Christian Persecution in Chiapas Goes On

Monday, November 18, 2002

But there is also some good news

By Dan Wooding
Founder of ASSIST Ministries

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO (ANS) -- Since the armed attack on indigenous Mexican evangelicals in the southern province of Chiapas in 1995, the situation has not changed in favor of the persecuted Christians. (Pictured: Indian Christian woman and her child in Chiapas).

According to a story released by ICPress in Spain, Carlos Martínez García, a researcher at the Centre of Mexican Protestant Studies, warned at a recent international symposium in Lima that things could get much nastier in Chiapas (southern Mexico) unless effective measures are taken to help the Christians there. In presenting a paper on the situation in Chiapas, Martínez said the best way to help was by promoting action, which encouraged peaceful co-existence within a pluralist society.

"Martínez highlighted the contribution that indigenous Christians have made to education and culture in the region, as well as persistent attacks against them by traditionalist Catholics, which date back as far as the 1950s," said the ICPress story. "In 1995, a section of the Protestant community fought back in another clash, leaving five Catholics and one Protestant dead.

"Evangelical leaders have been working hard to try and prevent Protestants from using the same methods as their enemies, but point out that it is in no small measure due to the lack of political help they have received, especially the failure of the authorities to protect the religious freedom, which is enshrined in the Mexican constitution.

"The persecution of the evangelical minority in Chiapas has so far left many evangelicals dead, churches and homes burnt, and several thousand evangelicals forced out of the area. Faced with complete indifference to all this by the authorities, a pastor from Arvenza recommended that his people responded in kind to the attacks being made upon them, which led to the clash in 1995."


A few years ago, I was in Chiapas on a reporting trip and was able to witness an extraordinary reunion that took place in the capital city of Tuxtla Gutierrez, between an Indian pastor who had been sentenced to be hung by an angry lynch mob and the courageous evangelical senator who saved his life.

A lynch mob of supporters of the Zapatista National Liberation Army, known by the Spanish acronym EZLN, who have been conducting an armed struggle against the Mexican government, had arrested the pastor, Manuel Arias, a Tzotzil Indian,. 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. (Pictured: Indian Christians outside the church).

His life was spared only after the intervention of then Chiapas senator, Pablo Salazar, the first evangelical ever to be voted into the Mexican Congress since the revolution took place against Spain some 170 years ago. The emotional reunion took place at a special "unity" conference organized and held in Tuxtla Gutierrez, by Latin American Indian Ministries of Orange, California.

In an interview, Pastor Arias, whose evangelical church is located close to Acteal, said, "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." (Pictured: Pablo and Manuel).

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. (Pictured: Manuel interpreting for Pablo).

"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 was later to address a conference and standing at his side was his Indian interpreter was none other than the pastor whose life he has helped to save!

There is some good news for the evangelicals of Chiapas, as Pablo Salazar has since become Governor of the state. He is a tireless workers for human rights in his troubled state and is well worthy of our prayers.