So what does the Lord require of us? Looking back on the ten day trip visiting Congregational Churches in the State of Jalisco this question seems to be a primary theme of what we experienced. First there was the brief stop over for lunch in San Juan de los Lagos.
We had no idea what we were headed for when we pulled off the four lane highway from Aguascalientes to Guadalajara in search of a restaurant. All the places on the way into town had no cars out front so we went farther. It soon felt like we were driving through the middle of the town market. Sunday afternoon strollers jammed the narrow streets lined with stalls.
At an intersection, men in official looking orange vests offered help in finding parking. One of the men grabbed his bicycle and led us to a parking garage where we paid sixty pesos flat rate, twice what we had ever paid in San Luis Potosi. A cheerful attendant in the parking garage advised that we put our wallets in a front pocket. Especially in the church he said.
In a search for a good place to eat we slowly made our way through the throng. Doug left Kate with the friend visiting us from the U.S. and squeezed his way within two blocks of the central plaza and cathedral. A policeman informed him that yes it was this crowded every Saturday and that on February 2 there had been twice as many people. We were glad we were two Sundays late.
We managed to find a restaurant where we didn’t have to wait in line, had a hurried but satisfying meal and soon were relieved to be
making our way out of San Juan de los Lagos and back to the highway. Our friend consulted his down loaded guide book as we drove to Guadalajara and read that we had just visited the second most visited Catholic shrine in Mexico. The image of the Virgin Mary in the town’s cathedral is visited by 7 to 9 million people yearly; that means over five per cent of the country’s population make the pilgrimage, most on a week end during the year.
That explained the half dozen signs on the highway to San Juan de los Lagos warning drivers to take caution for the “pilgrims” along the roadway. Friends later told us that pedestrian fatalities occur often on that stretch of highway. The Virgin image housed in the San Juan cathedral is credited with saving or protecting the faithful from mortal danger. In a country now gripped by concerns over insecurity and violence, the renown of the Virgin’s image may well have grown.
Two days later we heard about a very different experience of the Holy Spirit. The young pastor of the Ahualulco Congregational Church was giving his testimony about leaving a life of drinking and debauchery for one of service. He was living in California at the time, picking crops throughout the State, and on a drinking spree one night in San Jose. Walking through a city park, he suddenly felt a knife pointed at his neck while the friend next to him had a gun barrel at his head. Instantly the pleas of his sister to accept Jesus Christ as his personal savior came to his mind. He handed over the forty dollars in his pocket and although the friend had no money, their attackers let them go unharmed.
Young Octavio Reyes Moya felt he had been given a second chance to make something better out of his life and he began going to church before returning to Mexico a changed man. A church in a small village near his hometown needed a pastor and five years later he began to pastor the Congregational Church in the larger town of Ahualulco as well.
Compensating for his lack of seminary training with a sweet spirit and firm dedication to pastoring the two congregations, Octavio kept highlighting the “sacrifice” Kate and I were making in leaving our country and our language to serve alongside him and other pastors in Mexico. In his eyes, his service in our country as an undocumented farmworker had been more than compensated for by finding his true vocation in “el norte”.
A chapel and plaque in Octavio’s church honors the memory of the young Congregational church missionary from the States who was killed in Ahualulco in the 1870’s. John Stephens died alongside his friend and Ahualulco neighbor Jesus Islas while serving what is now perhaps the oldest Protestant church in Mexico. Funds for the chapel and plaque were donated by the Pacific School of Religion in the Bay area to commemorate the sacrifice of a PSR alum’s life to propagation of an evangelical faith in Mexico.
Our preaching on the trip soon gravitated to the theme of “entrega” or sacrifice as a hallmark of the Christian faith. Mexican
evangelicals have an advantage over Protestants in the U.S. in embracing this aspect of our “call” as Christians. As a minority in a heavily Catholic country, many have had to take a risk in embracing the minority faith journey. They have learned that faith is not about making life easier. It is rather about making life richer and more meaningful and, yes, taking risks from time to time. We are grateful to have been reminded in a new and different way of “what the Lord requires”.
“What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God?” MI 6:8
See our gallery below of selected photos from our visits of Congregational churches in Jalisco, the longest trip we have taken here.