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Mission trips: Mexico or Mexi-no?

Jimmy Spears of the Brookline, Mo., church co-owns a roofing company, but pouring a concrete roof for the church in San Antonio De Las Alazanas, Mexico, was a new experience for him. (Photo by Bobby Ross Jr.)

Mexican President Felipe Calderón is in Washington today talking to U.S. lawmakers about immigration policy. On Wednesday, during a visit with U.S. President Barack Obama, Calderon denounced Arizona’s new immigration law as “discriminatory.” Illegal immigration is a complex issue for Churches of Christ near the U.S.-Mexico border, as The Christian Chronicle reported in 2006. More recently, we reported on the transforming effects of legal immigration on churches in the U.S.
But Calderón didn’t go to Washington only to speak about immigration. The Mexican president is embroiled in a brutal conflict as his administration attempts to eliminate Mexico’s powerful drug cartels, and is expected to discuss the ongoing struggles with President Obama. Calderón has deployed 45,000 federal troops and police to combat the drug gangs, yet some of the cartels continue to flourish, as NPR reports. More than 22,700 people have died in clashes between Mexican police and cartels. The Associated Press reports. The Wall Street Journal has an interactive time line on “Mexico’s War on Drugs.”
Last year several Churches of Christ canceled mission trips to Mexico because of concerns about border violence. Chronicle managing editor Bobby Ross Jr. traveled to Tijuana, Mexico, and produced a firsthand report on the situation there.

Rick Owens gives instructions to American volunteers helping with a work project in Mexico. (Photo by Bobby Ross Jr.)

So far this year we’ve received mixed reports on Mexico mission trips. Here in Oklahoma, the Edmond Church of Christ conducted its annual trip to Aquiles, Mexico, without incident. Meanwhile, the Memorial Road Church of Christ canceled a trip to Piedras Negras, Mexico, and will instead send members to help with flood relief in Nashville, Tenn.
A few days ago I received a copy of an e-mail from Rick Owens, a former Alaska oilfield worker who has helped build more than 150 churches all over Mexico. Bobby Ross featured his “Ministry of mortar” in 2008.
With “a heavy heart,” Owens wrote in the e-mail that he will no longer take groups to Mexico:

The situation in Mexico continues to deteriorate. It is not stable and I no longer feel confident that our groups will be safe. The violence is escalating and spreading. There is no way to exaggerate how bad things have gotten. No one could have dreamed that this would happen, and I have no idea how or when it will end.
For 22 years we have worked all over Mexico. Thousands of Americans came every year and we worked all over the country. Twenty two years (and) nobody hurt or killed — that is how it is going to end.

Owens, 63, said that he will continue to build in Mexico, but will use Mexican labor to complete the projects.
Are you planning a mission trip to Mexico this summer? Have any other churches canceled upcoming trips? Why or why not? What are your thoughts on the continuing border violence?
We would love to hear from Christians on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border.

  • Feedback
    Full-time missionaries make a sacrificial commitment to the people in the places they serve, but short-term workers are another matter entirely. Although politics <i>absolutely must not</i> be a factor in deciding whether to do a mission project in a particular country, the safety of volunteers must be taken into account and made a priority. There are no guarantees, but there is good sense.
    Adam Gonnerman
    May, 20 2010

    The Highland Church of Christ in Abilene made a decision last fall to move in different directions after working with Rick Owens for almost 20 years. It was a very hard decision since the trips to Mexico have been life changing for our youth and sponsors. Rick’s efforts are still very close to heart. Last year, we worked with the relief efforts in New Orleans and this year we are working with the Navajo nation in Crownpoint, NM. Short-term efforts are very beneficial to both the missionaries and the groups being helped. We are glad that we do have some options.
    Jim Trietsch
    May, 20 2010

    I get it, Mexcio can be dangerous. Most of what this article is talking about are border towns. The Newnan GA COC will be working summer 2010 inside Mexico City &amp; Apasco. We are working in fairly safe areas with locals we know and who know us, our friends. To say that we will no longer go to the troubled areas is not biblical. Did Jesus only visit the safe places? Did he only go where everything was good? I have worked some inner city areas that gave me much more of a scare than Mexico. But we keep going as that is what Jesus would do. We cannot let our fears judge what is right. We cannot let the news media group an entire country into one sentence as is this case. Yes it can be dangerous, yes there are unknowns that can happen. Faith and prayer will get us there and back. I guess the real qustion for all is, Are we finished? Are we willing to stand up and tell Jesus they were lost but I was not comfortable, I didn’t feel safe. How will he answer? What did the apostles go through? I would not ever put our group into direct conflict as that would not be common sense. But we must continue our efforts to seek the lost, Everywhere, not just where it is convienant and totally safe. NO place is totally safe anymore. Anyone can be attacked anywhere for no reason these days. We must use caution but continue on.
    J. Pilgrim
    May, 20 2010

    We’ve experienced the same responses from churches all over the nation … the bulk of whom have contacted us have decided that it was and still is too dangerous to go to Mexico.
    Sometimes when we desire to go somewhere or do something for the Lord, He leads us in another direction, a “detour.” When the Apostle Paul wanted to go one direction, God led him instead to Macedonia. In New Orleans, we have been blessed by so many Christians who desired to go to Mexico … but, because of the dangers in Mexico, instead came here to New Orleans. Our entire city knows that nothing would be going on if it wasn’t for the churches. That speaks well for the church down here in the future.
    So, even when we may not be going where we thought we should, God sometimes uses this to send us where He needs us to be.
    While these “detours” have been a drawback for the work in Mexico, it has been a God-send for Mission Work in our Country and specifically to our ministry here in New Orleans. We are experiencing massive numbers of Mission Teams this Summer … many who are being “detoured” to New Orleans.
    We continue to receive Mission Teams that come to help “rebuild the walls of people’s lives.” Mexico’s loss … New Orleans gain.
    A preacher once said, “…you find a hurting or a needy population and you will never lack ministry.” Here in New Orleans, we have both a hurting as well as a needy population … and we never lack ministry. In fact, folks come looking for us … asking for continual help. And, we do so.
    Many folks are now Christians because of the work of thousands of Christians who’ve come to help. This may not have happened as quickly if folks had not been “detoured.” This is our busiest Summer Season Schedule ever … with 200 – 400 people per day during our busier weeks.
    “Detours” often lead to multiple blessings–
    * Here in New Orleans, we’ve been extremely blessed by folks who took a “detour” for their Mission Trip.
    * Many of these Mission Teams and their churches have been blessed by their trip here
    * …resulting in blessings back home as a result of taking our vision and mission back home with them
    * …whereby they are now blessing their communities with what they have brought back…demonstrating God’s love to others.
    Whatever our course in life, we will certainly encounter detours from time to time…some of which have been directed by God. Hopefully we will see these detours as blessings from God. And, may we always be able to bless others on these detours by demonstrating God’s love to them.
    We hope that others that are “detoured” whether here in New Orleans or elsewhere will realize that they will be a blessing to so many that need it … and, in turn will be hugely blessed themselves.
    Let Blessings Flow through all Your Detours in Life …
    Fred Franke, Director of Operation Nehemiah
    New Orleans
    Fred Franke
    May, 20 2010

    I agree with all that there are plenty of callings from God that we may all serve. New Orleans needs a lot of help still and thanks be to God for all the workers you guys are receiving. Our position with Mexico is that we support missionaries there and have been going to the same places for years. We have established friendships with the local people and to just walk out on them would be devestating to all. I know that there is a lot of work here in the states to be done as well. We are working with inner city Atlanta this summer ona program. The mission back to Mexico City did not come without a lot of prayer. This year we are not just taking a youth goup. We are taking entire families so that all can see the need. I probably sound defensive of my stance on the Mexico issue but it is only becuase I know the needs there just as others know the needs in their places. As I see it there should be enough christians to help everybody if we would all just go out and do it. We should each go where we feel called. The small towns we are going to outside of Mexico City know very little about the love of Christ. They asked us to come and we just couldn’t say no. I ask that all who read this keep us in your prayers. We will keep all of you in ours.
    J. Pilgrim
    May, 20 2010

    Our short term mission (OneMission.us) is located in Puerto Penasco (Rocky Point), Mexico (50 miles south of the Arizona border) and while we have had a few cancellations, we are gaining other groups. I raise our location for consideration because Mexico is a large country and not all areas are affected the same. Our location has been very safe with no incidents during all of the issues – the border at Lukeville, Az has also been a very safe border with few incidents (We monitor the border websites/alerts daily). In the end, you must pray about it and make the best decision possible with the facts at hand – I know it is always a risk to visit any third world country but every time I see a family handed keys to their new home, my tears makes it worthwhile. I also think of the youth that are missing an experience of a lifetime but I am encouraged by many leaders who are not canceling trips but instead ministering elsewhere.
    Lee Long
    May, 22 2010

    Appreciate the input, everybody. I’ve put together a story for our next print issue and have incorporated a few of your comments (I’ve sent individual e-mails to those quoted.)
    Meanwhile, does anybody have contact information for Rick Owens? The e-mail addresses and phone numbers I’ve tried thus far are out of service. Instead of posting contact info here, please send me an e-mail � [email protected]
    Erik Tryggestad
    May, 22 2010

    Sorry, I have been too busy planning an alternate mission trip to chime in on this great conversation. For the past two years we have planned mission trips to Mexico, and in both instances we cancelled the trip. On both occasions we were heartbroken, but knew that God had other plans for our Juniors and Seniors.
    Last year in Piedras Negras the police chief was assassinated just prior to our departure to that city. This year we were scheduled to serve with one of our missionaries in Morelia to renovate a building that will one day be used for their congregation. Escalating violence, both on the border and in Morlelia (assassination attempt on the top security adviser for the state of Michoacan), and Rick Owen’s e-mail led to our eventual cancellation of this year’s mission trip. Richland Hills has worked with Rick for over 15 years and knows him to be a trusted voice for mission work in Mexico. The picture had become clear – we could not go to Morelia.

    Fortunately I did not have to make the decision alone. I kept up with the latest reports via the web, news articles, missionaries in Mexico, and utilized the State Department. Findings were reported to my ministry team. Together we discussed and prayed about the situation. Eventually we believe, as was the case with Piedras, that critical mass was reached and that we could no longer take students to Mexico. As was the case with Paul in Bithynia (Acts 16:6-10), we are confident that the Lord had other plans for us. Our decision would have likely been different if this were adults (in fact we are sending an adult team to Morelia next week), but I could not put the lives of our students at risk.
    We have used these experiences as spiritually forming moments for our students. Students have been challenged to dialogue with their families about the Christian response regarding Mexico and have been given opportunities to discuss whether they would lead a mission trip there or not. Our families came together in a concert of prayer where we prayed for Mexico, its leaders, the church there, and committed to fast asking the Lord to heal Mexico.
    Equally as important to the spiritual formation that is taking place is that in both instances, last year and this year, we ensured that the work we committed to would be accomplished despite our absence. The space in Morelia which used to be a disco and gay bar will be renovated and as our missionary Sam Gonzalez says – “the Kingdom of God will claim territory from the enemy.” Our families have committed to paying a little more than the cost of our alternate trip so that we can fulfill our commitment to the church in Morelia. Some of our adults are volunteering their time so that the electrical and sound requirements can be met. It has become apparent that everything we faced regarding our mission trip have been obstacles placed before us by our common enemy. The Lord is bigger than all of this, and whether it�s in Mexico or somewhere else he will be glorified.

    Jason Herman
    June, 1 2010

    Hey I think you have a great blog going here, I found it on Bing and plan on returning regularly for the information that you all are providing.
    electronic cig
    June, 7 2010

    We have been going to LaPesca, Tamaulipas, Mexico for more than 10 years. We have never had a problem. The preacher for the congregation we have served phoned us and requested that we not come this year. He advised that there had been many killings snd carjackings and that the members after much prayer had decided it would be unsafe for us to travel there. The congregation has shown much maturity and initiative in our last few visits there and we feel they will continue to grow spiritually and in service. When conditions permit we will resume our visits. In the mean time we will support them financially and in prayer.
    Joe Lightle
    June, 14 2010

    Is it any wonder that the Churches of Christ are (though not uniquely) in decline?
    We are willing to risk inconvenience–but not robbery, kidnapping, or death–to spread the gospel. We pray that God will grant our children safety, and then rely on our own risk assessments to make decisions.
    Where is our trust in God? Where is our faith that no one on earth can subject us to any eternal harm? Where is our willingness to pick up our crosses?
    The simple fact is that the time the Church grew most was when evangelism meant risking a trip to jail or the arena. Want to recapture that growth? Then by all means let us recapture the willingness to rely on prayer, not police, to keep us safe abroad.
    What’s the worst that can happen? A premature trip to heaven? If we’re afraid of death, we forget Him Who long since conquered it.
    Jonathan Clemens
    June, 24 2010

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