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Crises draw Mexicans to God

MEXICO CITY (BP)–Although he lost Mexico’s presidential runoff in July, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador continues to campaign for attention after declaring himself -– not winner Felipe Calderon -– to be the country’s legitimate leader. But a Southern Baptist missionary says God is using the country’s problems to draw the people of Mexico to himself.

Lopez Obrador’s campaign is proving to be a challenge. His March 21-24 “National Democratic Convention” failed to muster much attention to its call for Calderon’s removal from office. On Feb. 1, Lopez Obrador was prevented from addressing a Mexico City rally to protest price increases for tortillas and other staples for Mexico’s vast underclass. And when his supporters sought to purchase weekly television time for him to advocate his positions, they only could afford a 1 a.m. time slot.

The opposition leader, who lost the election by a margin of 1 percent, has called for dramatic social and political change -– “a transformation of the magnitude of the (1910-17) Mexican Revolution.” Lopez Obrador’s demands include wage increases and subsidies and fixed prices for basic foods.

The people of Mexico are wrestling with a complex array of challenges, but even the difficulties can launch people on a spiritual search, says Tom Benson*, the International Mission Board’s strategy associate for Mexico.

Among the challenges:

— Rapid urbanization. Mexican cities are growing at a rapid pace. “Visually, the change has produced more traffic, many new apartment-style housing complexes and a mass entrance of new businesses,” Benson said. “While urbanization brings many positive changes, everyday conversations with people living in these urban areas are often peppered with concerns about the effect such rapid expansion may have on their lives.”

— Public safety. When urban populations increase, public safety issues grow as well. “While politicians promise to raise numbers of active policemen and the government touts stricter laws for public offenders, the sheer numbers of people that crowd subways, buses and city streets make the task difficult,” Benson said. “Some neighborhoods take their personal security into their own hands when they feel it is not provided by local authorities.”

— Education. “While progress has been made in education, striking disparities still exist between the higher and lower social classes,” Benson said. “In extremely lower-class areas, school buildings often are in need of repair and students generally have little access to quality school materials, including technology.”

— Economy. Ordinary Mexicans struggle financially. “While the country as a whole has seen economic improvement over the past decade, the everyday citizen prospers very little,” Benson said. Jobs remain scarce in many areas and wages low. Often, many people living in one home share their wages in order to cover their basic economic needs.

— Migration. The prospect of work continues to draw large numbers of rural poor to the urban centers. “This migration often separates families, dramatically changing the traditional family lifestyle,” Benson said. “While urban centers become crowded with eager job seekers, the small pueblos they leave behind suffer from the loss of community. The change, however, often leaves people sensitive to the spiritual need in their lives.”

— Politics. “A poll of public opinion would probably find the majority of people support one of the three major parties,” Benson said. “But many alternative parties have begun to organize, and some receive quite a following. New political options and a chance at solidifying the democratic process have begun to awaken hope. A new spark of positive outlook for the country also creates an opportunity to spread Christ’s good news among the Mexican people.”

Mexicans, like people everywhere, know that promises made during political campaigns aren’t always kept, Benson said. Conversations on the street following this past summer’s dramatic presidential election have swirled around whether promised changes will occur.

“As Mexicans wait for their political leaders to solve national problems, many also long to hear others raise a clear, strong voice for the Lord,” Benson said. “Religious traditions run deep, but many have begun to call on the living Lord as they find that cultural religion and idol worship doesn’t satisfy their needs –- temporal or eternal.

Benson said he sees an new openness in Mexico.

“In many cities and small towns, people are turning to Christ,” he said. “Despite the uniqueness of problems that plague society –- or perhaps through them -– God is calling the Mexican people to Himself.

“People are receptive. People are asking questions. And people are turning to Christ,” he said. “House churches and cell churches are beginning to form and we believe God has begun a movement that will impact not only Mexico, but all of Latin America.

“This is an opportunity that cannot be missed,” he added. “This is the time to send long-term missionaries to Mexico!”

While freedom of religion is guaranteed by Mexico’s constitution, new believers still may face intense pressure from family members or their community, Benson explained.

“We need prayer that God will strengthen the commitment of new believers to follow Christ so they will have boldness to endure those pressures,” he said. “Missionaries work alongside Mexican Baptists to carry out the Great Commission so all Mexicans will have a chance to hear and respond to the Gospel and begin a new life in Christ.”
*Name changed.

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  • Mark Kelly