As Violence in Juárez Escalates, a Cross-Border Religious Charity Program Suffers

The slums of Juárez, Mexico are filled with poorly constructed shelters, often made of nothing more than wooden pallets. However, many poor families have moved up from a measly structure to a sturdy home through the help of generous American volunteers.

A new house can be built in less than 48 hours from start to finish, and for around six thousand bucks, paid for by donations.

Yet, the area is on a slippery slope, as violence increases—that much needed volunteer aid from the U.S. isn’t there any more.

With over 6,000 drug related murders in the past three years, groups don’t want to take the risk of crossing into Juárez.

“Sometimes we have people ready to come, and then their relatives talk them out of the trip,” said Jim Hetzel, founder of Border-to-Border Missions, a non-profit organization in El Paso, Texas, which has already provided homes to 97 families in Juárez.

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Hetzel reports they have seen volunteer groups signing up drop by 80%.

“In the past we’ve had up to 48 houses a year to build, now we are down to less than five,” reports Jim.

But the drop of volunteers isn’t the only problem; donations to their organization are down more than 40%.

Board member Paul Fleshman told Fox News Latino that as the violence has increased in Juárez, the poor are more forgotten than ever.

“North America missionaries--lots of them are afraid to go, churches are afraid to send their members short term for missions, and so when people don’t go, they forget about it, and they don’t send money either.”

Christian Gurolla, Board member and translator for Border-to-Border Missions, says the violence doesn’t keep them from meeting the needs of their neighbors across the border.

“We’re going to meet the challenge regardless of the situation.”

Gurolla describes images of the slums people live in as bits and pieces of trash put together. The ceilings are no higher than five and a half feet. Pallets and pieces of wood complete the structure.

He recalls one occasion visiting a family a couple of years ago.

“I was leaning up against part of the shelter because I was about to lose my footing, and the whole shelter moved.”

After Jim Hetzel was injured in a construction accident, he started to consider what to do next. He could still direct projects. Plus, he and his wife Barb had considered leading mission trips building houses in Mexico during retirement. So they decided to start earlier than expected.

Jim and his wife Barb moved to El Paso in 2001 to start doing mission work for an organization building houses across the border.

“It’s was just an incredible experience, it’s more blessed to give than it is to receive. It was an awesome experience to give a new home to a family,” says Barb.

Jim and Barb run Border-to-Border Missions completely by church support and independent donations. Church groups, schools, and even family reunions have contributed to building homes. Most of the materials are stored in Juárez, and workers do some of the construction in advance.

The standard design for the homes is 464 square feet, two bedrooms, one bathroom, a living area, and a room for the family to install a kitchen.

Volunteers cover the expense of the materials needed for the project. House recipients don’t pay anything; they only supply the property.

Even though there’s a current shortage in manpower and cash, the Hetzel’s plan on continuing with their program, no matter how bad the violence gets across the border.

The return of giving someone a new home feels just way too good to stop.

“Everyday is like Christmas when you can do something like this,” Jim said.

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