Editor’s Note: In 2010, we posted a letter from Andres Garza, our Network leader for the church planting movement in Northern Mexico, regarding the recent escalation of drug-related violence there. Since then more civilians, including US missionaries, have been killed, and a shootout occurred right in front of Andres’ house. Below is a recent letter he sent to the U.S. churches who partner with them.
Monterrey, Mexico February 2011
Dear Partners in God's kingdom work in Northern Mexico:
With great pain in our hearts we need to tell you that as we predicted last year, the beginning of 2011 has brought increased violent crime for this city. As the government fights against the two gangs of drug dealers, the gangs retaliate more frequently. At the end of 2010, we said that the crime would probably grow in 2011, but still we were hoping that something would change. What we predicted is happening already.
Last year this violence was mostly occurring outside the city and in a few areas among the poor and oppressed sections of Monterrey. Even when the city is working and moving normally, our biggest concern is that over the last couple of months, the violence is increasing in the very areas where we are planting churches, such as West Cumbres, Apodaca, San Nicolas, and the south end of Monterrey. Last year we were able to avoid the difficult areas, but now, the difficulties are coming to our ministry areas in the city.
As one pastor who wanted to bring a group this summer said, “If crime is becoming a big problem, this could be a sign that your church planting movement is being used by the Lord.” Certainly, we are not sure to call this issue a sign, but what we are sure is that the Lord is working very much through us and He is in control of this city.
He is showing us his presence in many ways: the growth of our new churches, people coming looking for hope, church members becoming more sensitive to the needs of the city, and whole communities—even we missionaries—are continuing to mature in our dependency on God alone, and are developing a greater commitment to church planting.
Unfortunately, we also are experimenting negative effects of the violence registered in the city. We need to avoid activities after 10 pm or before 7am, we need to be much more careful where we drive and what kind of vehicles we drive, we cannot go to the border easily, our wives and little children are on our minds, we have to avoid traveling or driving big groups in one van or bus, and so forth.
As a result of these concerns, and this may be the most difficult decision we have made in the last 10 years in our ministry in Northern Mexico, we are sorry to communicate to you that we are cancelling all the short term teams for 2011. You have no idea how difficult it has been for us to make this decision, but after many prayers, considerations and risk possibilities, we have to tell you that for this year it is too dangerous to send a group to Monterrey, Victoria or Saltillo. We will continue with our regular ministries such as VBS, sports ministries, medical brigades and so forth; however, this summer won’t be the same, and we will miss your visits very much.
However, we need your help and prayers more than ever. As Babylon needed to see the people of God as an alternative for their lives, Monterrey, Victoria and Saltillo need to see the church of Jesus Christ as an alternative for hope and gospel transformation. The government, army and police are not the hope of these cities, but the church of Jesus Christ and His gospel is the only hope.
The Lord called his people to incarnate their lives and way of life in Babylon to be hope in the middle of darkness. In the same way, we as the people of God are called to incarnate our ministry in the cities where the Lord is sending us to serve. We are sure that this is very difficult, but we are looking to Christ as God incarnate dwelling among his enemies, showing His love for us.
Christ knows our struggles because He passed through these struggles, too. He understands our weaknesses and He is responding to our prayers. Some things that we are now planning to do through our “Jeremiah 29” initiative are as follows:
a) To intensify our preaching, teaching and encouraging a gospel-centered passion and love for the cities where we are serving and a passion to meet their felt and real needs.
b) To train people about what to do when crime occurs.
c) To emphasize the ministry of our churches as centers of discipleship and counseling to serve Christians and non-Christians.
d) To secure the homes of pastors and missionaries of our church planting movement.
e) To facilitate public prayer gatherings in different areas of the city.
e) Other opportunities such as, offering hope through Gospel messages around the city using billboards, among other ways.
This effort will need financial support. As a part of your missions program, we ask you to consider giving to this ministry as an extraordinary help to Northern Mexico. Please email agarzaayala @ aim.com to get in touch with us.
Please also pray for our cities, our families, our church planting, and especially for wisdom, protection, and opportunities to minster through this hostile environment in which we are living.
We need you now more than ever, we need you to pray more than ever, we need your advice more than ever, we need your financial support more than ever, we need more long-term helpers in Monterrey, Victoria and Saltillo more than ever.
Northern Mexico’s cities need the love and hope of Jesus Christ more than ever!!!
May the Lord bless you very much.
For The Northern Mexico Network,
Caleb Dunn (ITEM President)
Chris Koiner ( Administration and Entrepreneur’s ministry)
Carol Oban (Administrator and Short-Term)
Gamaliel Pozos (ITEM and Victoria Veinte Veinte)
Jorge Aleman (ITEM academic dean)
Jarret Hall (ITEM and Church Planting)
Rafael Rodriguez (Church Planting Coordinator)
Michael Lee (ITEM and Church Planting)
Maricela Aleman (Children’s ministry)
Priscila Echegollen (Counseling Ministry)
Ruth Garza (Women’s Ministry)
Sussan Sundeen (Short-term and teachers trainer Durango)
Scott Craig (Short-Term and Logistics Development)