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Mexico violence affects volunteers’ plans

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (BP)–Several Illinois Baptist churches and associations regularly send mission teams to work in Mexico each summer. This summer, however, a number of mission trips have been cancelled or changed due to rising violence from drug cartels and gangs on the Mexican side of the border.

Kaskaskia Baptist Association has been sending mission teams to the Juarez area the last eight years. Half of the team usually ministers in El Paso, Texas, while the other half works in Juarez. This year, due to reports of violence from local contacts and a travel alert from the U.S. State Department, a team will work only on U.S. side of the border. The group that would have gone to Juarez will now go to Colorado.

“We’ve been advised not to go to Juarez,” said Jim Shemwell, the association’s director of missions. “The pastors we talk with down there are always positive, but when I call them now they say not to come.

“We’re disappointed,” Shemwell said. “We normally do seven to eight projects every year when we are there.”

Shemwell said one of the churches the association normally works with was vandalized and has not held services for a month due to threats it has received. He is also concerned because he is no longer able to reach some of his contacts in Mexico.

Because the mission trip to El Paso is not scheduled until July, Shemwell hopes the violence will have dissipated enough for team members to cross the border early in the morning to hold a Vacation Bible School outside of Juarez. The team would then return to the U.S. by noon.

If that is not possible, Shemwell hopes to find a find a way to get supplies across the border to the church.

“We’ve developed emotional attachments with a lot of people down there,” Shemwell said. “Our people are really worried about their friends.”

Salem South and Nine Mile Baptist associations also have cancelled trips to Mexico.

“It’s not wise for us to go this year,” said Henry Hall, Salem South’s director of missions. “But that’s not to say we will not go back next year.”

Instead, the association is hoping to expand its annual mission trip to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in August to a nearby Native American reservation.

John Baker, Nine Mile’s director of missions, said, “We normally worked with churches doing VBS in the morning and door-to-door evangelism and services in the evening. This year with the U.S. State Department advisory as well as news from personal relationships with people in the El Paso/Juarez area, we are not going to go.”

The association is now looking at other mission trip opportunities for the summer.

Wendy Norvelle, an International Mission Board spokesperson, said in an update to Baptist Press, “We are very concerned about the deteriorating security situation in Mexico and the increased risk to our personnel and volunteers.

“We would tell people to watch the State Department advisories and take heed,” Norvelle told the Illinois Baptist newsjournal. “Continue to stay in touch with local contacts. Mexico is a big place and the possibility of violence may vary from region to region.”

Norvelle said mission teams that do cross the border should “be aware not only where they are going but also where they are driving through.”

When asked about missionaries currently serving in Mexico, Norvelle said, “Anytime there is a situation, our personnel take extra precautions to stay out of harm’s way.”

Norvelle asked Baptists to pray for Mexican nationals as well as IMB personnel to have wisdom as they continue their ministry.
Lisa Sergent is associate editor of the Illinois Baptist newsjournal.

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