Mexico Travel Security

At Agua Viva Ministries (AVM) we understand your concern and safety for your group; especially in the wake of the recent heightened press. Even though we can never fully allay our guest’s fears, nor make any guarantees, we know that God is on His throne and desires Mexico to be reached.

AVM boasts that since 1989 we have partnered with over 22,000 guests and none of our participants or staff has ever experienced any incidents involving violence. Ministry groups have been arriving and serving as usual despite media reports and we haven’t seen any changes in the communities we serve.

We believe that our long-standing safety record is due to our prayerful safety policies:

  1. We believe that God is in control!
  2. AVM provides thoughtful, pre-trip manuals which indicate the safest travel routes, travel tips and well marked maps. The toll road to Ensenada skirts the edge of Tijuana and is well patrolled. The alternative Tecate border crossing adds only a few minutes commute south bound to Rancho Agua Viva and decreases travel time by 20 minutes when traveling north bound. This route is an enjoyable, leisurely drive through vineyard covered hills. The north-bound border crossing back to the states is a breeze!
  3. AVM offers to meet groups before the border, escort through immigration, Tijuana and lead caravans all the way to Rancho Agua Viva.
  4. AVM staff always accompanies groups at ministry sites.
  5. AVM staff always accompanies groups in travel during the ministry week and chooses the safest travel routes and groups always travel in caravans.
  6. We advise all guest vehicles to travel with walkie-talkies to keep in contact with others in their caravan with extra batteries at hand.
  7. AVM staff always has local phone contact during ministry times and has emergency response training.
  8. The accommodations at beautiful Rancho Agua Viva are on a safe, gated 143 acre compound 12 miles out of town.
  9. We require that all participants register at the border with the Mexican immigration service.

On a personal note: the staff at AVM hasn’t seen any incidents of violence nor felt personally at risk since most of the incidents have occurred in border towns and have dealt with the drug and turf wars. We cross both the Tijuana and Tecate border on a weekly basis without incident. We have chosen to raise our families here and we personally drive by ourselves on a daily basis. Rest assured, we would inform you in a heartbeat if there were any known risks. You not only are co-workers, we consider our guests as family.

The Bureau of Consular Affairs also offers a service called Smart Traveler Enrollment Plan (STEP) that provides alerts and warnings as well as facilitating communication between family members should any emergency arise.

What do others say about the Mexico safety and security issues?

Troy Harris

Director of risk management from Westmont College, Santa Barbara, California

Westmont College brings over 250 students every spring break to Rancho Agua Viva for over a decade. Troy did a thorough investigation this year:

Sources Consulted

In addition to monitoring public news sources, we have spoken with knowledgeable people “on site” or with expert knowledge to help inform our decisions.

  • Westmont alumni ministering in Ensenada
  • Potter’s Clay core team alumni living in Ensenada and Rosarito
  • Several firms:
    • Crisis Consulting International
    • Corporate Risk International
    • Safe Travel Institute
    • United Educators
    • World Vision
    • and others specializing in international safety assessment
  • Other schools and ministry programs serving Mexico (Azusa Pacific, Point Loma, et al)
  • The US Consulate Our Risk Manager met personally on 2/6/9 with the US Consul (Deputy Chief of American Citizen Services), whose recommendations for traveler safety are consistent with the plans we’ve put in place in Tijuana

Their consistent recommendation is to travel by day and stay in groups, which we are committed to doing. They do not regard us as fitting the profile of the drug cartels’ targets for violence, and none of them consider us to be facing a danger that would warrant cancelling the trip.

  • Informed sources indicate that most of the violence occurs in the deep night, between midnight and 4am—when our students are inside the gated and locked Rancho Agua Viva, twelve miles east of the city.
  • Azusa Pacific University, which runs a similar but much larger program in Ensenada, Mexicali and elsewhere (and that inspired Potter’s Clay in 1977), monitors the situation closely and plans to proceed this year. Here are some recent announcements on their website: 2/9/9, 2/17/9
  • Although the Tijuana slayings are spectacular and thus garner media attention, it bears noting that Tijuana’s murder rate of about 56 per 100,000 [for 2008] is still far below that of the deadliest U.S. city: New Orleans, which had about 95 killings per 100,000 inhabitants in 2007.
  • The US State Dept has not recommended curtailing travel to or thru Tijuana, but instead says travelers must “understand the risks of travel to Mexico, how best to avoid dangerous situations, and whom to contact if one is a victim of crime.”

Matt Bach

Sr. Coordinator of Church Relations
Mexico Outreach

My recent time in Mexico - what I saw with my eyes, heard with my ears, and experienced by being there, showed something very different than what news reports reflect.

It reminded me of one last contrast: many reports are meant to target the millions of people that vacation and spring break (drinking, clubbing, partying) in Mexico. Their target audience is not people wanting to spread the Gospel. Had it been, perhaps the media would not sensationalize things as they do, or at the very least they would tell the bigger story. The story of a country similar to our own, where violence exists, but can be avoided by good judgment and common sense. I am more wary of travelling though certain areas of Detroit or Los Angeles than I am of Mexicali or Ensenada.”

Linda Sommerville

Pastor of Adult Ministries
Bayside of West Roseville

I have felt safe crossing the border for a few reasons. First, RAV did a good job of prepping us for what to expect at the border. And second, we never stopped in Tijuana, just drove through on the way to Ensenada. And third, we drove in a caravan to ensure a safer trip.”

We have never had a problem traveling through Tijuana. Basically, you’re in and out of Tijuana in the blink of an eye and if you take the main highway, you never actually go through Tijuana, just on the outskirts.”

We do several things to ensure the safety of our group. 1) We always travel in a caravan on the trip to and from RAV. 2) We make sure every vehicle has a walkie talkie (with extra batteries!), all set for the same channel. 3) After every check point, we use the walkie talkies to check in and make sure each vehicle made it through okay. 4) Everyone also carries cell phones as an added precaution in case walkie talkies don’t work. We make sure each vehicle has the cell numbers of all the other vehicles. 5) We make sure each vehicle has copies of all the (excellent!) maps provided by RAV - this saves lots of headaches, especially making the quick turn onto the highway in Tijuana and when we travel through Ensenada where it’s likely to get separated by traffic lights. 6) We make sure each vehicle has all the passports of each person riding in that vehicle in case they get pulled over by police or have an accident. 7) Most importantly, we pray and trust that our great big God is in charge; and we continually remind ourselves of the fact that every day of our lives is ultimately in His loving and powerful hands.”

Allyson Searway

Missionary in Ensenada 21 years
Mother of two children, ages 24, 21

I hear the American news reports and I see that the American groups are getting nervous, but I don’t feel the threat anywhere around me. My children go places with their friends in Ensenada without incident. We travel to and from San Diego regularly on the toll road around Tijuana without incident. I don’t go into Tijuana much and I heed the warning of my Mexican friends to not be out late at night. But if you behave sensibly, travel to and from the Ensenada area is still easy and uneventful.”

John Piper in his book “Don’t Waste your Life” (page 81): “Risk is woven into the fabric of our finite lives. We cannot avoid risk even if we want to. Ignorance and uncertainty about tomorrow is our native air. All of our plans for tomorrow’s activities can be shattered by a thousand unknowns whether we stay at home under the covers or ride the freeways. One of my aims is to explode the myth of safety and to somehow deliver you from the enchantment of security. Because it’s a mirage. It doesn’t exist. Every direction you turn there are unknowns and things beyond your control. The tragic hypocrisy is that the enchantment of security lets us take risks every day for ourselves but paralyzes us from taking risks for others on the Calvary road of love. We are deluded and think that it may jeopardize a security that in fact does not even exist.”