Mexico

Report: CPCP Mission Trip to Oaxaca

Note: Because of security concerns and the searchability of the internet, complete names and locations are avoided in this report.

On November 8, eleven members of the To Every Tribe staff and CPCP student body left Los Fresnos, TX for a two-week trip to the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca (pronounced wuhhahkuh). We were accompanied by a dentist, a nurse, and one To Every Tribe missionary who was heading to Oaxaca to join his church planting team there. The purpose of our trip was to conduct four days of medical and dental clinics in the northwestern Oaxaca village of E.J. The trip to E.J. is just over 1,000 miles. Once in Oaxaca, we were joined by our church planting team, two Mexican doctors, and two Mixtecan interpreters who would help us bridge the language barrier between our team’s English and Spanish and E.J.’s Mixtecan dialect.

God’s hand of blessing upon us was evident from the first day that we left south Texas. The trip had been bathed in prayer and fasting. We were deeply aware of the dangers involved in traveling through Mexico, and had sought the Lord’s help in every facet of the trip. A caravan of three vehicles, a trailer, and 14 Americans traveling through Mexico attracts a good deal of attention. But God was gracious, and our trip both to and from Oaxaca was amazingly free of problems of any kind. Throughout the two weeks we could see a clear one-to-one correspondence between our specific prayer requests and the Lord’s intervention to answer those requests.

The main part of our journey to Oaxaca took three days, bringing us to our first major stop—the Oaxacan city where our church planting team is temporarily based. This city is located just 45 miles by road (18 miles as the crow flies) on the other side of the mountain from E.J. On the fourth day of our trip, we made the 5 hour journey over the mountain to E.J. This jaunt took us from 5,500 feet above sea level up and over the mountain’s 9,000 foot peak, and then back down to the 2,500 feet of E.J.

A Mixtec village of about 2,000 people, E.J. has been a ministry target of To Every Tribe for several years. As a ministry, we began to visit E.J. in 2003 and over the years have conducted 6 clinics there. The goal of each of these clinics has been to open doors for the future arrival of a To Every Tribe church planting team. This year’s clinic was especially important for us as we now have a church planting team preparing to move into the village within the next few months.

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Ministry in this village is particularly challenging. Access to the village from modern cities over the rugged mountains of Oaxaca is probably one of the lesser challenges. The vowel-abundant Mixtecan dialect spoken there sounds more like a southeast Asian language than Spanish. (Here’s an example of what Mixtec looks like in its written form: Á xîni-un ndáa ndo’ó kití kúú-a.) The life and culture of the Mixtec people seems foreign—even to those of us who feel very comfortable and “at home” in Mexican culture. The people seem distant, their faces hard and their eyes hollow. Their cold, dead-pan gazes seemed totally unresponsive to our smiles and greetings. It only took a few minutes in the village for us to realize that these are people whose lives are hard, who know little joy and peace, and who have no trust of outsiders.

Although there are doubtless numerous historical and cultural causes for this gloomy ethos, the spiritual factor is clearly the most prominent. Mexican Mixtec religion is syncretistic, blending elements of Catholicism and ancient Mixtec animism. Evidence of folk Catholicism mixed with the worship of deities from the local pantheon is abundant—from roadside shrines to the decoration of local graveyards to floral arrangements placed on the front of homes. E.J. still celebrates an elaborate annual ritual honoring “El Señor de la Lluvia” (the Rain God) which includes the building of an altar and the sacrifice of animals whose blood is thrown on the altar.

Undoubtedly the most important and striking fact about the religious life of this and the surrounding Mixtec villages is the total lack of any gospel witness. These Mixtec villagers, classified as “rural peasants” by the Mexican government, form a tribal community that is as “unreached” with the gospel as any other tribal community on any lesser developed continent in the world. What an incredible privilege to be part of bringing them the message of God’s love and grace!

As mentioned earlier, life in the Mixtec villages is hard. Agriculture is important, but difficult in the rugged mountain terrain. Employment is scarce, forcing many men to leave their families and villages to look for jobs in other areas such as Mexico City, Baja California, and the U.S. (southern California). In the 4 days that we were in E.J., I met several people who had been to the U.S. to work. Although the government has made significant steps to improve the livelihood of these people (roads and electricity have been introduced within the last decade), village life is still very dangerous and backward by modern standards. For example, the people still do not use outhouses—facilities are “open air” (which contributes to an abundance of problems with intestinal worms).

Land wars with neighboring villages are a constant source of violence and conflict. Just last month a twelve-year-old boy from E.J. was killed by men from a neighboring village because his family’s corn patch was allegedly located on land controlled by that village. One evening halfway through our visit, two armed men came up to our camp to inform us that there would be some shooting that night down the mountain near the river that our hill overlooked. They said they just wanted to warn us so that we “wouldn’t be afraid” when we heard the gunshots. As predicted, we could hear multiple gunshots at night throughout the remainder of our stay—evidence of the ongoing land conflict that we’d stumbled upon.

Earning the trust and favor of people whose lives and histories are stained with violence and abuse is not easy. But on this trip, by God’s grace, we found the centuries-old barriers begin to tumble. After several years of conducting dental and medical clinics in the village it seems that we have finally “earned the right to be heard.” As the week progressed, we witnessed the people opening up and beginning to smile more and express confidence. Hundreds of personal interactions throughout the week between our team and the people we ministered to provided us with many opportunities to show God’s love in very tangible ways, even if we were generally unable to communicate to them in their own language. In the four days of the clinics, God gave us the grace to minister to over 500 people from E.J. and at least 6 other neighboring villages (one of which was located three hours away in the neighboring state of Guerrero).

God is good, and he is clearly at work in the region of E.J. to make his name and grace famous among people who for hundreds of years have lived with no access to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Please pray for To Every Tribe as we continue to work among the Mixtec people of northwestern Oaxaca. Pray for “fruit that remains” from our ministry these last two weeks in Oaxaca. And please pray for our church planting team as they seek to move into the village of E.J. within the next few months.

But God’s grace was not only at work in the lives of the villagers of E.J. Perhaps the most amazing thing about this trip was the work of grace that God was carrying out concurrently in the lives of our team. He worked powerfully in us, in some cases confirming our calling and commitment to pioneer church planting, in other cases awakening within us a specific burden for the unreached Mixtec tribes of Oaxaca. Only in eternity will we be able to see the long-term spiritual results of our humble efforts the last two weeks. Soli Deo Gloria.

Alex Chediak Interview with David Sitton (Pt. 4)

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The following is the  fourth interview of David Sitton by Alex Chediak.  The first three parts can be found on this blog as well as at Alex’s blog at AlexChediak.com.  Special thanks to Alex for permission to re-post the interviews.

There is a lot of buzz in the news lately about Mexico and the escalating drug lord violence. What’s going on in Mexico? Has Mexico gotten more dangerous in recent months in the areas where To Every Tribe is working?

David: I’m passing this question off to A.J. Gibson (To Every Tribe’s Mexico Field Director and Assistant Director of The Center for Pioneer Church Planting).   A.J. has spent much of his life in Mexico as an MK and as a missionary himself.

AJ: Up until the last few months, most of the drug-related violence has kept to the west of where To Every Tribe works in the extreme north-eastern corner of Mexico. But a recent turf war between two major drug cartels has brought the war closer to home. The Gulf Cartel, based in Matamoros, Mexico, just a few miles from the To Every Tribe headquarters in south Texas, has controlled the drug trafficking routes along the Mexican gulf coast for over a decade. But in recent months, the Zetas, a mercenary army made up of former elite military commandos has begun to encroach upon the Gulf Cartel’s territory. As the war between the Gulf Cartel and the Zetas has escalated, the battle has drawn nearer to the Gulf Cartel’s home city of Matamoros—the city that we at To Every Tribe pass through every time we enter Mexico. Shootouts between the Mexican military and the cartels as well as between members of the two cartels have made this area increasingly dangerous and unstable. Road blockades, kidnappings, and execution-style murders have become increasingly common. In the last month there have been several major shootouts along the highway that we travel to access the villages where we’re church planting. Just two weeks ago an ambush was set up by the Zetas for the Gulf cartel at an intersection that we pass through on a regular basis. The result was a major gun and grenade battle just a few miles from a small fishing village where we do much of our work. When I passed through two days after the battle, I could see clear evidence of the fight—a pickup riddled with bullet holes.

At this point we haven’t decreased our activity in northern Mexico, primarily because the cartels haven’t been targeting civilians in our area. But things have certainly become much more dangerous and we’ve been forced to take more careful precautions as we travel and work south of the border. Unfortunately the violence in Mexico is not limited to the drug wars, nor is it limited to northern Mexico. Local and regional gangs and criminal organizations involved in all kinds of extortion-related crime have run rampant throughout all of Mexico for decades—even centuries. And it seems that the increased activity of the drug cartels has served to embolden these other smaller gangs and organizations. Kidnappings, assassinations, robbery, police corruption, and many other kinds of violent criminal activity is a normal part of life for almost the whole country. When my family and I lived in Monterrey, Mexico, we had several close friends and many friends-of-friends who were victims of kidnappings and robberies. This kind of violence will always be a threat for missionaries in Mexico. And it’s not limited to northern Mexico. A couple of months ago international news organizations reported an ambush and assault on a caravan of human rights observers on a major highway in the state of Oaxaca, just a few miles south of where To Every Tribe bases its southern Mexico church planting operations. The caravan of journalists and activists was headed to a nearby village that had been held hostage and terrorized by a local crime organization. That organization made sure the rescuers never reached the village.

So how do we react to all of this? Well, we certainly don’t stop our mission. We take precautions (like avoiding travel at night and keeping away from known centers of violence), but at the end of the day we continue to make disciples of Mexico’s unreached people groups while leaving our safety in the hands of God. Jesus promised, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” That’s our great comfort.

David: Exactly! We will never “not go” into a place for Christ simply because of the danger. Like the apostle Paul, I “consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me – the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace” (Acts 20:24).

Thanks again, for spending some time with us. It’s been fun talking to you again, Alex.

NOTE: For a longer, more complete discussion of this topic, see the related article posted on AJ’s ministry blog here.

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