Why is the concept of transformation through life-on-life interaction so important in Mexico? First of all, it’s because the culture values relationships so highly.
Spending unhurried time together is vital to developing friendships, and it’s in those relaxed times that informal conversations about spiritual things can develop. My husband Steve found that taking people out kayaking offered him countless opportunities to turn the talk toward matters of faith. Out on that calm water, away from the rush of daily life, people would ask him questions they might not feel free to voice in a structured or more public setting.
Secondly, as we share our lives with others, they begin to see Christ’s love in us. When we went back to Baja in June and heard people reminisce about our time there, what they remembered wasn’t specific sermons or Bible studies; rather, they remembered the deathbed vigils, the unexpected midnight trips to the hospital, the kayak outings. All of the missionaries have given themselves to others in similar ways. Several have taken people into their homes for periods of time or cared for children while the rest of the family was tending to a sick relative in another town. This kind of incarnational service causes people to see that Jesus is real and at work in our lives.
A third reason that we need to emphasize sharing our lives as Christians is because in Mexico, words often have very little meaning. This is seen not only in the empty promises of politicians, but also in the laws. Many wonderful laws exist, but they have become merely words on a page because they are not enforced; therefore, no one pays attention to them. Claims of truth are usually ignored or doubted, so years back when Coca-Cola’s slogan in most places was “Coke – It’s the real thing,” it had to be changed in Mexico because people would just ignore such a claim. So when we proclaim the truth of the Gospel, it isn’t enough to speak the words; we must live it out in order for Mexicans to seriously consider its claims on their lives.
A fourth reason for “walking the talk” is similar: people are used to a religion that is part of their identity as Mexicans, but not one that changes their everyday lives. And because the religion they profess has its roots in Scripture, the Gospel we preach sounds familiar to them – too familiar. We speak of faith in Christ, to which they can nod their heads; but for them to truly grasp what it means to be saved by grace through faith sometimes takes a long time.
So if we can stick with them and show them what it means to live out a grace- and faith-filled life through informal times together while faithfully presenting what Scripture says, God’s Spirit may well do His work of transformation. Because their traditional religion, in many cases, is more of an outer shell, they need to see lives of integrity. And integrity can be established only over time.
Seeing integrity established through the months and years goes both directions: the non-believers and new believers need to see it in us, and we look to see it in the believers. We have realized over the years that the transformation we long to see may not have much to do with their simply praying a prayer of salvation. In Mexican culture, people often say what the other person wants to hear to preserve harmony. So when we meet someone new, quickly present the Gospel, and ask him or her to “pray the prayer” to be saved, often he or she will do so to please us. As a result, people don’t understand what they have done and in repeating certain words after us, they feel spiritually inoculated and never realize that Christ intends to change their lives. Here again, it’s often after they have heard the message many times in many different ways that the Spirit opens their understanding and they truly put their full confidence in what Christ has done for them.
Life-on-life ministry is valuable, but sometimes even after we have spent a lot of time with someone, they will end up leaving the church. We can never say that a certain way of dealing with people will always give the results we long to see. In times like those, we ask God to work and we give over to him the hurt and disappointment we feel. Even in those situations, others can look at us and see that we have been faithful even when we just wanted to give up.
Transformation is happening slowly but surely in Mexico. The challenges to the growth of the church there will probably only increase, with drug-related violence rapidly escalating. Christians who show integrity and who know the Word thoroughly will be needed even more as the society heads toward chaos.
In many ways, the Mexican church is ready for the challenges as the believers become more grounded in the Word. They know how to love their neighbors in very practical ways already. When the La Paz de Cristo Church wanted to reach out to the fishing village of Santo Domingo four hours to the north, the Mexican leaders organized a weekend trip there and planned all kinds of helpful and fun activities for the community. One man gave lessons on cutting hair; the women planned a craft; we took boxes of basic food items; we went door to door to share Christ; and we finished up with a taco fest, Christian music, and an evangelistic talk. The people of Santo Domingo saw Christ’s love on display that weekend. Mexican Christians are already equipped with the gift of sharing their time freely with others and putting the right emphasis on relationships. They know how to enjoy life and how to celebrate any occasion. Because many of them are still first-generation Christians, they model for us what it means to hold onto that first love that Christ desires. They are good at seeking out others’ needs and looking for ways to help. Many of them have struggled financially and can offer practical help in that area.
Is there still room for the North American church to help in Mexico? I think there is, with the clear idea of coming to help rather than coming to show the way. It seems that the short-term teams that come are most effective when they can work alongside their Mexican brothers and sisters. In that way, everyone senses that they are part of the body of Christ and that each has a part to play. For example, while the Mexicans can teach the North Americans to value unhurried time together, the North Americans can help the Mexicans with developing vision and setting goals. More can be accomplished together than would be possible separately.
-Written by Lois Dresselhaus
-Photography by Robert Johnson
[Originally published in TEAMHorizons, September 2010]Download This Issue of TEAMHorizons