As I mentioned last week, I spent Friday in Mexico with Phil Cunningham of YWAM. We had a fun time meeting some people for coffee and talking about life, touring the YWAM Baja base, grabbing an amazing taco in Rosarito, and getting a glimpse of the vision they have for reaching Baja for Christ.
I live about 30 minutes from the Tijuana border. And I’m ashamed to admit that the last time I crossed the border into Mexico was 2003. Kristen and the kids have never been. (In fairness, the five years that we lived in Romeo, a mere 45 minutes from Canada, we crossed the border three times.)
The Tijuana/San Diego border sees an average of 300,000 people moving between countries daily. Considering San Diego has 1.2 million residents and Tijuana has 1.5 million… you’re talking a lot of people who cross one way or the other each day.
Two Types of San Diego Residents
There are really two types of San Diego residents when it comes to TJ. There are those who go often and those who never go. The average San Diego resident who doesn’t go has a visceral reaction when you mention going to Tijuana. Almost universally you’ll hear people say “Don’t go to TJ. It’s dangerous.” It’s a mantra I’ve had drilled into me since moving here and its had the intended result– I’d never gone to TJ since moving here!
Likewise the news media on the U.S. side does its best to reinforce this concept that TJ is super dangerous. Drugs, human trafficking, gang violence, murders. While it’s true that those are serious issues the end result is that there is an increasing fear of our neighbors to the south building up.
As if any city of 1.5 million in the United States didn’t have drugs, human trafficking, gang violence, or murders?
Fear vs. Reality
Now that I’ve been there I can affirm that not much has changed in Tijuana since my last visit in 2003. If anything, crossing the border both ways is a little simpler. Just like any border crossing around the globe there are procedures. You pull up, show some ID, answer some questions, and hope you don’t get waved in to an inspection lane.
If you’ve never been to a developing nation– or only been to a resort city in a developing nation– than Tijuana will come across as dirty and disorganized. In truth, TJ isn’t unlike many major metropolitans in the United States. There are nice areas and there are nasty areas. There are places where you are likely to get robbed and there are places you can relax. Being that Mexico is a developing nation and Tijuana is a fast-growing city it is no surprise that there are many parts of TJ which are slummy and could use some help. I’m not going to say that Tijuana is an awesome place to visit but I do want to point out that its a typical big city in a developing nation.
But if you watch the news, particularly conservative news, all of the Mexican border areas are filled with people who want to brutally murder Americans on site. Burned in our consciousness are all the Dateline NBC shows, Geraldo standing at the border and saying beheading as many times between commercials as possible, and documentaries showing us how people are being brutally murdered. Let’s remind ourselves of a simple fact… if you aren’t in a gang or not buying drugs or not soliciting a prostitute, you are unlikely to get caught up in anything having to do with drugs, gangs, or prostitution.
The news media, particularly the conservative news media, is well-aware that scaring people leads to good ratings. (Which translates to ad revenue) So it pays well to scare you away from Mexico. And it is working. Big time.
Here’s a little fact for you to think about. Killing innocent Americans is bad business for a drug cartel. With a little street smarts and a good dose of common sense I don’t think there is any reason to avoid going to Mexico altogether. (Obviously, there are plenty of places to avoid after dark! But you’d avoid those same types of places in any city in America.)
Mission trips to Mexico
I think the thing that shocked me the most during my day in TJ was to learn how Christians have stopped coming to Mexico to do missions. Participation is down 50%-75% in recent years.
And why? All of the agencies will tell you the same thing: People are afraid of traveling to Mexico.
I saw this same phenomenon on my Facebook status the other day. Had I posted that I was going out for a taco with my friend Phil, no one would have thought much of it. But because I said I was going to TJ… lots of people were praying for my safety. Now, I appreciate the prayers. But this reveals the fear factor.
I couldn’t help but go down there, see the ministry locations, and hear the news that people aren’t helping as much anymore without being touched.
What’s changing first is my behavior. I know I can’t do a lot but I know that I can both raise awareness of ministry opportunities in TJ as well as make time to go and participate in small ways. Maybe that will mean finding a place to plug in as a family? Or a community group? Or inviting friends to go down to check out ministry stuff? I’m not sure on the exact details yet… but I do know that I can’t serve in Jerusalem and Judea without thinking about the Samaria next door.