1992 – A History of Proyecto Abrigo & Rev. Jose Luis Portillo
Proyecto Abrigo was founded in the small rural neighborhood of Tierra Nueva by Rev. Jose Luis Portillo. Rev. Portillo, who grew up in a low-income family of ten children, has lived in Juarez all of his life. Thanks to scholarships provided by the United Methodist Church, he was able to go from selling cigars on the streets of Juarez in order to help support his family to attending Lidia Patterson Institute, a United Methodist High School across the border in El Paso. While there, Jose Luis became fluent in English and ultimately heard God calling him into ministry. After graduating from Lidia Patterson, Jose Luis attended John Wesley Seminary in Monterrey, Mexico and was appointed to a church back in Juarez upon his graduation and ordination in the United Methodist Church of Mexico. While he was there he invited volunteers from the United States to come and help build the church building. Those volunteers saw the people living in cardboard houses and asked how they might help. Through the help of Volunteers in Mission, Jose Luis began Operacion Hogar (Operation Home) in 1992 which used teams of volunteers from the United States to build concrete block homes for families living in cardboard and chicken-wire shacks. In order to expand the number of families served in Juarez, Jose Luis founded an ecumenical organization named Proyecto Abrigo in 1996 to do the same type of home building. Between these two organizations, Jose Luis has been responsible for building several thousand homes, five churches, a medical clinic, a vocational school, and community center since 1992.
2007 – Violence Begins to Escalate in Juarez
In 2007, Juarez, Mexico held a homicide rate of 0.82 deaths per day. However, a power struggle between the Sinaloa and Juarez drug cartels began, quickly turning the city of Juarez into ‘the most dangerous city in the world.’ At this point in time, Proyecto Abrigo hosted teams throughout the year who came not only from all across the state of Texas but also from Arkansas, Louisiana, Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, Kansas, Missouri, North Dakota, and South Dakota, building over 200 homes per year,
2009 – U.S. News Outlets & Federal Troops
In 2009, it became evident to those in the U.S. that Mexico was in a state of violent unrest. At this time, many national news outlets picked up stories which covered the growing violence in our neighboring country. In Mexico, President Calderon sent over 8,000 federal troops to ‘police’ the city of Juarez in an attempt to fight against the dueling drug cartels. These troops, who were often just as corrupt as their cartel counter-parts, if not more so, caused much more damage in the long run than intended. Churches that had previously led several trips per year down to work with Proyecto Abrigo began to receive concern from members and pastors alike as to the safety of taking teams to Mexico. This year, Proyecto Abrigo built 180 homes.
2010 – Violence Peaks
In 2010, Juarez recorded a devastating 3,116 homicides, nearing 8 deaths per day. During the peak of this violence, a few small but faithful teams continued to venture into Juarez, braving the conditions of the city to serve those most affected by the violence. At the end of the year, Proyecto Abrigo made the difficult decision to no longer accept mission teams from the U.S. due to safety concerns for both the teams and those such as Jose Luis who lived in Juarez and ran the mission year round. This year, Proyecto Abrigo built 20 homes.
2011 – Violence Begins to Decrease
The withdrawal of federal government agents and para-military forces from the city of Juarez lead to a dramatic decrease in the rates of violence. These government forces, often proven to be extremely corrupt, seemed to cause more violence than they were intended to prevent. With their withdrawal, the local municipal police forces received more resources, including better salaries, equipment, and training under the direction of the new Chief of Police, Julian Leyzaola. This year, due to the continued monetary donations of a few faithful churches, Proyecto Abrigo built 3 homes.
2012 – Rapid Decrease in Violence
In 2012, the city of Juarez recorded 750 homicides through the course of the year – the fewest deaths the city has seen since violence began to escalate in 2007. August of this year marked a 56% drop in homicides from 2011. With 580 of these deaths recorded in the first seven months, only 170 came in the last five months of the year. This averaged 34 deaths per month, or 1.13 per day. While the statistics encompassing the entire year list the rate as closer to 2 deaths per day, the drastic drop in the last five months of the year show a great deal of hope for both the present and future of Juarez. In October of this year, Proyecto Abrigo agreed to host two college students, Ricky Harrison and Taylor Smith, who had been longtime supporters of Proyecto Abrigo. With the invitation to cross-over for a day to do photography and videography work, these two students represented the first U.S. citizens that Proyecto Abrigo had let come back in almost two and a half years. During this October visit, Jose Luis made the announcement that Proyecto Abrigo would again start hosting mission teams beginning in 2013 due to the decrease in violence and his confidence in the safety of himself and the mission teams.
2013 – New Beginnings
On January 1st, Proyecto Abrigo welcomed a small team of eleven people to do repair and renovation work around the dormitory facilities where teams are hosted. This team worked for three days painting, repairing plumbing, and cleaning up the Proyecto Abrigo facilities which had lain vacant for the past two and a half years. The goal was to ready the dormitories so that Proyecto Abrigo might once again host teams to come and build homes. Throughout the rest of this year, Proyecto Abrigo hosted eight additional teams who built nine homes and continued work around the dormitory facilities.
2015 – A Year Full of Blessings
In 2015, Proyecto Abrigo hosted 23 teams who built 26 homes! We have been blessed to host teams not only from all across the state of Texas, but from New Mexico, Louisiana, Missouri, and Pennsylvania. We formed partnerships with four different colleges and universities, hosting teams and supporting students who sponsored local events at their colleges. Construction began on the Kingswood school facilities thanks to our new partnership with Juntos Servimos and the first buildings are almost complete and ready to host students and teachers! Overall, 2015 was a year of great blessing for Proyecto Abrigo, its many ministries, and the countless volunteers who have poured out their hearts in service! Gloria a Dios!
For more detailed infomration on the situation in Juarez and how Proyecto Abrigo has been affected, please see our collection of News Articles from various local and national news outlets.