Christians strategize, gather supplies amid Mexican flu outbreak
“These things are in high demand right now,” McClue said in an April 29 e-mail from Tlalpan, a borough in southwestern Mexico City with more than half a million souls.
“Almost every person, in a city of 20 million, is wearing a surgical mask,” the missionary and church planter said.
In Mexico, wearing a mask when ill is considered proper etiquette. “So it really doesn’t seem that strange to the people here — only the fact that almost everyone has one on all the time, which is a continual reminder of the need to take all the precautions when you are out on the street.”
An outbreak of swine flu is suspected as the cause of 168 deaths in Mexico — most in the Mexican capital. No cases have been reported among the 70 members of the Tlalpan church, or the nearly 500 church members across Mexico City, McClue said.
Churches, along with schools, government offices and restaurants across Mexico, are on lock-down.
“We are not allowed to have public meetings,” McClue said, “but each of the families from the church has been doing small groups in their homes. We are keeping in touch with one another daily through phone calls and a few short visits.”
The missionary, his wife, Jeni, and their children, Sarah and Philip, will depart soon for Phoenix for an early summer break. Many Mexico City residents are doing likewise, leaving the quarantined city for the sunny beaches of Acapulco and other vacation spots, McClue said.
Before they packed, the missionaries helped eight student interns in the Adventures in Missions, or AIM, program arrange flights back home. Lubbock, Texas-based Sunset International Bible Institute, which oversees AIM, recalled its teams in Tlalpan and Cuernavaca.
“Things seem to be getting worse, and we didn’t want to take any chances,” said Kris Smith, director of Adventures in Missions. “We have several new teams who are scheduled to go to Mexico, but they are being asked to arrive a month later — in June instead of May — so we can have more time to know if things are going to improve there or not.”
Paying for last-minute flights was a financial burden for the team members, said Brettin White, a member of the Tlalpan AIM team. White and teammates Toby Decker and Chutney Gates and Jennifer Williams, a member of the Cuernavaca AIM team, are back in Tulsa, Okla., where they attend the Memorial Drive Church of Christ.
“We’re all pretty stressed right now,” White said, “since this sudden change has separated us from our work and our friends in Mexico. It’s good to see family here, but our hearts are still in Mexico.”
The apprentice missionaries will stay in the U.S. for at least three weeks, said Rudy Wray, a dean of ministry training for Sunset.
“These students ride the city buses each day, and we thought it best to err on the side of caution.” Wray said.
An Adventures in Missions team in Guadalajara — where no cases of swine flu have yet been reported — has not yet decided whether to stay or return to the U.S., Smith said. Full-time missionaries in Mexico associated with Sunset “are staying and continuing their work,” Wray added.
Across the U.S., churches planning summer mission trips to Mexico are watching the news as they consider their options.
“What we are going to do, how this is going to impact us … we’re looking at it daily, probably just like everybody else is,” Shannon Townley, a member of the North Raleigh, N.C., Church of Christ, told television station NBC17.
Townley, who travels to Mexico about three times each year, plans to accompany a team of church members on a July medical mission trip with Baja Missions, an outreach group.
The mission’s goal is to build a day care center and host five days of medical and dental clinics for families who have little or no access to health care.
“It might be their one chance to see a doctor and get something fixed,” Townley said. “They might lose out on that opportunity if this becomes so large that we couldn’t travel.”
Luiz Seckler, of Harvest Ministries, sponsored by the University church in Abilene, Texas, has a commitment to travel to Chihuahua, in northern Mexico, in mid-May. No cases of swine flu have yet been reported there.
“We are waiting until May 6 to make a final decision,” Seckler said. “I am leaning heavily on the local brethren … as to whether we should go ahead or postpone it.”
Workers with Ciudad de Angeles (City of Angels) in Cozumel also are taking a wait-and-see approach, director Gary Gardner said. Summer mission teams are scheduled to arrive at the children’s home in late May. The ministry launched a discussion thread on its Facebook.com Web page for church members to discuss the latest developments.
WORKERS FRUSTRATED, PRAYERFUL
“It all started with the economic crisis, then drug lords and now pig flu!” missionary Shawn Gary wrote in a recent blog post.
“You have got to be kidding me!” Gary wrote. “Does it ever stop?”
Gary, a member of a mission team in Leon, about 200 miles northwest of Mexico City, said that many U.S. teams already had canceled trips south of the border due to the faltering global economy and news reports of drug-related violence in cities near the U.S./Mexico border. The flu epidemic likely will result in more cancellations.
“It’s like Satan knew something great was going to happen in Mexico this summer, and he’s pulled all the strings to keep it from happening,” Gary wrote.
Gary asked church members worldwide to pray for victims of the swine flu and the Mexican people.
“We need more workers, more help, more supporters, even just warm bodies to get the word out to Mexico,” he said. “Now, more than ever, Mexico needs a Savior, and the (Mexican) states seems to be a phone call away from lockdown.
To contribute to the purchase of surgical masks, rubber glove and hand sanitizer for Mexico, contact Sean and Jeni McClue’s supporting congregation, the Palo Verde Church of Christ in Tucson, Ariz., at www.paloverdechurch.org or (520) 886-1295.