Feature

Just Across the Rio

Perseverance in Juárez

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Deadly violence in Mexico has made headlines in U.S. media outlets recently. Not only criminals but also innocent people have suffered as a result of the battles between rival drug cartels. The president of Mexico, Felipe Calderon, ordered Mexican troops to enter Ciudad Juárez to quell the violence and restore order. Since then, federal police and the army have worked their way through the barrios (neighborhoods) looking for weapons and drugs.

Although the presence of 6,000 Mexican soldiers has reduced other types of crime, the warring cartels make frequent use of drive-by shootings, gang-related executions and torture. The battle for control has claimed nearly 3,000 lives in the Juárez area since January 2008. In August alone, there were about 300 homicides in this city of 1.5 million people.* The escalating violence has generated great fear, and many Mexicans have fled to El Paso, Texas, just over the Rio Grande, to escape the turbulence.

Vision Over Violence

In the midst of the storm, God has been blessing the members of the eight Alliance churches in Juárez. While believers are careful, worship in churches as well as evangelism continue throughout the city, and no deaths or injuries to members can be attributed to the violence.

Pastor Tomas Ben Como, formerly the president of the Alliance church of Mexico and now director of missionary outreach, is a visionary. He has spearheaded the drive to bring the Alliance churches in Juárez together in an effort to impact not only the people of this troubled city with the gospel but also four Indian groups, largely unreached, who live deep in the mountains of Mexico. His burden for the indigenous peoples stretches over a 15-year span. He, Brenda Granados (his assistant) and many others have worked tirelessly to bring food, clothing, medicine, work teams and the gospel to these mountain people.

Change of Plans

Mexican border towns and cities are favorite areas for short-term missionaries from the United States. But this summer, the U.S. Consulate General urged all Americans to exercise a high degree of caution when traveling to Ciudad Juárez and within the state of Chihuahua. Sadly, even before the consulate’s warning in July, some missions trips were canceled due to personal safety issues as well as concern about the H1N1 virus outbreak and a sagging economy.

For the past 13 years Front Range Alliance Church (FRAC) in Colorado Springs, Colorado, has been working hand in hand with the Mexican Alliance church in Juárez. FRAC members, along with other U.S. Alliance churches, have been building a Bible institute, conducting vacation Bible schools, installing roofs, building walls and working on a camp project in the central mountains of Mexico.

Before our annual trip this past June, team members carefully considered the downside. The possibility of violence and swine flu were still in our minds, but we thought that we would proceed and trust God to prepare the way before us.

And so He did.

Why Go?

Upon arrival we were greeted by Pastor Como; his wife, Maria, and Brenda. FRAC’s project this year was to put a roof on the newest addition to the Fred Smith Bible Institute. When we arrived we had only a steel frame to build upon. When we left five days later, the supporting posts were up, the stringers connected, the insulation laid and the roof installed. A feeling of great accomplishment swept over us as we realized that we had done something to glorify God and move the project one more step toward completion. For a group of high school kids, young adults and older people who probably shouldn’t be dangling high above the ground, we gave thanks to God for this opportunity and His care.

FRAC members feel that not only should we be diligent in giving money and praying for our Mexican brothers and sisters but also that active participation in missions projects is what the church is required to do. Ministering to the needs of the Mexican church allows us to come alongside its members and be the hands of Christ. Why do we keep traveling to Mexico? We go for three reasons.

1. We are called
God has teamed together the churches of Juárez and FRAC for a purpose. It would be easy to go on one or two trips and then say, “We have done our part. Now someone else from the United States can do theirs.” But we feel that there is so much to do there and we see that we have an opportunity to meet that need. We are gifted in the areas in which we serve and are eager to share those gifts.

2. We are a blessing & are blessed
Every time we go to Juárez we desire to bless the churches. We want to take our abilities, our time and our financial resources to meet the needs of others. As the churches in Macedonia shared their wealth with the churches in Jerusalem, we also can minister in Mexico by helping to fill the churches’ needs. Are we blessed? Of course! When we get back to the Springs we feel that we have accomplished something for the Kingdom. Our blood, tears, toil and sweat have paid off. Our labor will have far-reaching implications. We do not glory in what we have done but in the impact our actions will have in Juárez and Mexico.

Personally, I come home energized to return to Mexico next year. I am blessed to watch our Mexican brothers and sisters exercise their faith in worship, word and action. Their enthusiasm is a real encouragement to me as I walk my own spiritual journey.

3. We set an example
Recently, Pastor Tomas told us that our continued support for the churches in Juárez has motivated them to be faithful to the vision that God has for them. Leadership by example goes a long way. Consistency pays off. We want to encourage the churches by being faithful in demonstrating God’s love to them. Continue to pray for our brothers and sisters as they reach out to people affected by the drug-cartel crisis.

To go to Mexico is a pleasure. The love and fellowship we experience with our Mexican coworkers is ever deepening, and they take tremendous care of us. We deal with challenges as we go. The temperature is more than 100°, the days are 10 to 12 hours long, the work is hard and we are exhausted at the end of the week. But why not? We are doing God’s work and that is what counts.

*The El Paso Times, downloaded Sept. 4, 2009.

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