The racial conflict in Mexico is deeply embedded.
The indigenous tribes we minister to are so oppressed by the majority - mestizos* - that their voices are almost impossible to hear. That is why we target abandoned villages deep in the mountains of Mexico. We want to go to places that are hard to reach, to cultures that are closed off to outsiders, to hearts that are hardened by years of oppression galvanized into debilitating offense. It. Is. Hard. It takes years of consistency, love, honor, and courage to watch Jesus unwind 499 years of oppression. And He does. The power of God transforms their hearts, minds, lives, souls, histories.
But what do we do when mestizos come to us, seeking answers for their own lost and dying souls? We introduce them to Jesus. We bring them to church, which in our context is the home of an Aztec family: dirt floors, bamboo walls, tin roofs, no chairs. Poverty. Mestizos sit on wooden planks alongside Aztecs and worship Jesus. It is a miracle - and a powder keg of conflict. The differing worldviews, experiences, and histories inevitably clash, offense is born, and people fall away from the only true Source of Life because of it.
The socio-economic and racial gap between the tribal people and mestizos poses challenges that can at times seem insurmountable. When mestizos meet Jesus, our hearts rejoice, but our consciousness is wary with the knowledge that only Jesus - only Jesus - can erase hundreds of years of racism and violence and build a bridge of understanding and compassion between two hostile groups.
Does that mean we should keep mestizos from entering the doors of our churches? Does that mean that we stop trying to reach the indigenous, stop peeling back layers of anger to reach the hurting heart? It would certainly be easier to have a ministry either focused on mestizos or on the indigenous. But that is not the heart of Jesus. He died for them - why would we reject one group or keep them separated to avoid conflict? Conflict is the opportunity for transformation.
But it is hard. I can’t tell you how many times over the years my human heart has burned with anger at one group or the other for their insensitivity, or how many times I have had to check myself because I was taking on another person’s offense as my own. The only position I can take in that moment is laying on my face in prayer asking that the Creator, the Savior, would teach me to be an ambassador of His Kingdom, not my own. And then to pick myself up, to go sit in their homes, share a meal, talk and listen and exhort and correct and encourage towards righteousness. Not self-righteousness. The righteousness of Christ.
A few weeks ago, that powder keg of misunderstanding and tension reared its ugly head in our ministry in Mexico. The perspectives of an indigenous pastor and a mestizo pastor collided. I want to share the story because it is the only hope I have for how we are going to move forward in seeing unity forged among diverse racial and socio-economic groups. The agency of the Holy Spirit and the humility of His saints is the only way to move us forward.
Our indigenous pastor, Carlos**, has a 3rd grade education. He has been faithful to the gospel for 16 years in spite of intense persecution. Jesus revealed scripture to him in dreams as he sought to improve his ability to read. He prayed for his dead grandson and saw Jesus raise him to life. He has become legendary for his joyous smile as he discipled and taught others the scripture in an incredibly challenging environment.
Our mestizo pastor, Mario**, has a college education. He has been faithful to the gospel for 16 years, also in spite of intense persecution. God miraculously rescued him from terrorists, causing bullets fired at point-blank range not to hit him. He has recently chosen to give up his considerable influence in the community in order to dedicate himself to the ministry of the Gospel.
Misunderstanding and misinterpretation of “work ethic,” “arrogance,” and “effectiveness” caused Mario to dishonor Carlos. Mario’s heart is passionate to see the Gospel expand in the community - but his perception of his brother in Christ was flawed, because he could only see from his own experience. In response, Carlos allowed the narrative of his people - oppression and abuse - to cloud his judgment and perception of his brother’s heart, causing him to shut down communication and open up offense.
But the story doesn’t end there. Jesus stepped into the picture. He moved upon the hearts of his children - Carlos and Mario - to give them an opportunity to put aside their hurt and their pride. Other believers, with the boldness that comes from love, challenged them privately to reconsider the “justification” of their actions against one another. And they chose to humble themselves and extend love towards one another.
Mario sent us a Whatsapp message about what happened at a church gathering the following week:
"Brother… this (picture) is from just a moment ago... I was just telling my son that I hugged my brother Carlos, and from the moment I opened my arms, he came up, leaned against my chest, and said, “Come on, let’s talk.” And we went over to the place I showed you in the picture - over where we were talking. I feel like today was a true reconciliation. Thank you for confronting me.
Thank you for being an instrument of the Holy Spirit. Because yesterday after we spoke, I was supposed to share (from the scripture) here at the house… my wife shared something and with what you shared with me, I felt strongly reprimanded. The Holy Spirit touched my heart. And coming here today, there was my brother, Carlos! … and I tell you the truth, I opened my arms and he came to my arms, and we gave one another an embrace of love, of brotherhood. So, Brother, the Holy Spirit is speaking very strongly. We are going to do amazing things for the Kingdom of God."
This is the answer to division, to historical oppression, to violence and offense. Humility, love, honesty, and the agency of the Holy Spirit. JESUS.
It is hard work. It is exhausting. It is emotional. It is scary. But the ministry of reconciliation is ours.
17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
2 Corinthians 5:17-21
We must do what it takes to bridge the gaps in our own understanding, stand ready to humble ourselves for the sake of the oppressed, and lay our lives down to bring reconciliation to Christ and to one another.
Stay obedient. Minister reconciliation.
Britt and Audrey Hancock
Here is the Spanish transcript of the Whatsapp memo that we translated:
Hermano, querido hermano, esto es ahorita… Ahorita estoy contando a mi hijo* que lo abracé mi hermano, y desde el momento en que le abrí los brazos él se vino y se redujo en mi pecho, y le dije, «Vente, vamos a platicar». Y nos la pasamos allá donde le mostré la foto - allí donde nosotros estamos platicando. Siento que hoy, una reconciliación verdadera. Gracias por hablar conmigo…
Gracias por ser instrumento del Espíritu Santo. Porque ayer después de que hablamos, le tocó compartir aquí en la casa… Y mi esposa* compartió algo, con lo que compartió, me reprendió muy fuerte. El Espíritu Santo tocó mi corazón. Y hoy a llegar allí, allí estaba mi hermano, Carlos*. «¿Cómo estás?» …y la verdad me abrí los brazos, y él se vino a mis brazos y nos dimos un abrazo de amor, de hermandad. Entonces, hermano, el Espíritu Santo está hablando muy fuerte. Vamos a hacer cosas muy grandes para el reino de Dios.
** Names have been changed.
*The word mestizo has multiple meanings in certain circles. We have chosen to use it in the same manner as the Mexican nationals in the states where we work; to refer to the people group that were born from the union of Europeans from the Iberian Peninsula with the indeginous nations of what is now Mexico.
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