“Don’t Go to Mexico!” – Why Context Matters

Living in Mexico has provided a different perspective on the rhetoric we often hear in the United States in regards to its neighboring country to the south. My family crosses the San Diego/Tijuana border regularly and we also do some work in Tijuana with immigrants, refugees, and deportees at a local church. Many times, what is displayed in the news and social media as well as from very prominent politicians and religious leaders about Mexico is well…wrong. As a result, Americans read the news and stereotype whole people groups and countries as being dangerous and raise warnings to not travel there.

Recently there were news reports of violence that were happening in southern Mexico. Though the location was reported, the emphasis of the report was on Mexico as a nation. If you were to only listen to the news on the surface, you would quickly assume that all of Mexico was in an all-out drug war with shoot outs, kidnappings, and escalating violence everywhere. Though Mexico does have issues with the drug cartel, the violence is very targeted and in very rare cases are there random and mass shootings in Mexico. But what country doesn’t have its own issues?

Soon after we moved to Mexico I had a Mexican ask me, “You sent your kids to public school?!? Weren’t you afraid they were going to get shot?” Perspective and context matters!

If we were to treat the United States like Mexico, no one west of the Mississippi would cross the Mississippi river due to the gang violence in Chicago and New Orleans because the whole East side of the U.S. is dangerous and you could die. But we all know this is not true and it is a lie. Even with all the news reports on our major cities of violence, we will still go to Chicago or New Orleans for vacation, business, or visit friends. Just like when we visit these cities we know there are places we just don’t go because of the risk, the same is true with Mexico.

Remember it is the media’s job to keep people tuned into their station. We have heard it said that sex sells, but fear keeps people engaged. Fear is what our national media sells and fear is what we Americans buy in bulk every day. 

So how do we navigate these concerns?

Context matters

Whenever we hear of events on the news that makes us prone to fear, it is important to consider the context of the event. But, what typically happens when the U.S. media reports of violence or horrific events that happen in another country, many of us can quickly assume the whole country or part of the continent (West Africa) is that way. The National Media rarely gives us all the facts and content of the story. Therefore it is up to us to do the work of uncovering the facts. It isn’t always that hard to do. When we hear of violence or events that concern us, this is what we do:

Ask the 4 basic questions:

  • Where did it happen? – Many times the place it happened wasn’t even close to where we are going to serve.
  • Who was involved? – In Mexico, very rarely, are there random acts of violence. Most are very targeted. There are very rare cases of mass shootings, unlike the U.S.
  • Why did it happen? – Many times the first news report is not the most accurate. Dig deeper and learn why the event happened.
  • What happened? – Again, getting the facts as to what actually happened is important.

Talk to People on the Ground.
As we all know there is so much fake news out there in the world. It can be pretty hard to know what is true and what is a lie. So even if we are investigating the context of the event, it may not always be clear. But we have reliable sources, people on the ground.

Before moving to Mexico if there was an event we heard that happened close to where we were going, we would do our own investigation and then we would call the people, organizations and ministries we were going to visit to hear what they know and get a feeling about their safety concerns. Who knows best? The people who live in the community every day, drive the same roads we travel, is aware of the local news, and is deeply tied into the community. 

Next time you are thinking about traveling to another country that is highlighted in the news, do your due diligence and investigate what really is happening, but then go to the source, go to the people on the ground and hear what they are experiencing.

Last week on a Thursday night we were crossing the border around 6 pm. It was jammed and took us a good 25 minutes to cross from the U.S. into Mexico. There are over 100,000 Americans who live in and around Tijuana. Many of them work in San Diego and cross safely every day. But we don’t hear that on the news. This doesn’t mean we should throw caution to the wind and not be aware. But let us think twice about what we hear displayed in the media, our politicians and religious leaders.

So if you are thinking about going to a country and news breaks of the violence or disaster in that country or city, do your own investigating, get context to the situation and talk to the people on the ground to get real-time, real people feedback. Pray about it, listen to God and what He is revealing to you. Remember, God never says a prerequisite of His call on your life is your safety. Jesus never said, come follow me because it is safe, or go there to share Jesus because it is safe. God has called us to be dangerous Christians for His Kingdom. 

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