*Associacion Civil. Not called a "church" because church land in Mexico is owned by the government, and churches are subject to restrictions and regulations. The word "church" is pejorative in Mexico anyway!
Puebla has 2.5 to 3.5 million people and is 2 hours east of Mexico City on the road to Vera Cruz. Puebla is the old colonial capital of Mexico having many buildings 500 years old. There are several major universities including the Universidad de las Americas (UDLA) and the Universidad Autónoma de Puebla (UAP, pronounced "Wap").
My first speaking engagement was a seminar arranged as a public function on the campus of UDLA. The Christian students had posters everywhere and a good crowd showed up. Naively I launched forth with a presentation of what the Bible actually said about the creation. Everything went wrong. Pat O'Neill, of brilliant mind and fluent in Spanish, faltered and stammered. The students were soon interrupting with protests and catcalls--just as if I were speaking at Stanford. The meeting was cut short and we hurriedly left. The administration quickly canceled the rest of the meetings and Doug and Pat rushed to encourage me. The door on this sophisticated campus was closed to us.
That afternoon a Catholic priest phoned---and since our meetings at UDLA were finished---could we come and speak to a combined assembly of high school students at a nearby school? That afternoon was spent in wonderful open discussion of the Christian faith with greater freedom than I could imagine in the States! God's plans for our trips were a bit different that we had anticipated---and more exciting, too.
The high point for me was a 5 PM meeting on Friday at UAP. (No one would bother to come to a meeting that late in the day at the end of the week, so I expected little). Sure enough at 5 PM only a small handful of students appeared in the grand baroque meeting hall in the old colonial buildings of this downtown University.
But by 10 minutes after the hour the place was packed out! Wall to wall people were everywhere, standing room only, overflow in the halls!
This time my translator was a local who knew the students. I was great inspired by the frescoes and paintings of angels in heaven on the vaulted ceiling, so throwing all caution to the winds I announced that "in my opinion, the theory of evolution was the leading mythology of our western culture--but is totally false." The students roared approval in thunderous applause. My topic was Genesis One, so I spoke as I if were addressing an august assembly in early Colonial Mexico. Soon a woman teacher in the front row rose up and protested "this talk has no place in an institution of higher learning." I answered that surely a great university had a department of philosophy? But I did not need to defend myself--the students hissed and booed and the embarrassed professor had to leave. The next 45 minutes were a free for all, but eventually I sensed that if I didn't stop, there would soon be a riot! So I stopped talking and sat down on the stage waiting for the crowd to leave. I was immediately mobbed by students. They all wanted to ask me questions, to have an autograph, or just to see me up close with great smiles and warmth as they tried to make up for the communication barrier. I suppose we could have continued all night, but eventually it was time to retire. If ever I am to be martyred the best way to go that I can think of would be to be suffocated by students stampeding to hear the gospel!
Six years ago Amistad de Puebla body of believers did not exist! The congregation grew out of a small Bible study through the Apostolic efforts of an American, Jack Knowles. Some leaders have trained a little bit at "Christ for the Nations" in Texas. A larger Amistad congregation exists in Mexico City and there are other groups starting in many other Mexican communities also.
The present Amistad (Fellowship) de Puebla membership is about 3000 and their new building (the Hacienda) will probably be too small when it is completed next year, even though it will seat 5000. It is not unusual for 20 or 30 individuals to openly receive the Lord Jesus in any given meeting. This certainly kept happening in our meetings while we were there!
Background: Mexico is strongly Catholic. Families are close knit. When one given member of a family comes to Christ, it seems the other families also come to Christ within a few years' time. Moral and social problems seem much less severe than in the U.S. The Catholic church has been very oppressive and repressive down through the years. Mexico's economic woes are great, and her Third-World debt very high.
Amistad's people are mostly under 40, perhaps even under thirty. As a young and growing church they have different problems than an old and dying church like PBC. They have huge numbers of young people, most not yet married. There is a good cross section from rich to poor. They are very loving and very enthusiastic about their faith.
Since becoming Christians they assume that lots of prayer and regular, vigorous witnessing are normal parts of Christian church life. These dear people are full of joy, and pray to God with great fervor. They have a great love for home, community and country. Their music and worship are most inspiring and edifying. They are eager to learn the Word of God. The power of the Holy Spirit sustaining them is very evident. There are no obvious excesses such as tongues, or misuse of healing gifts or claims for miracles. (There is a minor amount of tongues in personal prayer). In spite of the emotional vitality, unity of the Spirit and good order were evident to me. The people are responsible to their leaders. The elders rule by unanimous vote and no one is in charge. There are no senior pastors. The staff is very short-handed when it comes to teachers for the Bible. Amistad has already sent missionary teams to Spain and shows concern for foreign missions.
It is obvious that the existence of this church is the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit and perhaps signals a great season of spiritual awakening in Mexico. The atmosphere is exactly like what one finds in reading the Book of Acts.
The future of the church can be influenced at this time, towards deeper life and maturity by means of mature Bible teaching and through fellowship with established old-order congregations like PBC. In the absence of such inputs, Amistad could drift by default into the kind of dismal pentecostalism we have everywhere nowadays in the U.S. --- all emotions, no depth, consecrated flesh, and no Body life. Right now it is hard to find fault with this Body.
Areas where I think we could could help them especially with include teaching Body Life concepts, instruction in pastoral care, small group dynamics, individual emotional counseling, instruction in servant authority, discipleship, and helping them emphasize quality of spiritual life instead of quantity of new converts. They need all the general Bible teaching them can get to become grounded in the Word of God. These dear brothers and sisters, should some of them be able to visit us, could no doubt bring us a lot of wonderful spiritual refreshment and encouragement as they are overflowing, brim-full, with new life in the Spirit --- and it is contagious!
Visit to Puebla October 3-7, 1989 with Doug Goins and Pat O'Neill (Stanford University Dept. of Linguistics) through the kind efforts of Carl Gallivan of Discovery International and the DI Board. This visit an outgrowth of PBC's prison ministries in Latin America. Prepared Wednesday, October 11, 1989.
A Postscript, July 2006
Hello Dr. Dolphin,
I guess I'll start by saying that I am very excited to have just found, by accident, a web page that relates a trip that you did to Mexico several years ago:(www.ldolphin.org/mexico/mex1). It was just amazing reading it! It happens to be that I was one of the students that attended that meeting at the "grand baroque" hall in the Universidad Autónoma de Puebla. I remember with clarity I was listening very close with the other students that gather around asking you questions after your speech. Since then it's been many years and an exciting road with God.
Let me thank you first for those conferences in Mexico (don't know if you did more). Though, like I said before, it's been some years, I've had kept fresh in my memory that speech, which was a very encouraging event on my walk as a Christian.
Like you mention in your article, the word church is pejorative in Mexico, and it especially was during those years. Thanks be to God the situation has changed dramatically since then. An increasing number of professional and college students have come to the Lord. I think it was common thinking among some people at college to say that religion had no ground and that believing in God was only the type of thinking of uneducated people, since science and thechology were "opening" the eyes of people. I smile with gratefulness to God looking back to what have happened since those years. I come from a poor family and that type of thinking greatly opressed my faith for years, so it was really encouraging to me hear your speech.
Just before you left the baroque hall I remember you handed out several business cards. You offered one to me but I was extremely shy then and I couldn't reach out to grab it :), soon another hand snatched it. I kept thinking about you and your speech for years and even now sometimes I have cited that memory when I testify of my faith to other people. Curiously by that time I was still a Catholic. I did some studies on Theology in a Chatolic Institute while I was in college but I had a lot of questions that only were answered after I gave my life to Jesus Christ about four years ago. Since then it's been a wild and uncharted but still wonderful journey with God that has freed me and blessed me.
More curiously, though I was born in Puebla I never went to Amistad Cristiana but this last June 30th 2006, I was visiting the city due to a work holiday. There was a call from the Christian church in Mexico to organize a day of prayer for Mexico due to the presidential and in some places local government elections of July 2nd. I knew it from more than a month before and I was eager to participate in the meeting. It was a beautiful gathering of Christians all along the country to pray for Mexico. I am excited to quote from your article that the atmosphere is like that one finds in the book of Acts. I am still emotioned feeling the greatness of the Spirit in that meeting that when I do it tears of joy come to my eyes. I have felt that type of atmosphere in several other meetings since I became a Christian. I guess I should mention I haven't had a fixed church because I've been moving a lot. Currently I am living in the US in NJ, since almost 20 months ago. I long to find a church with that type of revival. Oh, that reminds me that last year I went to NY for the crusade that Billy Graham had there in Corona Park in Flushing Meadows. That was a similar atmosphere.
Well I guess I had many things to say but I rambled around several topics. Just wanted to say hello and tell you about this amazing coincidence. I would like to hear back from you. (signed), Elias
Worship is two-fold and must be according to truth and also "in the Spirit." "God is Spirit and those who worship Him must worship Him in Spirit and in truth." (John 4:24).
The empowerment of the Spirit only comes with renunciation of the world and its methods, especially in this passage, "lofty words of (human) wisdom": "When I (Paul) came to you, brethren, I did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in much fear and trembling; and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glorification. None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written, 'What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him,' God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God." (I Corinthians 2:1-10)
Two-fold Baptism with the Holy Spirit. Here, Jesus is the Baptizer: "I (John the Baptist) baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire (yet future). His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the granary, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire." (Matthew 3:11,12).
Events before Pentecost: "And while staying with them Jesus charged them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, 'you heard from me', for John baptized with water, but before many days you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit." (Acts 1:13-14).
The Promise of the Spirit: "Nevertheless I (Jesus) tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convince the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no more; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you." (John 16:8-16)
Baptism into Christ. The Holy Spirit is the Baptizer: "Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his." (Romans 6:3-5)
Not Two Baptisms but one: "There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all." (Ephesians 4:4-6).
Sermons by Ray C. Stedman in Spanish
Lambert Dolphin's Library