By Veronica Coons
Randy Parr, former owner of Parr Construction in Great Bend, his wife Lisa and children Marissa and adopted daughter Vanessa have returned to Great Bend after a six-year stay in Mazatlan, Mexico as missionaries with the Assemblies of God World Missions. For the next year, the Parrs will work to raise funds for their ongoing mission projects in Mexico.
“It’s kind of bittersweet,” Parr said. “We’d like to be doing our work, but it’s great to reconnect with family and friends.”
The family was based in Mazatlan Mexico for five years and two months. The family worked in the Mexican state of Sinaloa, home of the infamous Sinaloa cartel led by El Chapo, the first drug cartel kingpin to tunnel under the border to transport illegal drugs into the United States. They were based in the coastal resort city of Mazatlan, about 700 miles south on the West coast, in an area called the Marlin fishing capital of the world.
“It’s a tourist area, but it’s also an area where there are a lot of problems with the economy and the drug cartel wars,” Parr said.
In 2004, the Parrs formed an interest in mission work when they helped establish the spanish language church Iglesia De La Cosecha at 222 Frey St. in Great Bend, and became aware of the spiritual needs of the Mexican people. They started traveling with the pastor, went to Guatemala twice, then a construction project in Chihuahua.
“God started working on our hearts, we made the proper changes and followed through,” Parr said.
They left the US in August 2006 from Tulsa, Okla. and spent eight months in Costa Rica for language school.
“I’m still not 100 percent fluent--probably never will be,” he said.
From there they went into Mazatlan.
When the family arrived, they assisted pastors in a three state area with church construction projects. Parr worked with three drug and alcohol rehabilitation centers in Mazatlan. The men taking part helped build the projects as part of their program, and the Parrs were able to minister to them in the process.
That’s how Parr met his right hand man in Mazatlan, Gabrielle. Parr said not only has he been a tremendous asset to the project, he was recently given all the information to lead a “Living Free” program, and is giving back to his community.
Just prior to their return to the states, they finished construction of a church in the countryside of Sinaloa. The pastor had already started a church, which met in the home of the town’s mayor. The land to build the church was donated, and Parr’s team helped with the construction.
During that time, they hosted several visitors from Kansas, Oklahoma, Virginia, Texas, and all over the U.S. who helped with construction and with helping pastors with evangelizing in a handful of cities and towns.
Real life lessons
Parr says about 60 to 65 percent of the people of Mexico are inherently Catholic, though many are non practicing. Becoming part of the church has impacted communities in a profound way, Parr said.
“For a pastor to be there, ministering to them and showing them the love of God, its completely changing their lives. People are becoming active, and going out and bringing their friends and families in. We’re seeing a huge church growth in the area of Mazatlan right now.
There are a lot of members of the churches in Mazatlan that have family members directly involved with the drug cartels,” Parr said. “We have two members who have family who have been taken, and likely assassinated. The cartels will try to extort money from the families.”
The Mexican people are either poor, or wealthy, with a very thin middle class, he said.
“The average working class person makes somewhere between 800-1000 pesos a week,” he said. At the current exchange rate, that is about $60 a week. If you are highly educated, you have better opportunities, but there are fewer opportunities to get help with funding higher education. “If you have the choice to make $100 a day working for the cartels or $60 a week doing hard labor, it doesn’t take long to figure out which one most people pick. Especially if you have a family to raise.”
Parr said his family has been to the poor and the wealthy sections of the State of Sinaloa. They’ve been to the mountains where there is no electricity and no running water, and the people cannot fall back on the government assistance. The economy is in really rough shape in Mazatlan right now, he said.
“What we’re seeing down there now and when we arrived are two different drug cartels that are figthting for territory,” Parr said. Mexico’s President Calderón has been in office for seven years, and will be stepping down later this year. “He declared war on the cartels, but its sad to say, the cartels are winning.”
According to Parr, about a year ago, the Mexican government sent in military forces from Culiacan, two hours north of Mazatlan, to keep the peace. “We were averaging 7-10 assassinations per week within the city of Mazatlan two years ago, both cartel, and those who wanted to stop the cartel,” Parr said.
After 55,000 drug war related casualties, and the sheer cost, the Mexican people are tired of the drug war, Parr said. The July 1, 2012 Mexican presidential election saw three candidates vying to replace Felipe Calderón. Calderón’s mandates made operating of the drug trade more difficult. That’s what has led to the territorial war between the two cartels, Parr said.
“All three candidates stated the same thing. ‘We’ve had enough of the casualties, enough of the drug war, and enough of the expense to the government’,” he said. “They have been pumping millions of dollars into the war on drugs, and so is the US.”
Enrique Peña Nieto won the vote, and will take his place as President in about five months. According to Parr, many in Mexico are worried his plan to back off on the war will allow the drug cartels to once again gain strength.
“It’s sad to see the casualties, but its sad to see the government throwing the door open to let the cartels do whatever they want, whenever and wherever they want again too,” he said.
“The tourism industry in Mazatlan is suffering right now. Last year, because of the war with the drug cartels, the government cut off all cruise ships coming into the area.” The people the Parrs help have undergone job losses, and have little opportunity, he said. “Even in the middle of all this economic hardship, we are still seeing miracles happening in the lives of the people, and the church is prospering.”
The Parrs are planning on going back to Mazatlan. They have put in place some ministries to help teens take back control of their lives and work through addictions. The program is Global Teen Challenge and works to make teens accountable for the choices they make. Lisa Parr was responsible for implementing a completely biblical-based program called “Living Free”, in which people work through life controlling issues. Recently, the participants in the program celebrated their first graduation of 42 people.
The Parrs arrived back in the states two weeks ago. After sharing their experience at 100 church services and several service organizations over the course of a year, the family will once again depart to Mexico. First, they will attend more language school in Costa Rica for four months. Then, it’s back to Mazatlan.