Border violence prompts decline in mission trips
    March 9 2011 by John Hall, Associated Baptist Press

    BROWNSVILLE, Texas (ABP) — Violence between drug cartels in Mexican border towns has cut into the number of mission trips in the area. In some cases, it has led church groups, even those who have served in the area for years, to cancel trips to sites on the Texas side of the border as well.

    The Baptist General Convention of Texas encourages groups who want to serve along the Texas-Mexico border to minister on the Texas side of the Rio Grande, said Daniel Rangel, director of Texas Baptists’ River Ministry.

    A few teams have chosen to serve in Mexico. The BGCT requires those who want to minister there to spend their evenings on the Texas side of the border if they want the convention’s assistance in facilitating the groups’ efforts.

    Despite the encouragement to serve in Texas, some areas in South Texas have seen a significant drop in the number of mission teams serving, and the overall number of mission teams through River Ministry has decreased since the Mexico border violence broke out.

    In the past, River Ministry facilitated 50 El Paso mission teams in a typical year. Last year, it helped seven. The number of trips working through the Rio Grande Valley Baptist Association has been cut in half to 25.

    As a result of the border violence, a number of Mexico-based ministry agencies have partnered with Buckner International, increasing the number of mission groups Buckner expects to facilitate in 2011, said Jorge Zapata, director of Buckner International’s colonias program.

    Congregations are choosing not to minister along the border as a result of the reports of violence in Mexico border towns, Rangel said. Although River Ministry, Buckner and Valley Baptist Missions Education Center have facilitated mission trips throughout the Texas side of the border without incident, some church members and leaders are hesitant to undertake mission work there.

    Some churches try to put together teams, but find people aren’t willing to go to the border because of safety concerns, ministry leaders said. Some churches plan to do mission trips to the border, but volunteers to go on the trips never materialize.

    “I think everybody has great intentions,” said Jamie Campbell, facilities manager at Valley Baptist Missions Education Center. “Their heart says we have served in the Valley or served along the border before, and they want to go again. They say let’s go ahead and plan like we’ve always done before. I think what’s happening is the mission teams aren’t stepping up.”

    Many border mission teams traditionally have been made up of youth, and parents do not want to take a chance sending their children to the border. Texas border ministry leaders said they understand church members’ concerns, but they quickly note the Texas side of the border is as safe as any large Texas city — and probably more so. Texas Baptist ministries particularly are careful about the situations in which they place volunteers, attempting to place people where they can minister safely.

    “As a parent, I understand the concern about sending your child down,” Campbell said.

    “What they have to realize is none of us would put your children in a situation where there is any danger. We simply wouldn’t do that. It wouldn’t be responsible.”

    (EDITOR’S NOTE — Hall writes for Texas Baptist Communications.)


    Helpful tips for border missions
    Leaders of mission work along the Texas-Mexico border shared several helpful hints for volunteers who feel called to share the hope of Christ in the region through mission trips:
    • Work on the Texas side of the border. Although drug cartel violence has not ravaged the entire Mexico side of the border, organizations continue urging mission teams to work along the Texas side of the border where the physical and spiritual needs remain great, and the region is safe.
    • Partner with trusted organizations. There are a multitude of churches and ministry organizations along the Texas border. Choosing an organization that is known and trusted like those supported by Texas Baptists’ Cooperative Program giving — Texas Baptists’ River Ministry, Buckner International and Valley Baptist Missions Education Center — helps church groups know they will be well taken care of and put in a position where they can have a long-lasting impact for God’s kingdom.
    • Listen to local leaders and organizers and do as they say. Local residents and ministries know the area better than visitors coming into it. While the Texas border remains safe, it is always important to remain in areas organized have already scouted. It not only does it keep teams safe, but also enables them to work together better and accomplish the task at hand.
    • Consider staying at a Christian retreat center. There are several retreat centers along the Texas border designed to host mission teams. Many of them —like Valley Baptist Missions Education Center — can help connect mission teams with projects, provide three full meals each day to each trip participant and allow space for teams to debrief at the end of the day — all at prices drastically lower than what it would cost to stay at a hotel and eat at restaurants. And the money spent at these retreat centers is invested back into ministry and mission efforts.
    • Expect God to work before a trip, during the trip and after it. Missions leaders believe people along the border are more open to the gospel than they typically are because of the violence on the other side of the border. Organizers encourage team members to prepare themselves through prayer and studying the Bible before the trip, during the trip and long after the trip finishes. God will change the lives of people mission volunteers encounter along the border, mission leaders said. Lives of volunteers also may be changed.
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    3/9/2011 1:27:00 PM by John Hall, Associated Baptist Press | with 0 comments




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