Mexico: Situation of Baptists, including human rights issues and treatment by authorities (1997-1999)
|Publisher||Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada|
|Author||Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board, Canada|
|Publication Date||20 August 1999|
|Citation / Document Symbol||MEX32519.E|
|Cite as||Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Mexico: Situation of Baptists, including human rights issues and treatment by authorities (1997-1999), 20 August 1999, MEX32519.E, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6ad6414.html [accessed 26 May 2013]|
The information that follows provides information on the organization and distribution of Baptists in Mexico, both of foreign missionaries and of
In May 1997 the National Baptist Convention of Mexico published a description of the Baptist organization in Mexico. The report states that each local Baptist church in Mexico is a self-contained entity (completa en sí misma), independent and self-governed, responsible for its own affairs, and without an obligation to report or be accountable to an ecclesiastic body. The Convention is a free association of Baptist churches that meets annually to plan and promote coordinated actions that have as a goal the welfare of the churches and Baptist work (obra bautista) in Mexico and abroad; it is governed by a constitution, and Baptist churches are reportedly free to leave or join the Convention (CNBM 5 May 1997).
An organizational chart of the CNBM can be found at the Convention's Internet Website, at
The General Secretary of the Baptist World Alliance reported in April 1998:
In Mexico I was pleased to learn of the growth of believers there. There are approximately 120,000 Baptists worshipping in 1300 churches and 1200 missions. There are 1000 pastors, eighty percent of whom are supported by the churches. I was there to help plan a human rights visit later this year to Chiapas where there is conflict between the indigenous Indians and the government and also persecution of evangelical believers. Last December 45 evangelicals were killed while praying in a church in Acetal [sic]. Mexican Baptists are working with an interdenominational group to pursue human rights and help settle the conflict. The lawyer in the mediation talks is a Baptist (BWA News Apr. 1998).
Later, the WBA reported on the mid-March 1999 visit to Chiapas by the General Secretary and the WBA Director of Study and Research:
Accompanied by Carlos Amaro Hernandez, president of the Mexican Baptist Convention (MBC) and Jorge Lee Galindo, MBC legal counsel, the BWA team worshipped with and listened to the leaders and people of three indigenous Baptist churches in Simojovel, Carmen Grande and Chalchahuitan.
These Baptists belong to the larger community of Tzotzile and Tzetzal-speaking indigenous Indians. From these indigenous people have come a revolutionary group called the Zapatistas, who began a much publicized armed struggle against the Mexican government in 1994 in which they called for improved conditions for their people.
Although most Baptists and the greater evangelical community do not support change by violent means, they too want food, decent housing, medical care and education for their children. They also are fervent in their desire to see their people come to accept Jesus Christ as their personal Saviour. Together with other evangelical Christians they comprise about 40 percent of the population of the estimated nine million indigenous people there. Most of them have been converted from what is described as a "Christo-pagan" faith that mixes pagan practices with the Roman Catholic faith. The rapid growth of evangelicals has led to some persecution, with evangelicals being driven from their homes at times.
Lotz and Cupit also visited Chamula, where 1,500 evangelicals were expelled by Roman Catholic zealots to areas like Chalchahuitan and Carmen Grande within the last two decades.
In an unexpected meeting with Samuel Ruiz Garcia, Bishop of San Cristobal and Chiapas, the Bishop told Cupit and Lotz of his strong concern for the poor and for the disproportionate distribution of wealth in Mexico. He also counselled that the truth of the Chiapas situation was not easy to grasp , as both the government, Zapatistas, Catholics, evangelicals and the indigenous people themselves all had different views of what was the actual situation (BWA News 29 Mar. 1999).
Country Reports 1998 provides the following information on non-Catholic Christians, albeit without specific references to Baptists (Feb. 1999):
The non-Catholic Christian population was growing in Campeche, Chiapas, Yucatan, and the northern border. The Evangelical Commission in Defense of Human Rights claimed that the authorities had expelled 30,000 evangelicals from San Juan Chamula, Chiapas, in the last 30 years. Municipal authorities expelled 70 evangelical Christians living in San Juan Chamula on July 26, but state officials helped them return on August 1. Societal harassment of, and pressures against, evangelical Christians continued to be a problem (Section 2: Freedom of Religion).
In the highlands of Chiapas and other indigenous areas, traditional leaders sometimes acquiesced in, or actually ordered, the expulsions of Protestants belonging primarily to evangelical groups. In many cases the expulsions involved the burning of homes and crops, beatings, and, occasionally, killings (Section 5: Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status).
On August 27, indigenous Catholics in Mitziton, Chiapas, took 23 evangelicals hostage and threatened to eject them from the community if they did not convert to Catholicism (also see Section 2.c.). A number of Catholic churches were burned in Chiapas, but the authorities made no arrests. While religious differences were often a prominent feature of such incidents in Chiapas, other factors such as ethnic differences, land disputes, and struggles over political power were more often at the root of the problem (ibid.).
In October 1998 the Mexico Mission, a ministry of the International Missions Board of the Southern Baptist Conference,published the following report on its missions in Mexico:
The Mexican Baptist Mission is the representative of the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention in Mexico. We work in partnership with the National Baptist Convention of Mexico
(CNBM), providing personnel, strategy support and other forms of cooperation to Baptists of Mexico to help them accomplish their God-given ministry. The CNBM has been self-supporting financially since 1993.
The Mexican Baptist Mission works with the national convention, with many of the Regional Conventions, and with individual Baptist churches to carry out their ministries.
There are approximately 90 Southern Baptist missionaries in Mexico at the present time. They are located strategically throughout the country from Culiacan in the northwest state of Sinaloa to Chetumal and Cancun in the far southeast area of the Yucatan Peninsula (1 Oct. 1998).
Statistics published by the BWA state thatin 1998 Mexico had 791 non-independent Baptist conventions and unions affiliated with the BWA, and belonging to the National Baptist Convention of Mexico, with a total of 65,398 members (BWA 1 June 1999).
On 19 August 1999 the IMB published the following report on the situation of Baptists and Baptist missions in Mexico:
At a recent meeting of the National Baptist Convention of Mexico, government officials presented ceremonial national flags to representatives of the 38 regional conventions as these Baptist bodies received official recognition as religious organizations. Mexico is becoming more pluralistic, more urban, more progressive and more open to the gospel than ever before.
In 1993, the first official recognition of Foreign Mission Board (FMB) association in Mexico was given. The mission can now own and sell properties in the name of the legal entity. FMB missionaries can now be recognized as public ministers and foreign representatives living in Mexico.
The convention reported 6,807 baptisms recently, down from the 8,000 reported a couple of years earlier. In spite of this, all indicators point to an increasing openness to the gospel in Mexico. Official registry of churches has consumed energy and detracted from the primary purpose to some degree. Now that the registry is almost complete, efforts should be redoubled for
Small-group ministries (including the use of cell structures) have become a strategy focus throughout Mexico. Churches have been unable to acquire sufficient building space to enable Sunday School to be an effective outreach tool. Many churches are using home Bible studies as their primary evangelistic outreach and are using the Sunday School primarily to give more intensive training to members.
One missionary couple began multiple evangelistic home Bible studies working alongside members from several different churches in Mexico City. By drawing the cell groups together for weekly worship, they were able to organize a church with 90 members in less than two years: more than twice the usual number of organizing members in about half the normal time.
Another missionary organized and presented Walk Through the Bible in a lower-income section of Mexico City. As participants walked through the museum-like display of children's Sunday School teaching pictures in chronological order, they were presented with a concise story of God's love for man.
Yet another success is that the Overcomers ministry taught by one missionary has become a model for reaching out to families of alcoholics and codependents.
The convention-owned Mexican-American Hospital in Guadalajara continues to be totally self-supporting. In addition to the inpatient service provided by the 68-bed facility, the hospital, through income produced there, helps support the agricultural ministry based in Chihuahua, a nursing school and the mobile medical clinics.
Leadership training has been identified by Mexican Baptists as one of the priority needs. The convention's program of Theological Education by Extension has been revived and charged with the task of consolidating and establishing standards for theological education throughout the country.
Almost every one of the 38 regional conventions (formerly associations) operates a theological institute or seminary. Ten of these have been recognized by the national convention. The task of determining how the standards will be communicated and enforced will be a great one.
During a recent summer break, 20 seminary students from the Mexican Baptist Theological Seminary in Lomas Verdes (Mexico City) were sent as summer missionaries to the relief zone of Chiapas. It was no coincidence that they had planned this months before the war activities began there in January. One of the major needs in that area was for Vacation Bible Schools and other children's ministries. Three new works that had been started as a result of war-relief efforts would be fortified by the students' ministries.
In the midst of all the upheaval and suffering, Mexican Baptists and FMB missionaries were there to minister and witness.Field kitchens were established in some refugee camps, and Mexican Baptists from all over the country responded to the call for volunteers to come and help. Thousands of meals were served, and many lives were changed. More than 500,000 meals were served during the four months Baptists operated the kitchens. Three new works were begun as a direct result of the efforts in Las Margaritas, La Independencia, and Comitan, three towns where previously there had been no work. Three relief kitchens were operated for three-and-one-half months, feeding an average of 1,000 people four times a day. It was not long until Baptists became the one stable thing in their lives. Partially as a result of the refugee work, five indigenous churches were organized. These were in the Tzotzil, Tzeltal and Chol languages. Other successful projects included providing water for a remote area outside Cuernavaca. It resulted in beginning new work in three homes.
The first two graduates of the master's program in partnership between the Mexican Baptist Theological Seminary and the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth, Texas, received their degrees in December 1993.
The national convention's media program has been one of the casualties of self-support. Changes in tax laws had prevented the distribution of materials for sale through bookstores. The organization recently acquired its tax registry and was able to revive its distribution of audio-cassettes and videos. In spite of these problems, videos were produced to aid churches in complying with the new laws governing registration and tax requirements for religious organizations.
Mexico seems to be the area that is showing the most growth in cell groups, especially within the large urban centers. It is estimated that there are more than 1,000 Baptist cell groups functioning in Mexico City. There are probably at least that many scattered throughout the rest of the country. Cell groups may be one of the most effective methods for reaching the urban areas with the gospel (IMB 19 Aug. 1999).
The report lists the following "places where missionaries live," with particular facilities shown in brackets: Atlacomulco, Chiapas, Chihuahua, Cuernavaca, Culiacán, Guadalajara (Hospital (1958), student homes, student centre), Guanajuato, Jalapa, Juárez, Mexico City (Student homes, student center, bookstore, seminary, recording studio), Monterrey (Student center), Morelia, Oaxaca (Theological seminary) Poza Rica, Puebla, Querétaro, Tijuana, Toluca, Torreón, Tuxtla-Gutiérrez, and Villahermoso (ibid.).
This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum. Please find below a list of additional sources consulted in researching this information request.
Baptist World Alliance (BWA), McLean, Virginia. 1 June 1999. "BWA Statistics (1998)."
_____. 29 March 1999. "BWA Visits Chiapas Baptists."
BWA News. April 1998. "From the General Secretary Denton Lotz."
Convención Nacional Bautista de México (CNBM), Mexico City. 5 May 1997. "La Convención Nacional Bautista de México." < http://www.bautistas.org.mx/cnbm/ CONVENCION.htm> [Accessed 19 Aug. 1999]
Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1998. February 1999. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labour.
International Missions Board (IMB), Richmond, Virginia. 19 August 1999. "Your Guide to International Missions: Mexico."
The Mexico Mission, Mexico City. 1 October 1998. "Welcome to Baptists in Mexico on Mission for Christ."
_____. May 1998. "This Month's News Story: A New Way of Doing Missions."
Additional Sources Consulted
El Universal [Mexico City]. Internet search engine. 1998-1999.
La Jornada [Mexico City]. Internet search engine. 1997-1999.
Electronic sources: IRB databases, REFWORLD, Global NewsBank, Internet, WNC.