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Celebrating 200 Years of Independence

16 Sep



Every September 15th in Mexico the whole country se pone de fiesta (celebrates) to commemorate their Independence Day. But this year was bigger and better than ever as they celebrated 200 years from the beginning of the struggle for Independence. There were many events leading up to the big day and incredible festivities, parades, fireworks and star studded shows marking this momentous occasion.
Not to be left behind, our home church planned a Bicentennial party complete with costumes from the era. We had Pancho Villa, Josefa Ortiz de Dominguez y Jose Maria Morelos y Pavon along with others, represented in historic attire. Aided by a Karaoke, stanzas from many traditional ballads rang out into the night until the time to shout the requisite “Viva Mexico!” honoring the heroes who fought to the death for this country’s freedom.
What a privilege to live in a free country and to be able to celebrate with friends and family who have also experienced freedom in Jesus.
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Is it Safe to Go to (or live in) Mexico?

31 Mar

Given the very negative publicity Mexico has received in the major news media since last year, the recent alert by the state department, and the concern that has created, we would like to share two perspectives with you that address very well what the reality is in our city and state. Both of the authors are not residents or citizens of Mexico, but they are frequent visitors and people who have guided groups down over many years. Both have been in Ensenada, and one in Tijuana as well, several times over the past few months. So their observations and assessments are not just historical, but likewise current. We are in complete agreement with their conclusions as well as the calls each make to consider the spiritual implications of our reactions given the real threat of violence, but also the sensationalized coverage that serves to stir up fear.

The first is by the Director of Risk Management from Westmont College and because of the length of the report I will only include the link so anyone who is interested can search it out for themself:
http://www.westmont.edu/_offices/risk/TijuanaTurmoil.html

The second one we recently sent out as a way to respond to some of the inquiries and concern expressed by friends, family and partners. I will paste it onto this post so that you can read it in its entirety.

We covet your prayers for Ensenada and all of Mexico. There are definitely problems, and serious ones at that. Please pray that God will not only eradicate the problems, but that He would use them to stir up His children to action and cause those who don’t know Him to look to Him for their security and peace.

Dear Partners and Friends,

We recently received the following from a friend who was a co-worker with us in Agua Viva, and who has continued to partner with us in ministry projects throughout the years. Even though they currently live in San Diego, as a family they frequently come to Mexico (Tijuana, Rosarito and Ensenada) and maintain a home here. They received these thoughts from another friend who also ministers in Tijuana and has for many years. It is thoughtful as well as accurate to what our experience has been as well here in Mexico.

“First off, I totally agree with the truth 60 minutes presents that we, the U.S., share a big responsibility in helping solve this problem. The sobering truth is that U.S. demand for illegal drugs is the root cause of all this. That, combined with the flow of money and arms to Mexico from the U.S. makes us, as a country, responsible as much as Mexican authorities in solving this problem. 60 minutes seemed to nail this truth well.

At ground level though, and perhaps of more immediate need to define reality among ourselves and those we lead into Mexico, it’s important to embrace a few critical truths.

1. The violence is horrific, no doubt, but it is largely limited to drug cartels and authorities.

2. Last year there were fewer murders per capita in Tijuana than in Gary Indiana, Cleveland Ohio, and WAY less (about 1/5) than New Orleans. While the violence is gruesome and heavily-documented by the media, the truth is that Tijuana (and the surrounding area) isn’t the war-zone the media makes it out to be.

3. In the midst of this drug violence, Americans are not targeted. That doesn’t mean bad stuff can’t happen, but then, bad stuff can happen anywhere, including in the U.S.

4. The areas we currently serve in aren’t hotspots for drug cartel activity or violence. Compared to Ciudad Juarez (quite a distance east), Tijuana and Ensenada are much safer. I understand some do serve in Juarez. Violence and corruption are worse there, no doubt.

On a bigger picture level though, I feel it’s important to acknowledge that I feel our efforts in Mexico are God-led. I try not to be a reckless, careless, Pinto-driving, danger-seeking missionary. But there’s an even bigger truth I feel we need to embrace.

Take a couple more minutes and read through this passage. It is stellar.

Romans 8:28-39

28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

31 What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us?
32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written:
“For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

God is at work in Mexico, and a few of us desperately desire to join His invitation to partner with Him in that. And while God doesn’t promise immunity from violence or bad stuff, like Romans 8:31 says: ‘If God is for us, who can be against us?’ ”

Principles for Helpers

25 Feb

This article was written by Bob Lupton and was passed on to us by a friend, who got it from a friend who got it from a friend. The friend of our friend was one of the men who came down to visit us and our faith community recently and was part of the divine networking that God orchestrated among us.

This article is a little long, but it’s worth the time, especially for those who are interested in truly helping the poor.

Principles for Helpers
Hippocrates (460-377 B.C.), the father of modern medicine, recognized the power of the healing profession to effect great good as well as its potential to do much harm. The oath that he instituted, a pledge taken by doctors to this day, established ethical standards for physician conduct which included: patient confidentiality, referral for specialized treatment, sharing of medical knowledge, and valuing prevention above cure. The Hippocratic Oath requires that physicians be personal and caring, put the interests of patients first in medical decisions, strive always to preserve life and never play God by taking life. And above all, do no harm.

For centuries the Hippocratic Oath has served well the medical profession and countless millions of patients. It has guided physicians toward astounding medical breakthroughs as well as constrained them from endangering patient welfare by risking questionable treatments. Perhaps a similar type of code would be useful to those who wish to serve the poor. We know that helping can certainly be for better or worse. Even as a misdiagnosed ailment will lead to improper (even harmful) treatment, so wrongly given assistance may well prolong or even worsen the plight of the needy. Good intentions and kindhearted spirits, while commendable, are insufficient guarantees of positive outcomes. Unexamined service that risks leaving the served worse off than if they had been left alone is irresponsible if not unethical. Guiding principles are needed.

The following is an attempt to articulate a few such fundamentals to guide would-be helpers toward effective care-giving. These guidelines are drawn from the collective wisdom and experience of veteran servants who have spent good portions of their lives living and serving among the less-fortunate in a variety of cultures. The list is hardly exhaustive, and each item requires far more unpacking than this writing permits. Just as the Hippocratic Oath has for centuries provoked vigorous and sometimes heated debate among physicians and has required repeated modification to remain contemporary, even so should these “Principles for Helpers” stimulate healthy discussion and adaptation appropriate for the particular setting.

1. Is the need crisis or chronic?–Triage may be the appropriate intervention in an emergency situation but it is hardly the strategy for a continuing need. The victims of a devastating tsunami need immediate medical, shelter, essential supplies and hoards of volunteers. Over time, however, survivors need expert consultation, a practical plan and a combination of grants and loans to help them rebuild their destroyed community. A similar distinction should be applied to those who utilize our food pantries and clothes closets as well as to those we serve on our mission trips. If their situation is a matter of life or death, then immediate action must be taken to “stop the bleeding”; otherwise a plan for helping them rebuild their lives is more appropriate. Just as a physician, before prescribing treatment, performs a diagnostic “physical” to determine the severity of an ailment, so must helpers take the time to discriminate between imminent life-threatening situations and chronic poverty needs. (Note: what may seem at first like a crisis to helpers may in fact be a chronic reality for the poor.)

2. Investing is better than lending–Making money with the poor is the ultimate method of sharing resources (including expertise, connections, energy). It empowers them economically and strengthens their hand through authentic partnerships. Investing implies an ownership stake. While a loan places the responsibility for repayment primarily upon the borrower, investing in a venture requires a higher level of involvement, more due diligence, more personal commitment, and perhaps greater risk. An investor has an expectation of higher potential returns than a lender. To invest well with those with limited access to capital, whether in a welfare mom’s dream of a catering business or in a well project with peasant villagers, good investment requires a sound business plan, reasoned risk/reward ratio, adequate controls and accountability. The investor has a stake in the sustainability and profitability of the venture.

3. Lending is better than giving–While giving may seem like the kind and Christian thing to do, it often ends up undermining the very relationship a helper is attempting to build. Any one who has served among the poor for any length of time will recognize the following progressions:
*give once and you elicit appreciation
*give twice and you create anticipation
*give three times and you create expectation
*give four times and it becomes entitlement
*give five times and you establish dependency

Lending, on the other hand, establishes a mutually beneficial relationship characterized by responsibility, accountability, and respect. It is legitimate exchange that requires the lender to be responsible for assessing the risk while leaving the dignity of the borrower intact. Lending, done well, builds mutual trust and respect.

4. Exchange is better than giving–One-way charity erodes human dignity. It subtly implies that the recipient has nothing of value the giver desires in return. No one wants to be pitied as a charity case. Thus, a thrift store affords more dignity than a free clothes closet, and a food co-op more than a free food pantry. To the extent the poor are enabled to participate in (preferably have ownership in)the systems intended to serve them, to that extent their self-worth is enhanced. The fair exchange of labor for goods and services is an honorable and responsible practice (though admittedly not as easy as give-away programs.)

5. Never do for others what they can do for themselves–The goal of helping is empowerment. Personal responsibility is essential for social, emotional and spiritual well being. To do for others what they have the capacity to do for themselves is to dis-empower them. Welfare, as many failed government programs have demonstrated, promotes dependency and a sense of entitlement. The outcome is no different when religious or charitable organizations provide it. The struggle for self-sufficiency is, like the butterfly struggling to emerge from its cocoon, an essential strength-building process that should not be short-circuited by “compassionate” intervention. The effective helper can be a cheerleader, an encourager, a coach, a connector, but never a caretaker who assumes responsibility that the “helpee” is capable of shouldering.

6. Sustainability is a litmus test–When our service project is over and we return home, are those we have served empowered to sustain what we have started? If these initiatives require our on-going funding, staffing, and volunteer participation to keep them going, they are more likely dependency-producing rather than empowering. Thus, building a home or digging a well for people who do not have the training and/or resources to maintain these assets does not empower them. It may feel very good for the moment and relieve an immediate need but it does not develop capacity. The defining question is: how can we serve so as to enable the poor to become self-sustaining?

7. Consider unintended consequences–Every change has consequences. Church growth may cause traffic congestion; screw-top wine bottles put cork producers out of work; successful sheep breeding may lead to overgrazing. While we cannot foresee all the potential consequences of our service, we should at least make some attempt to predict their impact. Are we luring indigenous ministers away from their pastoral duties to become our tour guides and schedule coordinators for our mission trips? Are we diminishing the entrepreneurial spirit in a culture by offering our free services, gifts and grants? Are we supporting irresponsible lifestyles by indiscriminate giving from our clothes closets and food pantries? Before we embark on a mission venture we should conduct an “impact study” to consider how our good deeds might have consequences we never intended. As Hippocrates admonished: above all do no harm.

8. Listen to what is not being said–A good physician learns to listen to what his patient is not saying. Perhaps out of embarrassment or fear, a patient may not disclose important data needed to correctly treat a condition. The doctor must look for clues, piece together fragments of information, use his diagnostic tools and intuition to arrive at an accurate diagnosis. The poor we serve may be quite reluctant to reveal “the whole story” to would-be helpers for a host of reasons–fear of judgment, fear of losing support, not wanting to appear unappreciative, intimidation. It would be very difficult, for instance, for a pastor in a poor Guatemalan village to tell a supporting church in the States that it would be a far better use of their money to him create jobs for the men in his village than to spend it on plane fare to send 30 unskilled volunteers to come and do construction work for them. Likewise, a single mother trying to clothe her children may be hesitant to tell the clothes closet volunteers that their hours of operation make it difficult for working parents to shop there. Like good physicians, effective helpers must learn to observe, ask questions, use their intuition, and hear what is not being said.

AN OATH FOR HELPERS
The effectiveness of our efforts to empower the poor could be significantly enhanced if, prior to launch, would-be helpers would take the following pledge:
1. I will never do for others what they have (or could have) the capacity to do for themselves.
2. I will limit my one-way giving to emergency situations and seek always to find ways and means for legitimate exchange.
3. I will seek ways to empower the poor through hiring, lending and investing and use grants sparingly as incentives that reinforce achievements
4. I will put the interests of the poor above my own (or organizational) self-interest even when it may be costly.
5. I will take time to listen and carefully assess both expressed and unspoken needs so that my actions will ultimately strengthen rather than weaken the hand of those I would serve.
6. Above all, to the best of my ability, I will do no harm.

Driving in Baja

1 Oct

There is a very good article in the most recent edition of the AAA magazine “Westways” (October 2007) about tips for driving in Baja as well as several web sites that can be accessed for more detailed information. We consider the suggestions given there to be accurate and consistent with what we have communicated personally to friends and family who have travelled into Baja.

* Obey all posted speed limits and traffic-control signs, as well as local traffic laws.
* If you are stopped by a police officer for a traffic violation in Tijuana, Ensenada, or Rosarito, politely insist on a written citation that you can pay either at the police station or by mail. For the cities of San Felipe, Tecate, or Mexicali, traffic fines must be paid at the police station.
* If you are stopped for no reason, you might be able to avoid problems by asking to be taken to the nearest municipal judge.
* Before you leave for Mexico, know how to reach people in the U.S. who might be able to help you if a problem occurs. The city government of Tijuana’s website, http://www.sindicatura.gob.mx, offers a guide for tourists with several phone numbers that may come in handy. Also, go to discoverbajacalifornia.com and click on “Safety Tips.”
* Report any incident to the U.S. Consulate in Tijuana. You may also access an online complaint form at http://www.sindicatura.gob.mx
* Visitors to Mexico are strongly urged to purchase auto insurance (even for rental cars.) Most U.S. insurance companies don’t provide coverage for driving in Mexico. Mexican auto insurance is available at Auto Club offices or at AAA.com.
* It is a traffic violation to use a cellular phone while driving in the state of Baja California.
* Motor vehicle insurance is invalidated in Mexico if the driver is found to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
* If you are involved in an accident, you will be taken into police custody until it can be determined who is liable and if you have the ability to pay any penalty.

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