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Escalating violence has canceled longstanding short-term mission trips to cities along the U.S.-Mexican border.

Juarez, two miles south of El Paso, Texas, is a highly popular missions destination for American churches, but a violent drug-cartel war has changed the city of 1.6 million. According to the U.S. State Department, more than 1,800 people have been killed in Juarez since January 2008.

Juarez, Tijuana, and Nogales have had public shootouts.

YouthWorks, a nationwide missions organization, announced that it won't offer summer trips to Mexico in 2009. In a memo, regional director Jason Atkinson said the decision came after discussion with local residents of the "general sense of lawlessness" in the Mexican communities the organization serves.

"Ministry partners have experienced threats of extortion," he said in a memo. "Our own staff were victims of armed robbery and carjacking."

First Baptist Church of Arlington, Texas, canceled its Mission Juarez and Acuna Medical Mission trips. This is the first time in 30 years it will not send teams to Juarez, said team leader Peggy Kulesz.

"We have made strong bonds in Juarez," she said. "We see them year after year and have watched the children grow. We know these families."

The situation in Mexico has left missionaries seeking answers.

"When you feel a real sense of calling and then the door is shut," Kulesz said, "you wonder what you are supposed to do, and wonder what God has in store and how he is going to work in this time of crisis with Christians in the area."

Not all trips have been canceled. LifeLight, a nondenominational evangelistic organization, did not allow anyone younger than 21 on its March trip to Juarez, but still went in order to encourage Mexico's Christians. The ministry ...

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May 2009

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