February 8th, 2011 at 11:34 am
BROWNSVILLE – Violence between drug cartels in Mexican border towns has drastically cut into the number of mission trips in the area and in some cases has led church groups – even those who have served in the area for years – to cancel trips to locales on the Texas side of the border as well.
Daniel Rangel, director of Texas Baptists River Ministry, said the convention strongly is encouraging groups wanting to serve along the Texas-Mexico border to minister on the Texas side of the boundary. Few teams have gone ahead and served in Mexico, and the convention 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 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 years past, River Ministry facilitated 50 El Paso mission teams in a typical year. Last year, it helped seven teams there. The number of trips working through the Rio Grande Valley Baptist Association has been cut in half to 25. However, in the past three years the number of mission teams serving in Laredo through River Ministry has grown from zero to 40.
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.
Missions efforts through River Ministry, Valley Baptist Missions and Education Center and Buckner are supported by the Texas Baptist Cooperative Program, Texas Baptists primary giving channel. River Ministry also receives funding through gifts to the Mary Hill Davis Offering for Texas Missions.
Congregations are choosing not minister along the border as a result of the reports of violence in Mexico border towns, Rangel said. Though 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 at least 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 quickly note that the Texas side of the border is at least 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 set people in places where they can safely minister and expand God’s kingdom.
“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.”
Churches that choose not to serve along the Texas-Mexico border are missing a significant opportunity to share the gospel. People on both sides of the border are searching for answers and looking for peace, Rangel said.
“People are open to the gospel more so than other times,’ Rangel said. “It’s during crises that people are open to the gospel. Now is the time for evangelistic outreach. People are searching for security and comfort, and that is Jesus.”
Zapata agreed, noting the opportunities to building God’s kingdom along the border are vast and diverse, including chances for congregations to build homes, feed the hungry, conduct Vacation Bible Schools, hold backyard Bible clubs and perform medical and dental clinics. In some cases, churches serving in Texas can minister to people from Mexico.
“There are a lot of people who need Christ,” he said. “There are a lot of people who fled the Mexico side and are living with family on this side of the border. The need is great.”
For more information about mission opportunities along the Texas-Mexico border, call Rangel at 888-244-9400.