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Mexico: Protestands Forced to Flee

September 8, 2005
Protestant Christians amongst ethnic Huichol in Agua Fria, Jalisco
state, western Mexico, are suffering severe persecution. (The
Huichol are indigenous Indians descended from the Aztecs.) This
village has three Protestant groups - Baptist, Seventh-day
Adventist and Apostolic - all of whom have been affected by the
persecution. Compass Direct (CD) reports that villagers armed with
machetes and clubs drove the believers from their homes,
threatening to burn them alive. This threat was taken seriously as
in February traditionalists torched the home of Hermelinda Vazquez
de la Cruz, an evangelical, who suffered severe burns and is now
disabled. She and her children barely escaped.

The believers of Agua Fria have fled for their lives across the
state border into Tepic, Nayarit, and are being housed in the
Seventh Apostolic Church of Tepic. According to CD, the first wave
of 70 included 12 infants, with an estimate of some 300 refugees in
total. The Christians were told they can return to their homes only
if they renounce their faith and embrace indigenous Indian
traditions and rites. Defending the expulsions, community leaders
say communal statutes stipulate the believers can only stay within
the community and on their land if they practise Huichol culture.
Most locals practise a syncretistic religion, mixing the
Catholicism of the Spanish colonialists with traditional Huichol
rituals which involve sharmanism and the use of the hallucinatory
drug peyote.

Traditionalist Catholics have perpetrated similar persecution
against Protestants in the southern state of Chiapas for many
years. In the central state of Hidalgo, locals at a town meeting in
Cuateceometl agreed the authorities should \'eradicate\' non-
Catholics from the area. On 15 May, police accompanied by a
Catholic catechist arrived at the Fountain of Heaven Church in
Cuateceometl and arrested Pastor Francisco Sanchez Gonzalez along
with a church member, Raul Bautista. The men were later released
but fined heavily. The church members also were all fined and
ordered to renounce their faith.

Though religious liberty is guaranteed in Mexico\'s constitution,
its abuse stems from a fierce emergent nationalism often expressed
as anti-Americanism and anti-Protestantism, with an insistence on
all things \'traditional\'. Many Mexicans are culturally Catholic,
but nominal and syncretistic. However, in recent decades many
Catholics have been discovering the Bible and turning to
evangelical Christianity. This has generated hostility from the
Catholic leadership who sense their traditional authority being
threatened. Also since around 1995, significant numbers of Tzotzil
Mayan Indians from Chiapas have been embracing the message of
Islamic missionaries, who are predominantly Spanish with Arab
funding. Most Muslim converts have been Protestant converts from
Catholicism, who were persecuted by Catholics and then picked up by
the Muslims.

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY FOR:

* the Christian refugees from Agua Fria to have their needs
provided and be comforted; may they grow in prayerful,
confident, joyous God-dependence, bringing glory to God.

* God\'s provision for the Seventh Apostolic Church of Tepic caring
for the Agua Fria refugees, and especially for wisdom and
strength for the church\'s pastor, Jesus Estrella Candelario.

* Mexico\'s every level of government to uphold the lawful rights
of religious minorities, by denouncing persecution and
unconstitutional local \'statutes\' that arise from disinformation
and prejudice.

* unity, solidarity and selfless energy amongst Mexican
evangelicals to support each other in mission and when
persecuted.

* courageous, discerning pastoral leadership and unflinching,
cross-centred Bible teaching to anchor Mexico\'s Protestants
securely to Christ. \'Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and
perfecter of our faith...\' Hebrews 12:2a

~~~~

SUMMARY TO USE IN BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE:
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PROTESTANTS IN MEXICO FORCED TO FLEE

Mexico\'s Constitution guarantees religious liberty. However, a
fierce Mexican nationalism expressing itself in anti-Americanism
and anti-Protestantism, and insisting on \'traditional\' cultural
observance, is leading to persecution of Protestants. An estimated
300 believers from Agua Fria, Jalisco state, western Mexico, have
been driven from their homes and land because they will not
compromise their faith by joining in certain cultural practices.
The villagers are ethnic Huichol Indians, of Aztec descent.
Traditional rituals involve sharmanism and the use of the
hallucinatory drug peyote. Most Huichol practise Catholicism mixed
with Huichol ritual. The Seventh Apostolic Church of Tepic is
caring for the 300 Christian refugees who have fled for their lives
across the state border. Please pray for them all, and for the
authorities to find the courage to defend religious liberty.

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URGENT UPDATES
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** VIETNAM: The Rev. Nguyen Hong Quang, who was arrested on 8 June
2004 and sentenced on 12 November 2004 to three years in prison,
walked free from his cell on 30 August 2005 in the annual
government prisoner amnesty to commemorate \'National Day\'.
Evangelist Pham Ngoc Thach, sentenced alongside Quang to two years,
remains in prison. (For background see RLP 308)

** INDONESIA: On Thursday 1 September, Rebekka Zakaria, Eti
Pangesti and Ratna Bangun were sentenced to three years in prison
for \'Christianisation\' of Muslim children, which hard-line Islamic
clerics labeled an enticement to apostasy and breach of the 2002
Child Protection Act. (For background see RLP 340)

Please purchase a postcard (or three) clearly depicting your city
or country, and write a few words of encouragement to these women,
showing them (and the Indonesian authorities) that they are not
forgotten and will be in your prayers. (2 Corinthians 1:10,11)

Ibu Dr Rebekka Zakaria, Ibu Eti Pangesti, Ibu Ratna Bangun,
PO Box 1886, JKP 10018, Indonesia

For the Bible in Bahasa Indonesian, see
<http://theonlinebible.com/bibles.html>.

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The WEA Religious Liberty Commission sponsors this
RL Prayer List to help individuals and groups pray
specifically and regularly for religious liberty
issues, and in particular to uphold the Church
where it is suffering persecution.

RL Prayer is moderated by Ron Clough, a commissioner
of the WEA RLC and convenor of the Australian EA RLC.
Elizabeth Kendal researched and authored this message.