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READER FEEDBACK: Is it safe to go to Mexico?

Children at Casa de la Esperanza in Mexico (Photo provided by Russ Whitten)

Near the U.S./Mexico border, church members are caught in the middle of a war between drug cartels and the Mexican government.
Recently, Mexico’s human rights commission said that 5,397 people have been reported missing since 1996, about the time that President Felipe Calderon declared war on the cartels, the BBC reports.
The border violence has affected Churches of Christ in Mexico. In 2009, Bobby Ross visited the Latin American Christian Institute in Tijuana, Mexico, and reported on the impact of the drug-related violence there. Also that year, church members from South Carolina was interrogated by men with machine guns as they returned from a mission trip to Torreon, Mexico.
In 2010, Rick and Sherry Owens announced that they would no longer take teams of U.S. volunteers to Mexico. For 22 years, the couple helped Mexican Christians construct more than 150 church buildings in Mexico. The Owens planned to continue church construction, they said, but with Mexican work crews. Church youth groups that have crossed the border into Mexico in the past have found alternate locations for mission trips — including Arizona and south Texas.

Becky and Gil Sanchez (Photo provided by Russ Whitten)

Nonetheless, some church groups continue to make mission trips to Mexico without incident. Russ Whitten contacted me earlier this year about a trip he and other church members made to Casa de la Esperanza (“House of Hope”), a children’s home near Anahuac, Mexico.  Gil and Becky Sanchez oversee the ministry. Since 1996, Casa has cared for 338 children — including 54 who live there currently.
Whitten is campus minister for the Meadowlark Church of Christ in Fort Collins, Colo. The church’s Rams for Christ ministry serves Colorado State University. Whitten, his family and a group of university students volunteered their time to serve at the children’s home.
“Despite the discouraging news and warnings about traveling in Mexico these days, we experienced nothing but safe travels,” Whitten said. “In fact, Gil told me that none of the mission teams who have traveled to Casa de la Esperanza in the past several years have experienced any type of violence or danger.
“Our trip to Casa turned out to be a wonderful, safe and relatively inexpensive mission trip for our students and I would highly recommend taking students there.”
(Whitten also told me about Casa’s current struggle to stay on its property. The company that owns the land occupied by the children’s home is negotiating with the ministry’s overseers. The ministry may be forced to relocate. For more information, contact Casa’s supporting congregation, the Southwest Church of Christ in Pueblo, Colo.)
Some questions to consider:
1. Five years after President Calderon’s crackdown on drug cartels, how has the ongoing violence along Mexico’s border impacted Churches of Christ?
2. Has your church canceled, resumed or modified its mission trips to Mexico?
3. Should church members allow safety concerns to determine where and how they do mission work? What factors should churches consider before sending mission teams?
4. These border wars are fueled in part by the U.S. market for illegal drugs. What can U.S. Christians do on their side of the border to address this problem?

5. What is your prayer for the people of Mexico?
As always, we value your comments.

  • Feedback
    As I read the story several thoughts cross my mind … What would Jesus do? What is death to a Christian? Do our brothers and sisters in Mexico need encouragement? Are they in danger daily? What will it take to change the course of history being written at this time in both of our countries. We all want to live, none of us want pain, but Jesus never promised our walk was going to be easy. In fact He promised it would not be easy and not everyone would be willing to follow the path He perscribed. It’s like everything else in life … we as Christians listen to a different leader … and through us others come to know our Father. In some ways there is an easy answer … in other ways it is a most difficult choice. Have you been called to answer the challenge?
    John Lucas
    April, 6 2011

    never thought it might be not safe to go to Mexico! thanks for the post! will keep it in mind!
    April, 7 2011

    Remember that couple sailing around the world distributing bibles who sailed through seas swarming with Somali pirates? While they had been warned they thought they could make it. Well they were wrong. American citizens are not immune to violence in foreign countries and may be targets. Go if you want to go but do not expect help from this side of the border.
    John Jenkins
    April, 8 2011

    Dear Brethren in Christ,
    I’m from Monterrey, M�xico, and my wife is from the city next to Torre�n. Both cities have seen violence due to the fact that the cartels are fighting for the market in those places. Last year we didn’t travel to M�xico (as we normally do each year) because my father-in-law preferred us not to.
    Last week my wife had to go because her mother passed away (NOT related to the violence). She says that things aren’t as bad as one imagines � not that the stories on TV aren’t true, but citizens just keep living their daily lives as always.
    The recommendation is to stay indoors at night � but isn’t that recommendation a good one in all cities to avoid danger? The other recommendation that I would give is, if you travel, don’t travel in a black SUV, those are the vehicles that the cartels like; this is why I was very surprise to hear that the American who died in the highway was traveling in a black SUV (I thought: Didn’t they get the memo not to travel in those kind of vehicles? Black! Suburban! Really? That’s like drawing a target on you for the criminals � and not too dark tinted windows, please).
    Our relatives have already seen these evil people in their vehicles carrying AK-47s and sticking them out of the windows if you get in their way. In front of my in-laws there were six young people killed last year and around the corner of our house (literally). Also last year, it became a war zone one night for 2 hours, where they shoot an incredible amount of rounds of AK-47s and 2 hand grenades. In the morning there was one person killed and a house, the car, the windows, etc. were incredibly full of holes from the bullets (2 small houses apart from ours).
    So, as you decide to go to Mexico, take your precautions just like Jesus said: Be innocent as doves and wise as serpents. Not being prudent as you do God’s will is like tempting God and even the apostles didn’t do that. When it was time to flee through a window, hanging in a basket, (there was) no shame in that.
    So, yes, you can go to M�xico, but always ask for good advice from the people that you are going to visit to avoid danger. I give thanks to God for all the ones who travel to Mexico to help and pray for president Calderon and all the ones who honestly want to get rid of all these criminals so that there might be peace, for this is God’s will, that all men might be saved and come to the knowledge of truth. � Jos� Elmer Pacheco
    Jos� Elmer Pacheco
    April, 8 2011

    We must remember that the entire country of Mexico is not dangerous � just some areas. My husband and I will probably go to southern Mexico this summer. The area there is relatively safe, according to missionaries we help support there.
    Jeanie Riediger
    April, 8 2011

    Traveling to Mexico as an individual and traveling as a leader of a group with the ultimate (earthly speaking at least) responsibility to get the group participants there and back safely is two entirely different things.
    Traveling anywhere has its dangers and it gets more so outside of our country. Mexico in its better days had a certain level of heightened danger, but it seemed managable with heightened awareness and good preparation. The law system there wasn’t the best even then, but there was a system of laws after a fashion such as it was. That to me is the biggest jeopardy right now – the complete lawless nature of the parts that have to be traveled through via vehicle.
    Any time there is any type of tragic incident during a Mission trip, a Ministry can be irrevocably impacted and right now going to Mexico is like daring the odds in my view, especially when it involves taking and being responsible for other people’s children and loved ones.
    Jesus told us the story of the 5 wise and 5 foolish virgins for a reason. Imprudence is not trumped by great faith.
    For right now, lower me down in a basket because I am fearful to go out through the front door. I thought Jose’s words were prescient.
    Mike Watkins
    April, 9 2011

    Danger is everywhere. The greatest danger is giving into Satan’s lies. God’s love is what the people of Mexico need now more than ever to get them through this difficult time. Gil & Becky are doing a wonderful work, not only with the children at Casa, but also in the town of Anahauc. This is just the kind of work that can help resolve the problems in Mexico. Even if you follow all the precautions and still get in a predicament, what could be a better way to die than in serving God?
    As Paul said,”to live is Christ, to die is gain”
    Stephanie Skelton
    April, 11 2011

    As I read the article I was struck by all the numbers and accounts of those being killed in the country of Mexico. It saddens me to think that our world is extremely violent. A world that has been caught up in money and things and that people have stooped low and will kill innocent people to gain power, money and addiction. Unfortunately Mexico is not the only place that occurs, it also occurs here in the United States and to be quite frank, we are a big part of their problem.
    I am currently the Children’s and Family Minister at Mayfair church of Christ in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma and we have traveled to Casa de la Esperanza in Anahuac, Mexico for 12 years over Spring Break and I have directed this trip for 4 years now. We didn’t go in 2009 only because Gil and Becky were still unclear and not aware of everything that was taking place in Juarez and the other parts of Mexico so our elders took his advice and we sadly canceled our trip.
    In 2010, I began preparations again and knew that we would forge ahead unless Gil once again told us it was unsafe. My belief was that the only person that could truly know what was transpiring in Mexico was the person that lived there and traveled back and forth to the states at least one time each month. How could I tell him what traveling was like in LA or Chicago if I had never lived or traveled there? I stood by that philosophy and fortunately our elders were in complete support of us moving ahead with our journey.
    I did add a few more safety measures to our trip and made sure that we were always at the border crossings during the day, we discontinued our trip to the old part of the large city of Chihuahua because of the increased crime and I also submitted our itinerary to the US Consulate in Juarez.
    In 2010 and 2011, we have had 2 successful and uneventful trips to the Casa. Both years there have been 30-40 people who put their lives in God’s hands and have made the life-changing journey to the orphanage. This year we were joined by a smaller group from the Park Avenue Church of Christ in Denison, TX and what a wonderful blessing it was for our 2 churches to serve Him with all our hearts. We were blessed beyond measure because of how much love the children had so missed by the low number of groups coming and they longed to be held and hugged.
    I will not deny that there are risks in this trip, but each day of our lives there are risks. The question is: are you always in His arms while you are taking them? If yes, there’s no better place to be!!!
    Gina Clay
    April, 13 2011

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