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The View from México

Rev. Lisania Sustaita Martinez on right speaking to the U.S. Women to Women delegation visiting México in 2013.

Rev. Lisania Sustaita Martinez on right speaking to the U.S. Women to Women delegation visiting México in 2013.

“I think you just got the President of the U.S. that Mexico has had for many years” Rev. Lisania Sustaita Martinez comments in the interview below. Lisania completed her studies at the Ecumenical Seminary of Puerto Rico in 2013 and returned to her hometown of San Luis Potosí. She now serves as Associate Minister of the downtown Central Christian Church and Education Coordinator in charge of leadership development with the Roundtable of Congregational and Disciples of Christ Churches in México. In this interview, she describes what gives her hope as a young woman working in the Protestant Church for a more just social order in her nation and the continent of North America.

What has been Mexico’s reaction to the election of Donald Trump as President? What are the greatest concerns in Mexico resulting from his election?

Mexico is also shocked by the elections in the U.S., the election of Trump in particular. Mexico is shocked and concerned about the things that he said, talking about Mexicans, talking about Latin people in general, talking about not just Mexicans in Mexico but Mexicans, Latin people living in the U.S. The general opinion of the people around me is that what he is saying cannot be done because many Latin people have been working in the U.S. for many many years so it would bring problems to the economy. We are concerned because even if he doesn’t do everything he has promised, his words and pronouncements have encouraged other people to be aggressive with Latin people, with Mexicans and with other people who are not male, white, adult. We are concerned because violence is always the result of such pronouncements.

We have been made more aware of the deep divisions in our country caused by racism and economic inequality in our culture through the election contest this year. How about in Mexico? What divides people in Mexico today and how does the culture, the political realm and the Church respond to those divisions?

What divides us most in Mexico is the economy. We have extreme poverty and we have a small group of rich people, entrepreneurs who own and control the economy. And it also has to do with our government. I think you just got the President of the U.S. that Mexico has had for many years. If I compare and contrast Trump and our President Peña Nieto, I have to say it is the same thing. A person who doesn’t know about working with people, a person who doesn’t know about how a nation develops and grows, a person who doesn’t know anything beyond the economy and its industry.

They both don’t know about working with people in need and rising up from the bottom. Peña Nieto and his government have been focused on the economy at the highest levels, industry in particular, and he doesn’t talk about agriculture and education. They only know about their world and they don’t know how to work with people in need, people who have been excluded from their economy.

I think the Protestant Church, the evangelical churches and the Catholic Church as well have felt the urgency, the importance of walking with the people since our governors, the government, don’t know how to walk with the people. I think the church has tried to walk with these people. Walking with the hungry, with the poor, with people in the hospitals and helping to grow micro enterprises, to give attention to children, to women, to the elders. Since we have such a bad government we have to stand up for these people.

We can’t say we have a good country because of our President. We can’t claim to be good because we have a black President. We have to stand up for black people, we have to stand up for dignity, for equal rights because our president is not black. And now you have to do as we have done since we have had this President and because it’s become worse and worse with each President in Mexico. So you all now have to say that in spite of this President, in spite of Trump, we are good people. In spite of what he has said, we take care of our people, we respect our differences, not as boundaries, but as diversity, a good thing. In spite of our President we stand up for diversity and taking care of people in need.

For example , the Theological Community of Mexico City (ecumenical seminary in Mexico City) has had many programs encouraging churches to open their doors to people who are suffering because of the crime, because of the poverty, because of the natural disasters in the country. So I think we have to do that since we can’t count on the government.

We hear in the U.S. that the generation now named “the millennials” are rejecting “established” churches, or, put another way, “the establishment church”. What issues are “the millennials” in Mexico most concerned about and how is the Disciples of Christ Church responding to their concerns?/strong

Well, we don’t use the word “millennials” in Mexico much; it’s not frequently said. But we have found that the new generations of youth here are also looking for other kinds of experiences of faith, new expressions of faith. They are finding the new in Buddhism, in oriental faith practices, in yoga and science, in agnosticism and atheism. The new generations have to study and work and they are looking for ways to earn money not just in industries or in traditional ways of working. So as they experiment with new ways outside the traditional to earn money they are as well seeing the traditional church as the church that tells you, “don’t do this or that. Don’t, don’t.”

So they are looking for churches who are capable of walking with them and who understand that they have to work and

Youth at the annual Huentepec Camp held between Christmas and New Year's Day

Youth at the annual Huentepec Camp held between Christmas and New Year’s Day

study at the same time and can’t be the people the traditional church expects or wants them to be. Some of the new generation are struggling with their sexual orientation, struggling with broken relationships, broken families and others are struggling with what the new science about our earth is saying. And so churches are seen as old and traditional when they can’t respond or haven’t responded to these realities, these new realities. So we may not talk about the millennials but we know how the new generations are looking to be their own boss, looking for what I can sell, what I have to contribute to my people, what I can do for better life today. So we are not just talking about traditional church but traditional everything.

What is most encouraging, what brings you hope about the church’s part in God’s mission in Mexico today?

I think those who are looking to create the new bring me the most hope. Those people who are looking for a new experience of God walking with them gives us opportunity to rethink the Bible and rethink theology and rethink church. And I have to say this is a hard time for us because rethinking is never soft, rethinking is rough, rethinking is contrasting, rethinking is debating and arguing. So it is hard to destroy, and I have to use this word because we are talking about rebuilding. So it’s harsh but I think it is necessary.

This new generation with this new way of thinking may be what the youth, women and children need today. They feel the need to stand up for the sectors of people who have been pushed away from God and they feel the need to give them some kind of answer. So I think this can be good as youth and other people are asking “why” and the answer “because the bible says so” is not enough. So they need a different kind of answer. This gives me hope because people are thinking; people are asking questions; people are trying to understand; people are looking for a genuine faith of their own not one given to them because they’ve been told they need it. They need a faith that is their own. This gives me hope in this time of transformation, this time of crisis when you are closing an epoch and opening another.

If the church doesn’t rethink itself it will get old and become obsolete. But now new generations and people are starting to find and explore what they don’t understand about the Bible, and about theology and God and the church and that brings me hope. With this rethinking we are transforming ourselves.