by Parrish W. Jones, Ph.D.
©copyright, July 7, 1997
There was a time when I took the words of Jesus in his inaugural sermon (Luke 3) to refer literally to the physically blind. I knew that there was a larger connotation, but knowing intellectually and knowing spiritually and emotionally are two different things.
Clearly, Jesus fulfilled the literal meaning by healing many who were physically blind. However, it may be much easier to heal physical blindness than to heal one person who is spiritually blind. Certainly, Jesus met many more spiritually blind persons than he did physically blind ones. Many spiritually blind persons were never healed of their infirmity and in those cases they remained not only blind but imprisoned in the walls of stolid tradition, legal rigidity, custom, ideologies of domination and oppression, religious and social tradition, and the like. They never experienced the transforming power of God’s grace spoken so eloquently throughout scripture and especially in Romans 12:2 and Philippians 2:1-11.
In the summer of 1992 my wife, Mary Ellen, two of our children, and I went to serve as volunteers on the border between Mexico and the U.S. We went providentially to Frontera de Cristo which is located at Douglas, Arizona, U.S.A. and Agua Prieta, Sonora, Mexico. I say providentially because the brief events, which led to our going there, occurred in such a way that it seems the Lord had a plan. These were simple and boring events which simply happened in such a way that we went to Frontera de Cristo. Looking back, they came together as a sort of divine leading.
That summer led to new ways of seeing for me. I have returned for brief visits since. Once for a week in 1995 and again in April and July 1997. On the last two visits I took teams from my Presbytery of Redstone. Each visit renews me and adds to my vision. (NOTE: Since 1997, I have returned for annual team trips or personal visits.)
I believe my journey of faith in regard to border ministry has been very much like that of Peter’s or Paul’s. Both were committed disciples but found themselves constantly challenged by the gospel and their Christian experiences. Neither gained complete spiritual vision when they met Jesus. Neither ever matured so far that they did not receive new sight in their Christian walk.
Both had some person-shaking events in their lives: Peter through meeting Cornelius, not to mention many other occasions, and Paul in his admitted intransigence toward John Mark. The border has consistently challenged me to think about my faith, mission, and theology. As a result I have been given new vision. Not all at once, but gradually as I am ready to have my eyes opened more and more. This new vision is not a feat of my own, it is the Lord’s doing through the many people I have grown to know and love from the border.
Kingdom without Borders
In the United States we concentrate on differences. When we think of foreign countries we think about differences and tend to be hung up on the differences. That is not to say there are no differences. The church of Agua Prieta is an humble structure that serves many purposes. It has no place reserved solely for worship. The room in which we worship, we also hold Bible studies, dinners, and parties. Few people drive cars and those who do drive old and inexpensive cars. Even the doctor who is employed by Frontera de Cristo drove the same 1981 Pinto at least until 1995. Most often when Agua Prietans go to the stores, to work, to school, to church, they walk. And the houses in which most Mexicans live are far more humble than those in which we live. In general, the people of Mexico have a lower educational level than most of us.
There are many differences that we can elaborate and dwell on. However, the differences are superficial. They are not substantive. We are Christians and, as such, we are called to a different view of reality. In Romans 3:23 the Bible says, "All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God." This condition is universal. Nobody can escape. We are all the same.
The world, or those whom Paul refers to as conforming to the flesh, is able to look down on others, to deny self-esteem, to belittle, or even to deny personhood to other persons. However, as Christians, we know that we are sinners. We know that we are lost without the grace of God. By the grace of God we are saved by Jesus Christ. So as Christians who do not conform ourselves to the flesh, we are not able to put others down, to view others as less important than ourselves, to view them as non-persons. Instead, we are to treat each person equally.
How do we know this?
We know this because the Bible tells us so. In Romans 8:13 we read, "If by the spirit you put to death the works of the flesh, you will live."
What are the works of the flesh?
Galatians 5:19-21 tells us that "The works of the flesh are adultery, fornication, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like." I know few people who want the kind of reputation that goes with these acts. We consider these kinds of behavior bad in others and deny it in ourselves.
The question is how do we put to death the works of the flesh?
By being guided by the Spirit of God. We cannot do it on our own. As we surrender ourselves to the guidance of the Holy Spirit and are filled with its power, the Spirit guides us to replace the works of the flesh with the fruit of the Spirit. The fruit of the spirit is "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control." Paul says that we do not make laws against these kinds of things. The implication is that we do make laws against the works of the flesh.
Why? Because they destroy community and thus life. Works of the flesh build borders that exclude some while admitting a few. Works of the flesh are exclusive while the fruit of the spirit is inclusive. Works of the flesh push others away or exploit others for selfish motives. The Work of the spirit reaches out, gathers in, nurtures the value in others.
When we surrender to the Spirit of God, the Spirit begins to give life to the fruit of the Spirit in us. The works of the flesh begin to die because they no longer have roots in our souls. Therefore, they receive no nourishment. The fruit of the Spirit receives all the nourishment, so the works of the flesh wither and die.
Because all Christians are guided by the same Spirit, we become children of God. We receive the spirit of adoption, which is to say, when we surrender to the Holy Spirit, God adopts us as sons or daughters. Thus we are heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, the unique Son of God.
This point is central to the Gospel. It is central to our faith. It is central to the life of the church. It is central to the mission of the church. It is the central point of the Lord’s Supper. Therefore, it is one principal for the common work of the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the Presbyterian Church of Mexico. We are members of the family of God. Each of us is a child of God. Nobody is better than another. We are equals in Christ as Galatians 3:28 says, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free; there is neither male nor female; because we are all one in Christ Jesus." Therefore, there is neither Mexican nor United Stateser, there is neither native American nor foreigners, there is neither rich nor poor, there is neither an upper class nor a lower class; because we are all one in Christ Jesus.
If we are Christians, this point changes the way we live our lives. Those who are viewed as superior by the world are humbled. Those who are rich become poor. Those who are oppressed are freed. Those who oppress become liberators. The mighty are brought low and the powerless are lifted up (Luke 1:46-55). In Christ nobody looks down on or treats another as of no value. Nor does one who is a Christian permit him or herself to be treated as worthless. The dominating, power mongering, consumer driven and exploitative ideologies are negated in our lives.
Let us remember, "we are heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ." When we are inclined to consider ourselves better than others, we must remember that we are joint heirs with Christ. When we feel inferior to another, we must remember that we are joint heirs with Christ. Therefore, we are equal in Christ.
Thus in the mission of the church we walk together. The work we do in Pennsylvania is the work of the Mexican Christian and the work done by the Mexican Christian is our work also. We can say that because in Christ, we are one body but different parts.
Truly, this is a mystery but the Lord makes it so through the Holy Spirit that lives in each of us.
This equality and unity in Christ, our relationship as heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ teaches us how we should approach missions. First, we should do missions with a clear understanding of our own identity as Christians. We cannot go into the world with an attitude of superiority nor with one of inferiority. As God’s missionaries, we go as God’s children to the children of God.
Dr. Bohl, the past-moderator of the General Assembly of the PC(USA), spoke at meeting of Redstone Presbytery during his moderatorial year. He told a story that illustrates the point. Not long after the earthquake in Chobay, Japan, he was visiting a church in the southern U.S. He mentioned that he was going to Japan to visit the area of Chobay. Following his talk as he received people, a young girl came to him with $5.00 in her hand and gave it to him. She then said, "Dr. Bohl, I don’t know where Chobay is or even where Japan is, but will you give this money to a little girl like me so she will know that Jesus loves her." Dr. Bohl thanked her for her gift and assured her he would. Upon arriving in Chobay, he met with a gathering of Christians. In the group was a grandmother and granddaughter who were the only survivors of a large family. He decided this was the little girl and asked her if he could buy her a gift on behalf of the little girl in the United States. She responded that she wanted a doll.
He took the girl and the grandmother to a store down the street and let the girl pick out the doll. When he had paid for the doll with the $5.00 and a little more, he told the little girl, "This gift comes from a little girl like you in the U.S. because she wants you to know that Jesus loves you." The girl hugged him and responded, "Please tell her thank you and that I know Jesus loves me and her, too."
God does not recognize borders and neither should we. It is difficult when the world makes so much of borders, however, we are Christian and we must reach out and touch our brothers and sisters in Christ as these two girls did. We worry about our jobs, but there are solutions to jobs if we are creative and not defensive. We worry about crime, yet we have learned all too graphically in the past years that those we call "our own" may be our worst problem. Immigrants or no, we must concern ourselves with the behavior which permits violence and wonder why our dream children grow to be violent murderers, why distinguished soldiers are mass murderers, and why our government perpetrates horrors such as Waco and Ruby Ridge.
In Christ, there are no borders. We are all one. We all have the same goal which is to preach the gospel to the world and to minister in the name of Christ to those who are downtrodden, brokenhearted, oppressed, imprisoned, and emotionally or physically sick. Therefore, we cannot approach missions with the paternalistic attitude of we know what to do and you don’t.
That is spiritual blindness.
For many years mission work originating from the U.S. and Great Britain was quite paternalistic. We thought we were civilized and those to whom we went were not. We thought we knew best what everybody needed and they did not. Instead of preaching the gospel and ministering to human need, we exported our culture and called it Christian. That is spiritual blindness.
Thankfully, in the middle of this century mission theology received new vision and we began to do missions as equals in the mode of servanthood. I have tried to carry that kind of understanding into ministry with the congregation I serve. I did not come to impose my agenda or ministry, but to join it in ministry bringing my gifts and knowledge and abilities here to minister within its ministry. So we must do in missions around the world.
Finally, any mission from the United States must recognize the import of social and economic justice to the effectiveness of the church. Perhaps, for Christians who can influence Unions and Corporations, their mission may be to do so. What is economically and socially just for one culture is also just for another. We worry about the loss of jobs to Mexico and other Latin American nations. We can make a difference if we are stockholders or unionized employees. This is so because the same people who employ us are the same people who employ Mexicans and Canadians, Japanese and Koreans, Africans and Asians.
Stockholders can pressure the corporations in which they own stock to provide comparable wages to all its employees wherever the factory. Unions can quit being protective and begin being progressive. Unions for Chrysler, General Motors, and the like can strike on behalf of their brothers and sisters in other countries to bring equality in the work place worldwide.
Christians are called to creative living. Those who share the same inheritance should not some be squanderers and others preservers. Instead, we should all look together with the same sure and certain hope in Jesus Christ.
As I talked with our Mexican brothers and sisters in Agua Prieta and Nogales, never did they ask for money. Never did they ask for material things. Their constant request was, "Pray for us and don’t forget us." They in turn promised to pray for us and not forget us. They do not ask us to hand them a better life. They do not wish for us to give up our good life so they can have a better life. They do not desire that some lose so they may gain. They only ask that we not deny them the liberty to do the Lord’s work and their vocation and thus hope for a better life. They simply ask that they be regarded as heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ by their brothers and sisters across the border. Our promise to pray for them and to remember them represents to them that we embrace them as children of God hoping that they will know as we do that Jesus loves them.
A Common Calling
In the last section I outlined the relationship of Christians one with the other. Paul’s images in Romans 10:5-17 are lively ones.
The first image, the Spirit of adoption, is so lively and vital that one is hard pressed to speak about it at all. However, Paul says that through it we become the children of God. The Spirit so energizes us that we put to death the works of flesh, or the work of sin, in our lives and bring to life the fruit of the spirit. Thus we begin to live like God.
The second image, we are the children of God thus heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, implies a privileged relationship because to be joined with Christ in anything is a privilege. To imply that we in any way are equal to Christ is to bestow great honor. However, as Christians we know that that honor is a gift from God that we do not deserve. Therefore, while we are in a privileged position, we are deeply humbled by our position. So deeply humbled that we receive all those who are heirs of Christ with us as our brothers and sisters without prejudice.
There is more. As joint heirs, we discover that our new life in Christ makes us unable to put others down, to take away their esteem and self-respect. As joint heirs our natural human tendency to think ourselves better than others or to look down on others is put to death by the Spirit which causes us to remember that the other is a joint heir with Christ as we are. Likewise, we no longer permit ourselves to be put down because we remember that we are joint heirs with Christ.
These facts help us properly approach the mission of the church with others in our world who are very different from us but share with us as heirs in Christ. These principles lead us to participate in mission as partners and with a sense of mutuality.
Such has become the case in mission work in the past 40 years. Our missions with others is a mission of mutuality whereby we fulfill the mission Paul articulates in our lesson from Romans whereby all persons should be able to call on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Through our mission offerings we have enabled the work we refer to as Border Ministry. The work stretches along the border between Mexico and the United States. The work originated because the Presbyterian Church (USA) was approached by the National Presbyterian Church of Mexico to help facilitate the work. The two denominations have long had cooperative efforts. Bob and Estelle Armistead, who now served for three years as the U.S. co-coordinators at Frontera de Cristo, began their long careers as missionaries in the Mexican mountains about 100 miles south of Mexico City. Bill and Marge Buehler, who served as the U.S. co-directors in Nogales, began their missionary careers in Oaxaca, Mexico.
However, the two denominations seem to have different concerns as they approach the border. Therefore, the ministry represents what Alan Riding says in his book Distant Neighbors, "Probably nowhere in the world do two neighbors understand each other so little. More than by levels of development, the two countries are separated by language, religion, race, philosophy and history." It may be that many of the problems of doing ministry on the border stem from that. Many are the problems. However, there are many victories.
Despite that often the U.S. and Mexican members of the joint effort still do not understand each other and that the two national churches share slightly different views of the projects, many wonderful things are happening. The Mexican Church clearly is more interested in new church development, thus evangelism, than is the U.S. church. The U.S. church is hung up on the excruciating poverty and issues of social justice. However, we are learning that we cannot define others for themselves.
What we call poor is not viewed as poor by others. The Mexican government, like ours, has criteria for determining poverty. Theirs differs from ours considerably. However, theirs is theirs and fits their people’s perceptions and hopes and dreams as ours does our people. Of the eight sites where we have established border ministries, the level of poverty is viewed by the Mexicans as lower than the level of poverty as viewed by the U.S., on the U.S. side of the border.
The Buehlers in Nogales were articulate in explaining that they have taken the approach of enabling the Mexicans to do what the Mexicans have set as goals. It would be wrong to think that the Mexicans have no social gospel or concern for the poor. However, they believe that social ministry must grow out of established congregations not from paternalistic programs handed them by U.S. churches.
In fact, the Buehlers said that their biggest challenge is having the courage to say to U.S. churches that sometimes they are doing harm not good. Thus we must learn to listen. Part of being a family is learning to listen to our brothers and sisters our children and our parents. One lesson we must learn is that just because we view people as poor does not mean they should rejoice at any gift we send. Poverty does not mean lack of pride and self-esteem. When we send our crumbs, that is our crummy clothes and our used but not worn out things, sometimes we simply send the message that we are better than they, not a message of love.
This problem is major and it is mostly our problem because we do not listen. We treat the third world as we often treat our children. We think we know best and they need us to tell them what’s best. Sometimes, however unintentional it may be, we treat the people of the third world as a disposal unit for our worn out things no matter how unusable the things may be.
However, when you meet the people of Mexico whether in Mexico or the U.S. you discover they are a faithful, courageous, diligent people of integrity. When I arrived in Agua Prieta in 1995, I saw a city transformed from three years before. The same was true when I arrived in 1997. Many streets were paved which had not been. Now, nearly every resident lives within a few blocks of a paved roadway with sidewalks. Homes which were nothing but shacks are now small, but lovely dwellings. Outhouses have come down being replaced with bathrooms. This transformation is not the result of foreign aid nor good government policy in Mexico. It is the diligence of a people who, like many of our great, are building life not wallowing in it as most of us do.
They live in a cash economy so only the well to do have credit. Every brick, board, shingle, piece of tin in their homes is paid for when it is carried to the house. They believe they can and so they do.
The ministry in Agua Prieta is also quite changed by the increasing establishment of the community. A medical clinic founded just four years ago became obsolete because most persons in the neighborhood had jobs and thus national health insurance. Quickly, the decision was made to transform the clinic into the pastor’s home, a long dreamt of need within the church. I was privileged to be the guest of the pastor for two nights in a spacious room built on the house for visiting ministers.
The church and project have found it necessary to close the child care center because the government opened a free center just two blocks away. However, the project and church are seeking ways to creatively use the childcare budget to do other important things that the church has placed on the agenda.
The church badly needs established middle class families. So they began holding breakfasts honoring teachers at the elementary, preparatory, college, and technical schools. The events include a short evangelistic message by a visiting pastor. In addition the project has worked to build bridges between the church and the community by doing community service projects like painting school buildings, building senior adult centers, and community buildings.
Without those efforts I saw many new faces in the congregation. Two such faces were that of a father and his beautiful 18-year-old daughter from Chiapas, the southern most state of Mexico where the uprising occurred last in 1994 to 1996. They had traveled north to work and send money home to support the family. They work for Bendix making seat belts for our cars and earn about $6 per day and share a small apartment. Their family has been Presbyterian longer than many of ours because Presbyterian missions began in Chiapas about 150 years ago and his family were some of the first converts.
Connections are a part of being Christian. They are part of understanding our common calling. While we have been at work in ministry for many centuries in the U.S., so the Mexicans have been at work in ministry for a very long time. They are thankful for their heritage and the missionaries that first visited their villages and cities and preached the gospel to them. Yet, they now have a vision of the future of the church that comes from our common calling but their unique experience. So we are called by God to hear their voices and understand their vision and thus walk with them on the journey instead of dragging them along on ours.
To do otherwise is to violate our common calling, our unity in Jesus Christ, our joint inheritance, and the most rudimentary notions of justice.
In the Face of Injustice
Thus the story of this man and his daughter help us understand our vision of their life. They became employed with the Bendix Corporation where they work to produce seat belts for automobiles. In November 1994, the Mexican currency took a plunge in value by nearly 50%. Put in other terms everything cost twice one day what it did the day before. I inquired of Pedro if his company had made up the difference in his wage. I thought it only right that the company would, since Bendix does all of its business in dollars except for short-term conversions. Pedro told me that they had not. I asked him if that did not make him bitter. He said, "No, God has been good to us. God provides."
I find the corporate behavior of Bendix and other companies to be unjust given that they could have adjusted the wage without loss. However, nothing has been done.
This example is simply one among many. Injustice, social and economic and environmental, is ever present along the border of the U.S. and Mexico. The injustice is perpetuated by corporations and by labor unions. Some opposed North American Free Trade Agreement because it would, as Ross Perot liked to say, create a large sucking sound as it sucked jobs from the U.S. into Mexico. That has not happened because the migration of jobs across our borders had begun years ago for a variety of reasons. Some are economic, some are social, and some are environmental.
When speaking about the plight of the Mexican worker, I know it goes through the mind of some, "Why should I care more about them than me or American workers?" One person asked me during the NAFTA debates if I wasn’t concerned about the loss of jobs to people in the U.S. Certainly, I was and am. However, I cannot see why I should be more concerned about the plight of a man from Osh Kosh, Wisconsin than one from Agua Prieta. Nor can I see why I should be less concerned. As a Christian, whether a member of union or management, I should be concerned about the plight of those who suffer.
In an economy that is growing more and more global, my Christian concern for economic and social justice must become more and more globally informed. One failure of the U.S. union movement is that as corporations have become more and more global, our unions have grown more and more nationalistic thus dooming themselves to being anachronisms. Unions could do more for themselves and justice worldwide by bargaining for better compensation for their comrades in foreign countries like Mexico. Yet, they forget the sacrifices made on their behalf by former generations and they forget the grace of God which has been poured out on them and that their relative wealth in relation to the rest of the world is God’s gift. Will they fail the test of stewardship?
It seems both unions and corporations have.
The brochures of our Border Ministry Program say that the U.S. Mexico Border is the longest international border with the sort of economic differential between wealth and poverty existing there. The statement is true as far as it goes. However, it is the kind of statement that is typical of an U.S. consciousness. It shows that those of us who can be classed as social and political liberals can fall prey to another kind of social and political oppression, namely to paternalism.
The border region stands as indictment of all of us who are complicitous in the numerous injustices there from the corporate board to the bleeding hearts of liberalism. The reason it cuts such a large slice is that the people of Mexico do not think in the same terms we do. A term that appears daily in their papers and magazines is "disarrollo" which means development. It applies to the great development of Mexico in every respect. It speaks of an indigenous quest. It is a quest they wish to be their own. It is one that they do not look to us to create or even assist in. It is a quest they simply do not wish to be hampered in.
There in lies the crux of how we as Christians can participate in relieving the terrible disparity we see in wealth and poverty. We can as corporate dealers, stockowners, union members, voice our concern to assure that we do nothing to restrain their quest nor that we do nothing to hamper their quest. Our paternalism is our biggest sin whether we be corporate executives, stockholders, government officials, union members, or missionaries.
As Christians we are called to be engaging without overpowering, to minister without imposing, to love without controlling. Christians are called to gracious life.
To me that term has come to be a central understanding of my Christian presence in the world. God has been exemplary of graciousness. God has given and sacrificed when God could have been overbearing and demanding. God’s call to the people of God has always been to live as God has lived.
Deuteronomy 8:11- speaks that message to us. Do not presume credit for yourself when the credit is due another. Your wealth has come from God. Do not presume yourself to be self-made. "Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth; that he may confirm his covenant which he swore to your fathers."
These words do not come in a vacuum but with the background that God by grace had led the people of Israel from Egyptian bondage to freedom through the dessert to the land of milk and honey. God did not have to do this. God did it out of grace with no guarantee of a response.
Likewise, Ephesians 2:1-10 speaks of God’s grace to which we are called to respond. Again it is not by our own power that we are saved but by that of God. It is by God’s grace that we are saved not by anything we could have accomplished.
Any scriptural imperative to good works is always based on this background. The theology of the Old Testament is built on the awareness that the people of Israel exist because of God’s graciousness and therefore must live graciously towards others. So in the New Testament. The people of Israel were human slaves to human masters. They gained liberty only because the Lord intervened on their behalf to bring justice. We have received liberty from sin only because God graciously intervened to destroy the power of sin and free us from lives bound to sin so we were free to live for good.
We must beware lest we say in our hearts that our wealth is self-made or that our goodness is self-induced. Apart from God there is no wealth and there is no goodness.
If we make these words of Deuteronomy and Ephesians the habitual thought pattern of our souls, we begin to live more humble toward all. I believe that the one thing lacking in most of our thinking about Latin America, about economic and political justice, about missions, about immigration (legal and illegal), about drugs, and about violence, is that of a gracious Christian attitude that recalls that we could be them and they us.
One of the important aspects of learning about the scriptures is that the scriptures always call us to remember from whence we came. Few of us came from royal roots. However, even if we had, the Bible declares that apart from God’s grace in Jesus Christ we are nothing. When we read the newspaper or see a story on television, we must interpret the story with Christian senses not the senses of the world. Our senses must always ask, "What if I were in that situation what would I want? How would I want to be treated? If I knew that person was the Lord, how would I feel differently? How can we be most gracious toward the other?"
After all, as President Kennedy so eloquently said in his speech of rapprochement toward the Soviet Union, "Their dreams are the same as ours. They want for their children the same things we want for ours. They breath the same air, drink the same water, look at the same heavens, and walk on the same earth. In that respect we have far more in common than we have that separates us."
Our neighbors to the south are more like us than they are different from us. Their desire is not to take what is ours, but to be free to attain their dreams. For many of them, they share something far more important with us than their dreams. They share our faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. They are our brothers and sisters in Christ. Our Christian response must be to afford them the opportunity to achieve their highest hopes. We are also called to minister with them as we declare the good news of the gospel to the whole world. Thus there is a great need.
Laborers for the Harvest
I am able to receive CNN International that has as part of its programming a Spanish language broadcast of the news. Following the Oklahoma City bombing, I listened with interest to reactions with persons from all over Latin America. Every one of the persons declared that it was like a war. Their horror over the event was clearly a reaction to their general perception of the United States. That perception is that we are the land of milk and honey, a land of peace, a land of opportunity, a land of great wealth. Why, in such a country, would anyone need to do anything violent? Does not wealth create happiness? Wealthy people need not rob or kill others.
Their view of us contrasts starkly with our view of Latin Americans. We think of them as poor and, therefore, maudlin. They think of us as rich and, therefore, happy. We think of them as ignorant, violent, and incapable of self-government. They think of us as intelligent, resourceful, well organized, and self-governed. In fact, we know the other’s view of us is wrong for the most part.
I think that most of us think of the third world, which includes Mexico, as a part of the world that has a constant cloud over it. If we were to characterize nations as those which have seen the great light of which Isaiah 9 speaks, we would characterize the U.S. as having seen it along with parts of Europe and Scandinavia. The Third World and much of the Second World, we would characterize as not having seen it. We are civilized and they are uncivilized.
However, mission work within the church helps to dispel such misconceptions. When one visits the nations of the world, one discovers that their perceptions are quite different from our own. The Mexican people who are poor in our terms seldom see themselves as poor despite the fact they view us as rich.
Certainly, Mexicans, who are Christians, usually view their lives differently than we. They think first of their spiritual wealth and trust the Lord with the material.
Let me return to the father and daughter from Chiapas. I spoke for about 15 minutes with the father, a father of six from Chiapas, the southern most state of Mexico. He and his daughter had come to Agua Prieta, 2300 miles from home, to find work to support the family. The father is a tall, slender, and handsome native man. His daughter bore his features proudly and beautifully. His great-grandparents received Christ under the missionary leadership of Presbyterians 150 years ago in Chiapas.
Pedro speaks with a gentle and kind voice of his family and home. His love for the Lord is visible in his happy eyes. I asked him with permission some questions about his employment with the Bendix factory in Agua Prieta and about the currency crisis of November 1994. It was a crisis so great we can hardly imagine. Think though if when you went to bed last night you checked to see if you had $20 to go to lunch after church today. You found that you did. However, when you went to pay the bill at the restaurant the $20 had changed into $10. That is what happened in Mexico in November.
I asked the father if Bendix that does all of its currency in dollars had increased his wage to make up the difference in the Peso. The answer was that the company had not. I was surprised since it would not change the financial picture for Bendix. I asked him if such behavior by his employer did not anger or embitter him. He responded, "No, God has been good to us. We have more than enough."
I did not hear from him resignation, but celebration. Seldom did I hear the people lament their condition nor do you hear complaining. Mexico is understood by one of its own, Octavo Paz, as a nation of resignation. Yet, that resignation results in diligence and persistence in life. A person resigned with life expects little from life except what is necessary. Therefore, such a person is seldom disappointed.
Mexican Christians seem to me to have replaced resignation with faith. The Danish theologian Soren Kierkegaard refers to this replacement as a true conversion of the soul that occurs with a leap of faith. In this respect the Christian is able to faithfully accept the realities of life but look to the future with hope and faith in the Lord.
Such is the attitude that is necessary to look and see the harvest. Some people look at the world without hope and are bludgeoned with problems. Others look at the world with eyes of faith and see the great harvest.
When Jesus spoke with his disciples, he spoke with those whose faith was still immature. When he said that the harvest was plentiful, they heard without comprehension (Matthew 9:35-38). They saw no harvest to be had nor did they understand completely about what harvest he spoke. However, following his resurrection and the day of Pentecost they saw the harvest of souls and they went forth to reap (Acts 2:1-21).
To look into the farthest corners of the world and see the harvest is not hard. It is clear that in Mexico the harvest is plentiful and the fields are ready. Most Roman Catholics are only that in name. Mexicans tend to say that they are Roman Catholics because for many years not to be drew persecution or loss of rewards. Even today Christians who are not Roman Catholic will be persecuted. Many such stories come from all over Mexico. In the southern state of Chiapas, persecution has been brutal from time to time.
One thing that Mexican Christians are quite sure of is that it is one thing to be a Christian and another to be a nominal Christian. The Presbyterian Church in Mexico does not play a game of nominal acceptance. The people of the church are expected to study their Bibles. No page numbers for scripture lessons are included in the bulletin or announced. When the lesson is announced nearly every member will turn in his or her own Bible to the lesson, stand with the congregation and read either in unison or responsively from the Bible. This is true of every person, child or adult, who has learned to read.
While being biblically literate does not insure being a good Christian, one wonders how we can be the best God would have us be when we know so little, as many of us, about the Bible. So little that we do not know whether the lesson announced is in the Old or the New Testament.
Therefore, we cannot look and see the tremendous harvest on foreign soil without seeing the harvest yet to be reaped at home. It is a great harvest and perhaps we can begin that harvest by committing ourselves to greater faithfulness to God’s word.
This does not mean that charity or missions begin at home. That is a pernicious notion that usually means that charity begins and ends at home. We cannot do the work of God without a universal view. The only way to maintain such a vision is to be constantly involved in the work of the Lord universally. However, we must act at home daily to make a difference. If the environmentalist must act locally and think globally, it is doubly true for the Christian.
As I talked with the Christians in Mexico about their needs, never did they mention the need for money. However, for them money is a greater problem than for us because their average annual income is about $2,400 per household. No, the cost of necessities is not less than here. A well balanced diet is no less expensive in Mexico than here. Adequate medical care costs their society a great deal also. Clothes are just as expensive and their children also want Reeboks, Calvin Clines, and Sega Genesis.
When we talked of their needs, their minds almost instinctively went to spiritual needs. We need to learn more about the Bible. We need more Bible study. We need more prayer groups. We need more cell groups in the suburbs. We need to reach the professional class with the gospel. We need our children to eat fruit and vegetables and drink orange juice instead of coke and potato chips. We need you to pray for us that we can remain strong Christians.
I heard that final request day in and day out from our brothers and sisters in Mexico. I only briefly met Pedro Bodadilla, the layworker with the church in Magdalina. We talked for about 10 minutes. However, I was present as he and Bill Buehler spoke about a concern in his ministry and some practical matters like fixing the car Pedro drove. When we parted, Pedro asked quite humbly, "Please remember my people and me in your prayers."
I always assured them that I and we would do so. I am caused to wonder why we seldom make that simple request of others on a regular basis let alone give a simple blessing when we part such as they do. Has our spirituality become pressed so far back in our lives that we do not think of it? Have we become so reticent about the love of God that we dare not express it publicly? Is it necessary that we become so pressed with meeting even the simplest of life’s needs for us to become more cognizant of God’s love and providence?
The field is abundantly ready for harvest in our own souls, in our church, in our community, in our nation, in our world. Where are the laborers for the harvest? May we hear the call of God to you today.
Without renewing vision we do not hear the call. Or, more properly, without renewing vision we see the call with short sightedness or we think far sightedness is wiser or we think our distorted myopia is normal. Without an eye exam, I may very well think that I see normally. The border has shown me time and again that my vision is out of kilter. Most importantly, it has renewed a thirst for the good news of the gospel that is not always comfortable for me. It has challenged my liberalism but it has also challenged the conservatism of others.
Two such persons were with me on the trip to the border in July 1997. One said after just a couple of crossings, "It seems odd that someone can draw and arbitrary line in the sand and say to people who happen to live on the other side, ‘You may not cross.’" The other said, "My whole view of immigration policy has changed since I visited Agua Prieta."
The border experience usually transforms us from thinking that we are the harvester to knowing that we are the harvest. I am not so much the laborer as the one who is labored on by the Lord and his servants, who are the very people I went to the border to help. That vision is humbling.