Chiapas Indian Pastor Sentenced To Be Hung Was Saved By Senator

Monday, February 12, 2007

By Dan Wooding
Founder of ASSIST Ministries

TUXTLA GUTIÉRREZ, CHIAPAS, MEXICO (ANS) -- During my many years as a reporter, I have been involved in some incredible situations and one of them took place in Chiapas, Mexico, back in March of 1998.

It involved an extraordinary reunion between an Indian pastor who was sentenced to be hung by an angry lynch mob and the courageous evangelical senator who saved his life.

The pastor, Manuel Arias, a Tzotzil Indian, had been arrested by a lynch mob of supporters of the Zapatista National Liberation Army, known by the Spanish acronym EZLN, who at that time had been conducting a four year armed struggle against the Mexican government. His detention took place shortly after the massacre of 45 Indians on December 22, 1997, in the town of Acteal in the Chenalho area of Chiapas.

His life was spared only after the intervention of the then Chiapas senator, Pablo Salazar, the first evangelical ever to be voted into the Mexican Congress since the revolution took place against Spain some 178 years ago. The emotional reunion took place at a special “unity” conference organized and held in the city of Tuxtla Gutiérrez, the capital of the southern Mexico state, by Latin American Indian Ministries of Orange, California which is run by Dr. Dale W. Kietzman.

Pastor Arias, whose evangelical church is located close to Acteal, told me, “I was arrested because I was falsely accused of transporting weapons for the paramilitary groups who are opposing the Zapatistas. They had seen me helping the [Christian Indian] brothers and many times I had asked the president of the municipality to help me with transportation when I had food for the refugees.

“I think the real reason for my arrest was because they were angry with me as I had told my brethren not to get involved in any of the conflicts or fights because that's not what the Bible says. But they said that I had been involved in the conflicts, but I have not. Perhaps I was a barrier for the Zapatistas [who wanted support from his congregation] and that is why they arrested me.

“When I was detained in a town in the municipality of Chenalho, I saw that they were preparing the ropes to hang me because they thought if they killed me they would have the open space to bring all the other Christians into the fight. My little brother was there and saw what was happening and he discovered that brother Pablo Salazar was in the area. He ran to him and told him what was happening and thanks to him, I was liberated and thanks to God I am here and free.”

Senator Salazar then took up the story, “When I heard what was happening to Manuel, I told the Zapatistas and other groups there, 'I know Manuel. He is a pastor; a man of peace. He is a good man, a preacher of the Word.' I also said that I knew that he has never taken a weapon and he has never trained or helped anyone to be involved in conflict. I then demanded they liberate Manuel because he was unfairly detained.

“I told the Zapatistas, 'Unless you liberate Manuel, I will denounce what is going on here in a national way through the media. I believe that it was not because I was a senator, that I should help him, but because I knew Manuel, and because I am a believer in Jesus Christ. Thank God, they did free him and he was not hung.”

Fighting back the tears, Manuel Arias then said, “What can I say? When I was liberated, I said to God, 'Thank you for this freedom and thank you for Brother Pablo Salazar, because it is because of him that I am a free man and my life has been spared.”

Then, turning to the senator, he added, “I have known him for years and I know he has been chosen by God for the position of senator so he can represent God and the church here in Chiapas and also so he can help the Indian people.”

Senator Salazar, who later went on to become the Governor of Chiapas, a position he held until last year, was later to address the conference and standing at his side as his Indian interpreter was none other than the pastor whose life he has helped to save!

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