Violence in Mexico impacts spring break plans

| March 23, 2010

Recent violence across Mexico has impacted spring break and mission trips to the country.

Last week, news agencies reported the shooting of two American citizens in Cuidad Juarez, Chihuahua, in northern Mexico. In the western state of Guerrero, at least 25 people were killed in a series of violent acts March 13. In addition, the bodies of 14 people were found in various parts of the resort city of Acapulco.

Last week, while most schools in Kansas were on spring break, a group of 16 Kansas City Metro residents left March 13 bound for Ciudad Juarez to build a house for a family in need. (The reporter accompanied the group on the trip.)

“We received news while on a rest stop in Oklahoma about the shootings,” said German Portillo, team leader and praise and worship leader at Kaw Prairie Community Church, in Lenexa, Kan. “We were also told a man was shot just outside the camp where we were going to be staying. It was the result of a party getting out of hand, but the mission camp was being evacuated for safety.”

Mexican authorities report that more than 2,600 people were killed in Ciudad Juarez in 2009. Additionally, the city of 1.3 million people experienced more than 16,000 car thefts and 1,900 carjackings in 2009.

The Kansas City group members consulted with a group of 18 residents from Wichita, Kan., they were planning to work with in Mexico and decided an alternate plan must be made.

“We had five kids under the age of 18 in the whole group so it was a tough decision,” Portillo said. “I am thankful their parents were all there with them.”

The groups were rerouted to Puerto Piñasco, across from Baja California, which added an extra day to the trip, giving them two days to build the home.

After driving through a snow storm in New Mexico that claimed the lives of four teenagers traveling with another group, the four vans filled with 32 people arrived in Puerto Piñasco Monday night.

“We knew we had a job to do and it was not going to be easy,” Portillo said. “We put up the house in record time. I know a lot of other groups never made it to their destinations and many people in Mexico suffered this week.”

The location where the home was built did not have electricity. So, the home was constructed with hand tools.

Bryan Kidney, finance director for the city of Shawnee, Kan., who was also on the trip, said the biggest regret was not being able to give the family in Ciudad Juarez a home.

“They are going to have to wait even longer to have a home of their own,” Kidney said. “I feel badly for them. There are so many families in Mexico in the same situation.”

All members of the group said they were not prepared for the culture shock they experienced in Puerto Piñasco.

While one side of the city is a beach resort, the area where they were working was poverty stricken.

“Most homes had dirt floors – some people did not even have homes,” Wendy Trueblood said. “They lived in cars, in structures constructed out of straps. Water was not readily available and there was no electricity in the homes.”

U.S. government travel warnings

The Department of State has issued a travel warning until April 12 for U.S. citizens traveling to Mexico.

Specific areas of concern include the states of Durango, Coahuila and Chihuahua.

Dependents of U.S. government personnel from U.S. consulates in the Northern Mexican border cities of Tijuana, Nogales, Ciudad Juarez, Nuevo Laredo, Monterrey and Matamoros have been authorized to evacuate.

“While millions of U.S. citizens safely visit Mexico each year (including tens of thousands who cross the land border daily for study, tourism or business and nearly one million U.S. citizens who live in Mexico), violence in the country has increased,” according to a statement from the Department of State. “It is imperative that U.S. citizens understand the risks in Mexico, how best to avoid dangerous situations and who to contact if victimized.”

Officials are advising tourists to avoid traveling at night, visit only legitimate business and tourist areas during daylight hours and avoid areas where prostitution and drug dealing might occur.

Waits at the border entering and exiting Mexico have been shorter than usual. Prior to entering Mexico, the U.S. Border Patrol will ask questions about destination, the amount of money a group is carrying and more to ensure the safety of U.S. citizens.


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Category: Mission Trip/Missionary Security

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