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Inspiring Service in El Paso began with a ‘Chance’ Meeting at a Yoga Studio
By Atma Tattva Das, ISKCON News Staff Writer   |  Apr 15, 2023
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El Paso Community gathered in living room of Krishna Charan Dasa following El Paso’s first Ratha Yatra in October 2021.  All Photos courtesy of Krishna Charan Dasa.

Krishna Conscious devotees have been visiting the border cities of El Paso and Juarez to preach at various yoga centers since the early 1970s, but they now have a permanent presence in the city thanks to a flourishing home program run by a dedicated grihastha couple Krishna Charan Dasa and his wife, Jasmine Kim Fong. It’s called the New Nilachal Bhakti Yoga Community, and it is the temple home of Jagannatha, Balarama, and Subhadra.

A Not-So-Chance Meeting

In 2010, Krishna Charan (then Alfredo Gutierrez) was introduced to Krishna consciousness by a traveling preacher who gave a class in El Paso. Gutierrez didn’t know much about the philosophy at the time but was interested in the spiritual principles presented in the Bhagavad Gita At It Is. However, he lost touch with the devotees, forgot their names, and even forgot what they looked like. It seemed that there was no way to reconnect with them again.

It wasn’t until 2018 that his desire to become a devotee turned to desperation. Still, no regular programs or permanent headquarters in El Paso existed. However, the Hare Krishna devotees visited regularly and hosted hotel programs at the Best Western Hotel and the Hawthorn Suites. 

That was when he became close to Caitanya Chandra Prabhu of Dallas, Texas, who encouraged him to start a home program. “On April 21st, 2019, with five people in attendance, we hosted our first home program,” explained Krishna Charan. As he became more involved in Krishna consciousness, he was determined to find out who gave that yoga studio class back in 2010. Fortunately, the devotees he was now in contact with knew who he was looking for and where to find him; it was Jivananda Dasa Vanacari, who lived in Tucson. “I traveled to Arizona to meet him and was initiated by His Grace in September 2020.”

Caitanya Chandra Prabhu and Jivananda Dasa Vanacari, Radhastami 2019

Krishna Charan discovered that he had a lot to learn about Krishna consciousness. He didn’t know much about Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, the network of Krishna temples, or who Lord Jagannatha, Balarama, and Subhadra were. So, with the help of Chaitanya Chandra Prabhu, their Lordships came to El Paso on October 20, 2019. “Their Lordships showered our program with so much loving devotion that we made quick advancement, and the El Paso devotees started congregating regularly.”

“I’m very fortunate because I open my home to seekers of spiritual wisdom and play a small part in Jagannatha’s mission. However, I owe everything to the senior devotees interested in our El Paso community, including Jivananda Dasa Vanacari, my spiritual master, who encourages and inspires us so much, and the fantastic devotees of ISKCON Tucson, who we visit regularly. Also, Chaitanya Chandra Prabhu who is based in Dallas, Texas, and is my spiritual master’s godbrother – is a great inspiration. They care so much about El Paso and visit us regularly throughout the year. Because of them, our programs and yearly festivals have been possible,” explained Krishna Charan Prabhu. “Then, what I least expected… Jagannatha’s desire to have a Ratha Yatra Festival in El Paso.”

Krishna Charan Dasa at his initiation in 2020 with his spiritual master, Jivananda Dasa Vanacari

El Paso’s Festival of Chariots and other events

Over a hundred devotees from Dallas, Tucson, Denver, Alachua, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Antonio, Mexico, and many more places came to put this festival together – a great effort requiring collaborative participation to accomplish such a feat. The small group of El Paso, averaging at least 20 regular people every Sunday, welcomed all the mercy and assistance it received through ISKCON devotees nationwide. “We definitely would not have been able to host the Ratha Yatra festival successfully if it weren’t for the volunteers who came to help us from various ISKCON temples around the United States.” 

Kesava Priya Prabhu, an Indradyumna Swami disciple who lives in El Paso, generously offered accommodation, travel, and meals to visiting devotees. “Because of his vision and dedication, he sponsored the Ratha Yatra festival in honor of his spiritual master,” Krishna Charan noted. As a result, El Paso’s Festival of Chariots attracted over 3,000 El Pasoans in 2021 and over 5,000 in 2022.

Furthermore, thanks to Kesave Priya, the El Paso devotees hosted a more intimate festival called ‘Fiesta del Alma’ (the Festival of the Soul) on Gaura Purnima 2022. They were blessed to host Indradyumna Swami alongside three hundred of his disciples, who came for the event. “Maharaj hadn’t been to the United States for a long time since COVID-19, and his presence was ever so sweet and encouraging,” said Krishna Charan. “There were at least 600 people in attendance, and Nitai Gaura Chandra, deities of Lord Nitchananda and Lord Caitanya, came to El Paso to make El Paso their permanent home alongside Jagannatha, Balarama, and Subhadra.”  

El Paso’s Jagannatha, Balarama, and Subhadra

In Closing

“We are praying that the devotees worldwide will continue to bless our humble home program,” remarked Krishna Charan, “May our pebble-size contribution be pleasing to Guru and Gauranga, to Srila Prabhupada, and to all the devotees around the world. Hare Krishna!”  

To learn more about this inspiring community, you can visit their Facebook page here:

https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100070540630126&mibextid=LQQJ4d

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