Although the problems of religious intolerance in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas have lessened in recent years, persecution of evangelical Christians still exists in small communities, according to Christian lawyer Abdias Tovilla.
Tovilla points to the town of San Isidro Chejilte, Teopisco municipality, where leaders determined to rid the town of evangelicals by requesting a change in the legal administration of their property. At present, each family owns land, but last July, the town majority voted to change private property to communally-owned land, or ejidos, so that everyone's property comes under the jurisdiction of the town. When the legal status of land changes, leaders have vowed to expel the 34 evangelicals of the Lily of the Valley Pentecostal Church, pastored by Marcelo Cruz Castellanos.
In another case, the town leaders of El Retiro, Oxchuc municipality, have forbidden the growing congregation of Heaven's Gate Church of Prophecy from constructing any type of building to use as a church. The church includes 50 heads of families plus their wives and children. According to Pastor Jorge Santis Gómez, town leaders also prohibit open preaching of the gospel.
On a positive note, government agencies assisted approximately 90 evangelical Indian refugees to return to their homes in the town of 20 de Noviembre in Las Margaritas municipality. Two years ago, the Indians were expelled from the town for political reasons. While living as refugees, they converted to Christianity. Although the government gave them some help, their situation became desperate. Recently, the government helped smooth the way for them to return to their homes, and town leaders shook hands with their leader, José Lino Alvarez Méndez, in a signal of peace. However, many of their houses and properties were damaged and their problems continue, but now they have an opportunity to farm and provide something for themselves.
In Los Pozos, Huixtlan municipality, local authorities have threatened evangelicals with expulsion, according to Notimex, a secular news agency. On Thursday, March 3, evangelicals Pedro Gomez Mendez y Emilio Pech Aguilar told the news agency that they were warned, "If you want to stay in this town, you're going to leave your religion and we'll be friends. If not, we are going to tear down your house again and throw out everything and you are leaving town."
Two years ago, the traditional Catholics destroyed the evangelical church building in Los Pozos and dozens of evangelicals have been sent to jail for their faith, so the believers are taking these latest threats seriously.
Evangelical pastor Reynaldo Gomez Ton, who leads a small group of nine families in the Alas de Aguila Church, asserts that the believers fulfill all the community projects they are assigned and that they respect the traditional Catholic festivities. However, they believe they should have freedom to hold the religious beliefs they prefer.
Bias against evangelicals is not limited to Chiapas. A doctor living near Mexico City recently reported an incident where a teacher beat a schoolgirl because of the child's evangelical beliefs. Doctor Abigail Muñoz Gonzalez told Compass that she treated eight-year-old Virginia Hernandez Diaz after the girl's upper lip was cut open by her school teacher.
Virginia attends the Benito Juarez School in Ecatepec, a city north of Mexico's national capital. During recess on January 11, the children were comparing gifts they had received a few days earlier on Kings' Day, celebrated in Mexico in honor of the Magi. One boy said his auto set was the best, but Virginia said her gift of the love of Jesus was even better and she pulled her Bible out of her knapsack to show the others.
When her schoolmates saw the Bible, they began to make fun of Virginia and throw bits of food and paper spitballs at her. The teacher heard the commotion and ordered Virginia to return to the classroom where she took out a ruler and struck her in the mouth so hard that the child required a surgical stitch to sew it up. As the teacher hit her, she kept repeating, "We don't want evangelicals here!" Virginia controlled the bleeding with tissue until school was over.
Virginia's mother has refused to press charges against the teacher because she has two other children in the same school and fears they will all be expelled or treated with intolerance. She does not have finances to pay for a private school and does not want the children to suffer. Meanwhile, Virginia has been warned to keep quiet about her religious faith and she has become very timid in class.
Copyright 2005 Compass Direct, May not be reprinted by nonsubscribers
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