Zacatecas Hasn’t Forgotten Kentucky
Soon after the Spanish conquest of Mexico in 1520, extraction of gold and silver from the State of Zacatecas began. The mine at Fresnillo, Zacatecas remains one of the world’s richest producers of silver. Our city of San Luis Potosi was founded as a way station for Spanish missionaries, merchants and fortune seekers on their way to the mines in the neighboring State.
Prior to coming to Mexico, I had pictured Zacatecas as a rural backwater whose poverty drove many of their young men to the United States. When I worked in the Eastmont community of East Los Angeles in the early 1990’s, many residents cited Zacatecas as their original homeland. A strong East LA neighborhood association raised funds to purchase an ambulance for one of the State’s towns.
Our preconception of Zacatecas as a poor, rural, agricultural area had been reinforced by our recent visits of Disciples of Christ churches over a period of two week ends. Disciples evangelism in the State has in fact historically been centered on smaller towns like San Antonio de Cipres, Los Nogales and the enchanting “pueblo magico” (magical town) of Jerez. So the Casa de Oracion (House of Prayer) in Guadalupe, a suburb of the capital, represents an exception to the pattern of Disciples church planting in the State.
Zacatecas city and its suburbs count a quarter of a million people. The heavy traffic, mega shopping centers and giant stores (yes, Wal Mart included) is far from the Zacatecas I had imagined. And the story of Casa de Oracion is one I had trouble imagining prior to worshipping there.
Kate and I met the pastor’s wife Lula Rodriguez and son Israel at the Disciples’ Summer Workshops last July. She is a warm, compelling personality in her early 40’s and Israel could, in Kate’s words, “be better looking than Brad Pitt”. They had enjoyed telling us about their move to a new church building after worshipping in their home for 18 years. We also met a young woman at the Workshops who as an architecture student was helping with the design of the new church building. The three from Zacatecas were all highly committed people and we looked forward to visiting the church and learning more about its history.
Pastor Victor Rodriguez had started the church with family meetings in his living room at the encouragement of his uncle, Disciples evangelist Eufrasio Perez Lopez. Three years later, he married Lula who served as pastor of a rural church at age 19, and their numbers grew. Years of savings from Victor’s auto repair business on the ground floor of his home, supplemented by the new church members’ offerings, enabled the purchase of a lot for a church building. With wife Lula serving as co pastor, the building project of this wonderful urban church in Zacatecas began.
Our first surprise in meeting Lula and Isaiah again was the urban setting but there were more surprises to come. The high level of craftsmanship and quality of the materials seen in the new church building were additional testimony to a great love for the church’s mission. No expense has been spared and the church leaders’ faith is apparent: there will be time for the work to be completed. There is no rush to finish the second floor classrooms or the kitchen adjoining the sanctuary on the ground floor.
Several years ago, dedicated Disciples in Kentucky came to help with the initial stages of the building and Pastor Victor was delighted to think they would see these photos of the progress made. While the distance between them had prevented continued contact over the years, the relationships forged and the bond of solidarity have remained an inspiration to the Church and Pastor Victor in particular. “Please thank them for us” he urged me.
Another Disciples Church in Zacatecas, in the small town of Palmillas, also remembers their friends in Kentucky. “Do you know Rev. Chester Zimmer in Princeton?” the Palmillas Pastor Victor Ramos asked us. We don’t but we assured Pastor Victor we would let his friend know his help and that of his Church was still appreciated. And that the visit and tour Mexican Disciples were able to make in Kentucky and Tennessee several years ago brought back fond memories to the Palmillas Pastor.