A Story of Persecution and Perseverance

Last month in my blog post on persecution in Mexico I mentioned that we had heard of believers in an area where we work who had been run out of their village for their faith.  We had heard this story in passing a few months ago, but weren’t given any more details.  Well, during a trip to that area later last month, God allowed me to meet the family whose story I had referred to. The encounter was entirely unexpecteda truly amazing providence.

To protect their identity, we’ll call them Martín and Rosa. In 2008 they, along with their seven children and his 80-year-old mother, Romana (not her real name), were run out of their village after years of intense persecution for their faith in Christ. Martín had come to Christ in 1998 while visiting a city near Oaxaca’s southern coast. He returned to his village and shared the gospel with his family and friends. His wife and mother came to Christ, and two or three others in his village professed faith as well.  They began to meet regularly in his home for worship.

All went well for them until Martín was assigned the annual task of taking care of his village’s “Santos”—idols of Catholic saints that are worshiped in the village, especially during the village’s annual cycle of religious festivals.  Worship of the Santos is an important part of indigenous village life and is closely linked to their animistic beliefs about spirits. The Santos are worshiped, appeased, and celebrated as a means of manipulation to ensure prosperity and health and to protect against sickness, drought, accidents, and other perceived evils.  Because of the centrality of Santo-worship in the life and worldview of tribal villages, when new believers refuse to participate in these religious activities, they are almost inevitably marginalized and persecuted.  (It is this reality that accounts for Mexico’s place on the list of countries with most violence toward Christians.) The persecution that Martín and his family faced the next few years was intense. Once the persecution began, the other professing believers of the village fell away (“turned back to the idols,” as Martín put it).  But Martín and his family stood firm.  On several occasions men of their village invaded their home during their regular worship time and severely beat Martín.  In an effort to drive the family out of the village, fellow villagers killed some of their animals, threw large rocks down the mountain onto their house, and cut off their water supply. This kind of persecution persisted for several years until one night in November of 2008.  Martín, by God’s grace, was out of the village when it happened, or he would very likely have been killed.  Men of the village attacked their home. They broke down the front door and entered, looking for Martín.  When they couldn’t find him they began to dismantle the house piece by piece. They removed the doors and windows from his house into a pile in his yard, set them on fire, and begin to burn his chickens. The looted the house, taking anything of value including the tin on the roof. Thankfully, Rosa and Romana and the children were not hurt, but they were forced to leave the village, walking several hours through the night to a neighboring village where they found Martín.  The family ended up settling in that (more tolerant) village where, for the past six years they have rebuilt their lives.

As we sat in Martín’s humble home last month eating almuerzo (late morning breakfast/lunch) and listening to his story, we were moved to tears. The account of their persecution was amazing, but even more amazing was their testimony of persevering faithfulness by God’s grace throughout the years. Martín, Rosa, and Romana are new heroes for me. Their joy and confidence in their faith bear eloquent witness to the inner strength that years of hardship for the sake of Christ have yielded. Their love for Christ and knowledge of the Scripture are evident as they speak.  (After her conversion, Romana, then 70 years oldtaught herself to read so that she could read her Bible!) What happened to this dear family is all too common in southern Mexico. In closing, I’d like to quote again the “World Watch List” team’s explanation for the strong persecution of believers in Mexico. Martín, Rosa, and Romana’s  story is a perfect example of what happens when someone comes to Christ in an indigenous village in Mexico.

Tribal antagonism is Mexico’s main source of violence against Christians, with organized corruption being another important source. Even though Mexico is home to a Christian majority, local communities in the southern states of Mexico are led by indigenous traditional   “laws of uses and customs” to force all community members into a homogenous lifestyle.  Community members who do not wish to adhere to these customs or accept a different faith – such as Christians – are met with serious threats and attacks. They are driven from their lands or are victims of physical violence. Christians that are attacked consist mainly of evangelicals and Pentecostals and to a lesser extent also Presbyterians. In the states of Hidalgo, Chiapas, Guerrero and Oaxaca, local government officials follow the local laws of uses and customs, and ignore the Mexican constitution. Especially in rural areas in southern states of the country, Christians have been fined, jailed, beaten or murdered because of their faith.

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