by Elisabeth Isais
MEXICO CITY (Compass) -- Twenty-five evangelical families in a Chiapan village won't be expelled from their homes now that agreements have been reached between Presbyterians, political party leaders and a group of men accused of encouraging violence against evangelicals.
"God did a miracle that we hope will change the entire picture for evangelicals in Las Margaritas, Chiapas, in the future," Presbyterian pastor Rev. Antonio Alfaro told Compass after the meeting held in Las Margaritas on November 13. Chiapas is Mexico's southernmost state.
The Presbyterians at the meeting, Alfaro and Jose Roque Hernandez Santis, represented the Organization of Evangelical Tojolabal Peoples (OPET). Alfaro is an evangelist in Las Margaritas who has helped those suffering persecution and expulsion for their faith. Also present at the meeting was Jose Antonio Hernandez Vazquez, leader of a group accused of promoting violence against Las Margaritas' evangelicals.
The meeting brought together groups that historically have been in conflict. Evangelicals in Las Margaritas county had often asked to meet with those who oppose them, Alfaro said. The talks aimed at building a lasting peace.
"We did not meet to fight, but rather to see how the indigenous communities can live together peacefully," Alfaro said. "This had never happened before. We reminded them that it is not a crime to become an evangelical and that in Mexico the law provides for religious freedom. Best of all, we agreed to a definite agenda to meet regularly."
One immediate result of the meeting was the town leaders' decision to cancel plans for the expulsion of 25 evangelical families in the village of Justo Sierra in Las Margaritas county. Town leaders there had planned to wait until the end of traditional festivals celebrating the Day of the Dead in early November before attacking and expelling the families that have embraced evangelical Christianity. But during the meeting, it was agreed to let the families remain in their homes and live in peace, Alfaro said.
However, another difficult situation is pending in the Las Margaritas village of Matias Castellanos. The village's only evangelical family will be expelled unless the family pays a fine of approximately $150 for having changed religion. OPET is trying to work out the problem so the family can stay in the town without paying the fine, which is a large amount for poor indigenous evangelicals. The fine is illegal because Mexico's Constitution guarantees religious freedom, Alfaro said.