businesses, this event started back in 2006, continues today, and provides five to six scholarships per year. Javier has a driving energy to serve and he notes that those who need to be served the most are often overlooked. With experience in missions, where people go elsewhere and are servants to the needy, he feels that there is room for us to be missionaries at home. Instead of getting caught up in daily life, to truly take on each day with a missionary’s heart.

Twenty-five years since he was a teenager coming across the border from a missionary served community with a few pairs of jeans in his backpack, this man of God is truly doing just that, serving. He is serving his customers, his community, his family, and most importantly, his God.

– Marn Steinwand

– Photo by Brianna Norby