by Dr. Gerry Gutierrez
The growth and spread of the gospel is a dynamic process that involves many factors that interact over a period of time. Calling a people group “reached” or “unreached” does not take into account the variations of receptivity to the gospel in different locations and times. How people respond to God’s Word often depends on what is going on in their lives at any one time or location. They may be suffering from a season of drought and be open to the gospel. On the other hand things may be going well, and they may forget their need for a loving Deity.
This article highlights the geographic complexity of some of Mexico’s indigenous peoples. Mexico’s southernmost state of Oaxaca has over a million indigenous people speaking more than 150 languages. Many of these people called Oaxaquenos live in their ancestral lands. But many others reside in the state capital, Oaxaca City or in the capital of the country, Mexico City. Others spend part of the year as migrant farmers in the fields of Culiacan or Baja California. Many have gone to the United States to work on farms or in the cities. This migration pattern is found in many people groups from Latin America who have formed transnational communities with strong ties in both their home country as well in another nation.
How Does the Gospel Spread and Take Root in these People Groups?
At stage one we see a people group distributed in many locations within their country and outside their borders. As stated previously, the tribes from Oaxaca are not only in their homeland, but also in Mexico’s Baja California and in major cities of the United States like New York, Los Angeles, Seattle, and Atlanta. Many tribal groups are animistic in their homelands with no exposure to the gospel of Jesus Christ or any other major religious system for that matter. If the group has migrated to cities with a Christian population, many times the first contacts with believers are made outside of the ancestral lands. If the initial migration places people in another religious belief system, they will adopt those beliefs to some degree, mixing them with their traditional practices.
At stage two we see individual believers won to Christ in multiple locations either in the native location or among migrants. At this point there is no persecution because the new faith is underground and has not been noticed by others. The gospel is being spread through personal and family contacts in a very natural manner, and it can jump freely from one location to another. This stage of quiet growth can last for several years, depending on the people group, the resources available to reach them, the underlying spiritual condition of the people, and the evangelistic efforts made on their behalf.
At stage three there are visible gatherings of believers in churches in several locations, and the church is growing numerically and in spiritual maturity. If the surrounding culture is hostile to the gospel, persecution will increase rapidly which may cause massive migration of people toward areas of their transnational community where there is more freedom.
At times the visible church totally disappears in parts of the people group due to death, migration, and hostility; yet the testimony and seeds of new growth remain dormant in the group.
Another variation of church growth can occur when the people in the ancestral lands remain resistant to the gospel, while those in other locations are very receptive and highly evangelized.
When we understand the complexity of church growth over time in people groups, we can better evaluate the needs of a group and plan effective strategies for reaching all the communities of each group at whatever stage they are.
Whom Are We Praying For This Month?
Almost all of the people we will pray for this month are from Native American groups called the Zapotec, the Nahuatl, and the Mixtec. Many of these groups and sub-groups live in Mexico’s southern most state of Oaxaca which is Mexico’s most ethnically diverse state.
Some of these tribes, especially the Mixtec, also live in the neighboring states of Guerrero and Puebla. There are numerous Mixtec sub-tribes, and they live either in the highlands or lowlands (valleys). The total population of the Mixtec tribes is estimated to be about 830,000. There are so many unreached Mixtec tribes that we will be praying this month for Mixtec groups from days 1 to 21.
The Nahuatl tribes are the descendents of the Aztecs who had a great empire until they were conquered by the Spaniards in 1519-21. According to Wikipedia, about 1.5 million southern Mexicans speak a Nahuatl language today. They are the ones who gave the name Oaxaca to the state that is home to most of the unreached people groups we will cover this month.
About 800,000 to a million Zapotec people live in Mexico, and are concentrated in the state of Oaxaca. An additional 100,000 Zapotecs have migrated to the United States. They had a highly developed civilization before the Spanish conquest.
Why Has It Taken So Long for These Tribes to be Reached With the Gospel?
In a word: isolation. The mountainous terrain allows people to stay isolated from the rest of the world. If you have used the GPD for any length of time, you have probably noticed this pattern. People groups that live in mountainous areas like China’s Yunnan Province, Russia’s North Caucasus Mountain region, and Mexico’s Oaxaca State remain isolated and less reached with the gospel than other parts of the world.
by Keith Carey
Dear Praying Friends,
About 25 years ago, I read a paper in an anthropology class, which described me how the gospel had changed a Native American community in South America. The people group, who were officially supposed to be Roman Catholic, had the bad habit of sponsoring fiestas where the entire community would become very drunk from corn liquor. This dysfunctional lifestyle left the people group sick and destitute. But after the community embraced the gospel of Jesus Christ, everything changed. They stopped spending their money on drunken fiestas that drained their resources. The people now had enough money and understanding to send their children to school and obtain medical care. The community felt the peace and joy of the kingdom of God.
In the last 25 years, thanks to mission efforts that have provided Native Americans a way out of sin’s entanglements, there has been much progress in evangelizing tribes in southern Mexico. Mexican missionary statesman, Moises Lopez, sent me four testimonies from missionaries currently working in Mexico, and you will read about them in the first four days of this month. In each case Mexican brethren faced persecution and even the threat of death, as they brought the gospel of Christ to those who didn’t want to hear it. In each case the Lord had the victory, people repented, and the community was transformed. For this reason, I am dedicating this issue of the GPD to the brave Mexican missionaries who have put their lives on the line to take the kingdom of God to Mexico’s Native American communities.
Keith Carey, Managing Editor, GPD