The Silent Circle
Did you know that 21 percent of the population of Mexico is composed of indigenous people? Or that there are 62 languages spoken by Mexican people besides Spanish? Our group of students learned this last week in the midst of a couple of presentations on Mexican culture, politics, and society by our host organization, Agua Viva.
They brought up this statistic not just to highlight the diversity of culture in Mexico, but to point out the pressing need for the gospel there. Many of those indigenous people live in a state in southern Mexico called Oaxaca, an area that missionaries call the “Circle of Silence” because of how hostile and closed off the area is to Christianity. Many of the missionaries being trained at Agua Viva were going to this area, at the risk of their lives.
However compelling and interesting this was to us, Oaxaca still seemed far away. I couldn’t imagine that this knowledge would be pertinent to our ministry over the next week.
YOUTH MEXICO MISSIONS TRIP
That briefing from Agua Viva was part of the beginning of the Youth Mexico Missions trip, and what a beginning it was. Besides the briefing, our teams split up and visited a number of churches for Sunday worship. We practiced greeting in the Mexican way, enjoyed delicious home-cooked Mexican food (Adam ate seven tacos!), and celebrated “convivio” with our Mexican brothers and sisters, many of whom we would be working alongside the next day.
THE FIRST DAY OF MINISTRY
For the next day, our first day of ministry, my team helped facilitate a VBS (vacation Bible school). We knew little about where we were going, except that it was out of the way south of Ensenada. Monday morning, we pulled our van into a small village and began setting our supplies up. Students went translators to knock on people’s doors and let them know we were having a fiesta por los niños.
At that point, a lanky man with a beard and a blue baseball cap walked up to us and began inquiring. His name was Mark, and we learned that he was a missionary from San Diego who’d been in the village for many years. He told us that the village was composed mostly of indigenous people from Oaxaca, migrant agricultural workers who’d struck out north from the oppression of their tribal cultures in hopes of a better life. Here were the very people we had just heard about the day before, not so far away after all. Unfortunately, their way of life was hard. Mark shared that incest, rape, and domestic abuse were common. These people need Jesus.
BUILDING TRUST WITH VBS
We learned more about the church we were helping to host this VBS too. Pastor Diego, Mark told us, already led a church in another village, but was invited to take over an abandoned church building and try to build a congregation in the migrant worker village.
Pastor Diego’s plan was to host events every few months before he tried to start a worship service, to build trust and relationship with the people. Our VBS served as one of those events. All of a sudden, the significance of what our students was doing took on a whole new light for me. This was no longer “merely” a VBS. It was a strategic outreach to a people who desperately needed to hear Good News, and a significant way to help Mexican Christians pursue the vision God was giving them for missions in Mexico.
Slowly, the little kids trickled in, most unaccompanied by parents. They were a tough crowd (which is a very unusual experience among Mexican children). I was proud of our students because they did their best to engage these kids, singing, dancing, being goofy. But children as young as 3 sat in their chairs stone-faced. It was almost comical the juxtaposition of teenagers singing their hearts out to a crowd of unresponsive children… almost.
I knew behind their shy, frowning demeanors was a lot of oppression and misery. But the Mexican husband and wife pair from Agua Viva who were leading the time were inspired children’s leaders, and combined with the sincere and energetic engagement of our students, the ice melted and the little niños were smiling and laughing by the end of our time.
After we’d finished and were driving away, I asked some of our students what they thought about the experience. One girl said something like, “It was great, but it felt strange not doing as much work as before,” comparing it to our previous trips building houses.
I asked her, “What do you consider ‘work?’” I then made the connection between what we’d learned from Agua Viva about Oaxaca and what our new friend Mark told us about the village. “Work” wasn’t necessarily about lifting a hammer, about the physicality of that, it could also be playing with little children.
But there was something truly significant about this kind of work that made it special; to be a part of the work Mexican churches were doing to reach a group of people within their own country who were otherwise closed to the gospel, simply by helping to do a VBS, was kind of wild to me. It was fun to share with her a new perspective on what she had done that gave it a different kind of weight.
And… that was just the first day of ministry. There are so many more stories to tell, not just by me, but by all of our students. It was exciting, energizing, and challenging in all the right ways. We’ll only take a few minutes during the service this weekend to give a taste of our time there, but maybe you’ll want to stop by Hill Sunday night at 6:00 pm in the Memorial Chapel to hear more stories.
REGISTER FOR THE MEN’S MEXICO TRIP
Men, I’m so excited to hear your stories after this May’s trip. Get more information on the trip HERE. The deadline is fast approaching, March 18. Please register today! REGISTER HERE by downloading and filling out the application form. If you have questions, contact Gregg Colbo.
I’m so glad so many of our students got to see what God is up to in Mexico. It helps us get a fuller sense of the grandness of God’s body, the Church. I’m excited for many more Chapel Hillians to come home from Mexico, eyes wide with wonder.