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Managing risk in the mission field

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POSTED June 7, 2009 2:06 a.m.
The increase in trafficking, violence and kidnappings along the northern Mexican border is adding new impetus to stricter immigration policies, and heightened urgency to controlling illegal movement into the United States.

A number of competing and inter-related drug cartels are extending their control over larger and larger sectors of Latin America.  Mexico, being a major corridor of contraband, has more than its fair share of traffickers and professional hit-men.  Yet demand for illegal substances here in the North has been driving the underground railroad, extending the tentacles of evil.

So high are the risks that several service agencies who for decades brought youth across the border have cancelled their programs.  Whether building homes, laying cement, sponsoring orphanages, gathering people in prayer, or distributing any number of items, these projects had not only benefited families throughout Mexico, but had educated our youth in gratitude, in the truth about poverty, and in dedicating themselves to the service of others.

Today, June 7, a group from our area was scheduled to leave for Mexico.  

The first in a two-part wave of youth into Tijuana, this would have been my seventh such project there.  Having lived in the border city for four years, I have many contacts and am accustomed to the hazards of a visit.

This year the combination of stress-points shut us down at the last minutes.

Not everyone could get a passport.  The older kids are now worried about getting summer jobs, because their families have less money.  Frightening stories about kidnappings and hostages, beheadings and more horrendous forms of violence, and renewed warnings from the State Department all conspired to make organizing more difficult.  But, finally, the cancellation of our long-awaited journey consisted in a concrete detail: we couldn’t get insurance coverage for the group.  Cars and vans are easy to cover.  Human beings aren’t - at least not when walking into higher categories of risk.

I have travelled, often with others, in many, many dangerous places.  But I don’t want to take kids into a place where the probabilities are rising.  So, with a sad heart, I called off the whole thing.   How ironic, though, that, on the same day I made the final decision (Thursday), more than 1,000 strikes of lightning had struck across California, injuring several people.   And on Saturday - yesterday - I celebrated a somber mass for Oscar, one of the two security guards murdered, execution-style, in their vehicle just days before.

Yes, we should never expose our youth to unnecessarily high levels of risk.

But let’s face it: life in California cities ain’t all that much safer than life across the border.  I would much sooner take kids to Tijuana, even now, than to any number of urban areas throughout this beautiful nation.  I’ve found that, in Mexico, most people manage their poverty more gracefully.
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