United Mexican States
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With an area covering nearly 2 million square kilometers (762,000 sq miles), Mexico is by far the largest land holder in Central America. And at over 100 million people, Mexico also boasts the largest Central American population. With such a large area Mexico has an incredible diversity of physical features, including western shores on the Pacific Ocean and eastern shores on the Gulf of Mexico. Contrasts in altitude and latitude produce wide climatic variations from the high temperatures on the coast to the cold of the mountains and volcanic cones which can exceed 2,000m (6,000 feet).
For thousands of years advanced civilizations have inhabited the area. Most present day Mexicans are descendant of the Amerindian peoples who lived in the region at the time of the Spanish Conquests of the early sixteenth century. Among the empires were the Aztec, Mayan, Toltec and Olmec. The great Mayan pyramids and other ancient cities are being excavated and give testimony to the great advances made by these people before the advancement of European settlers into the region.
Agriculture occupies about a quarter of the Mexican population with most farmers living by producing maize, beans and squash. Cash crops for export include coffee, cotton and sugarcane. Some meat is exported from the north and with such long coast lines, fishing is also an important export industry. About a fifth of Mexico is forested providing important hardwood for export, as well as chicle, the base for chewing gum. The Gulf of Mexico is the source for oil and Mexico is one of the largest oil exporters in the world, outside of OPEC. Mexico is also the world’s largest producer of silver. Other mineral reserves have yet to be tapped.
With the advent of the Spanish in the early sixteenth century many of the native populations were forced into a system of large scale estates and serfdom that lasted for nearly three hundred years, until abolished in 1829. By 1810 Hidalgo was leading a rebellion against Spain and independence was recognized in 1836. Ten years later, US troops captured Mexico City which resulted in treaty grants of large amounts of territory to the USA. In the 1860s Mexican Monarchists pushed for and briefly re-established a monarchy under Emperor Maximilian, Archduke of Austria and brother of Emperor Franz Joseph. Maximilian was briefly backed by France’s Napoleon III but with the failure of the monarchy Maximilian was executed at Juarez’s orders in 1867. By 1876 Diaz had been established as dictator and began to expand the economy by building railways, developing industry and encouraging foreign investment. Madero overthrew the Diaz government in revolution in 1910-1920. Since 1929 one party, the PRI, has dominated. In the later twentieth century the economy contracted causing a loss of jobs and crises. Today Mexico is a Federal Republic with two legislative chambers, the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies.
Perhaps as a result of the Spanish Colonial era the religious scene of Mexico is dominated by the Roman Catholic Church. 93% of Mexicans are Catholic, 4% are Protestant and the remaining 3% represent a milieu of other faith traditions.
The earliest recollection of the work of the Stone-Campbell Movement in Mexico is said to be financial support given by Alexander Campbell in 1824 to sustain a colporteur. But it would take more than seventy years before there would be a missionary or Church in the Mexican Republic sustained by the Christian Church Movement. One of the first of the Stone-Campbell Movement to make in-roads to Mexico was Jacob Caswell Mason, a preacher of some influence from Houston, Texas. As a result of his wife’s ill-health the Masons were spending some months in El Paso in the late nineteenth century. There he met a young man, Merritt Lorraine Hoblit, who was bi-lingual and had a passion to see Mexico evangelized for Christ. In 1895 the Christian Churches of Texas held their convention in Gainesville and Hoblit was one of the speakers, addressing the assembly on “ Mexico as a Mission Field.” The same year the International Convention met in Dallas and the Texas Christians brought an appeal on behalf of Mexico before the national assembly. The Christian Woman’s Board of Missions (CWBM) responded to the call by employing Hoblit to open a school at Juarez, just across the Rio Grande from El Paso. A building was secured and the school opened before the end of the year. Early in 1896 a paper known as El Evangelista was also begun. Bertha Mason, daughter of the above-mentioned J.C. Mason also joined the work for a time. Several factors combined to make the work in Juarez sufficiently discouraging to close the work and move it to Monterrey before the turn of the century.
In Monterrey the CWBM, under Hoblit’s leadership, soon opened a reading room with attractive literature, Spanish day school, an English day school, a church with a Bible school and so forth. He also attempted some translation and printing work. Hoblit was soon appealing for more help to aid in this ambitious plan but epidemics of small pox and yellow fever curtailed the work and Hoblit resigned. Others came to take his place and the work was again moved and reorganized, beginning almost from scratch. The major thrust of the new work would be education. The baptism of an American expatriate and two Mexican women in December of 1900 signaled the first Christian Church members in Mexico. A church of eighteen members was organized on September 14, 1901, five of whom were Mexican. The early years of the mission were plagued by Catholic persecution and disease. Alvin Grant Alderman had a significant ministry with the CWBM in Mexico in this era until his work was cut short, after only two years, as a result of yellow fever. His ministry was significant for several reasons: he began publication of a paper called Llamamiento (The Call) , that later ran for some fifty years as La Vida de Paz (The Way of Peace), he converted T.M. Westrup and his family and secured their help for the fledgling Christian Church Movement; and accepted into fellowship the membership of two small Baptist churches, one of which was under the leadership of Felipe Jimenez. After the death of Alderman, T.M. Westrup, then in his 60s, stepped up to fill the leadership void. Tomas Westrup edited La Vida de Paz, translated into Spanish such works as Isaac Errett’s Our Position, and translated or wrote about 400 hymns in Spanish. When Tomas Westrup died in late 1909 his son, Enrique, took over many of his father’s duties.
In 1905 the CWBM sent Samuel Guy Inman to Monterrey to take over direction of the mission. Inman labored with Westrup learning the language and with the help of the Elder Westrup and Felipe Jimenez opened many new works on behalf of the Disciples. Inman also led in the establishment of Instituto Christiano were a handful of men and women were educated to preach and teach, including Pilar Silva, Manuel Beltran, Mauricio Alonso, and Juan Flores. Later the Inmans transferred their work to Piedras Negras, Coahuila where he became known for his expertise on Latin American problems. Leadership of the Institute was transferred to Bertha Mason Fuller and her husband, J.H. Fuller until the Revolution, in effect, forced closure of the school. At the time of the Revolution the CWBM could boast sixteen American missionaries and thirty Mexican workers on the field. As a result of the Revolution the Americans were forced out and much of the work that was not carried on by the Mexicans had to be abandoned.
In 1914 several missionary boards representing work in Mexico called a Conference on Missions in Mexico to discuss problems in Mexico and distribution of the work there by the various denominational boards. This led to a Congress of Christian Work in Panama early in 1916 to look at the possibilities of cooperation among the denominations. In 1919 a Committee on Co-operation in Latin America met in Mexico City. Through these various meetings with other denominational boards it was agreed to make adjustments necessary to cover the entire field of Mexico, each assuming responsibility of a certain territory. The CWBM agreed to abandon the work in Monterrey and take up positions in Coahuila and Nuevo Leone in northern Mexico, the western half of the states of Aguascalientes and Zacatecas and two small districts in the state of Jalisco. In addition the CWBM agreed to cooperate with the other Boards in establishing in Mexico City a Union Theological Seminary and Evangelical University, a Union Hospital and a Union Publishing House. Some properties in the north were sold by the CWBM and new properties were purchased in the newly assigned central area late in 1919. This same time saw the merger of the Christian Woman’s Board of Missions and several other Disciples agencies into the United Christian Missionary Society.
The Comity Agreement reached by the CWBM appeared to have made good sense in that the work in the small competitive field of Monterrey would be turned over to the Methodists and the CWBM would inherit a larger field to be surrendered by the Presbyterians in central Mexico. However, the arrangement failed to take into consideration the inclinations of the Mexican brethren. Many of the Mexican brethren approached E.T. Westrup and asked his advice on what should be done. After some discussion it was decided that the churches would organize the Mexican Society for Christian Missions (MSCM) in 1919 and appeal directly to the American Churches for support through the pages of the Christian Standard and thus removing themselves from the management of the missionary societies. Westrup and the MSCM became a rallying point in opposition to comity agreements and the United Christian Missionary Society and therefore found liberal support among conservative members of the Stone-Campbell Movement, becoming one of the earliest of the direct-support missions. Opinions on E.T. Westrup, his motivations and activities vary but the fact remains that he was active in the leadership of the work of the Stone-Campbell Movement in the United States and Mexico until nearly the time of his death in 1967.
After the Comity Agreement was reached and the areas of Mexico reassigned among the various protestant denominational bodies the Disciples invested the proceeds from the sale of property in Monterrey in new property in the central area. A home for girls, as well as Jubilee Church, was constructed in Aguasclientes. There were two schools in that locale, a normal school (Colegio Morelos) and a primary school. In San Luis Potosi two congregations and two schools were supported as well as two preaching points. In addition, there was significant cooperative work carried out with the Methodists, Presbyterians, Congregationalists and the International Y.M.C.A., including the Union Theological Seminary and Union Press in Mexico City. Over the years the Disciples sent several missionaries and specialized workers to the Mexican field.
At the present time the Wider Church Ministries of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) has one common ministry personnel in Mexico assigned to the Association of Evangelical Christian Churches (Disciples of Christ in Mexico (AICE). The Division of Overseas Ministries financially supports the Congregational Church of Mexico and shares an historic relationship with the Confraternity of Evangelical Christian Churches (Disciples of Christ) in the republic of Mexico (CICE).
Following the Comity Agreement that re-organized foreign mission work within Mexico Brother E.T. Westrup continued his work as a direct-support missionary soliciting funds and assistance from Churches throughout the United States. For many years he directed the Mexican Society for Christian Missions, for a time operating a primary school, preaching at various points and editing a monthly paper known as La Vida de Paz in which he printed several Bible lessons and articles illustrating the Christian stand. The periodical had circulation in Mexico, into South America and some in Spain. Brother Westrup also printed many evangelistic tracts and translated into Spanish J.W. McGarvey’s Acts of the Apostles and T.W. Phillips’ The Church of Christ.
Antonio Media was another individual who took up the plan of direct-support missions after the Comity Agreement. Media began his work in San Luis Potosi, later moving westward, establishing churches, including one in Estancia, Zacatecas. Buildings were constructed in Loreto, Salinas, Las Colonias and Ojocaliente. In Loreto a hospital was also set-up but is said to have been destroyed “by the Catholics.” During much of the Media’s ministry there was a great deal of persecution of advancing Protestantism by Roman Catholics. The Media’s daughter, Martha Elba, went to the United States for Bible training and there met and married Wayne Hayes. In 1954 Wayne and Martha Elba Hayes returned to Mexico to assist her parents in their evangelistic work. By 1957 Antonio Media estimated that in his 30 year ministry he had witnessed the immersion of 4,500 believers. Central Mexico Christian School was also established by the Medias; a Grade school and Bible Institute were conducted in this building. Their work, based in Salinas, was known as Central Mexico Christian Mission (CMCM). Today Wayne and Martha Elba and their descendants are carrying out the work in Mexico begun by her father nearly 80 years ago. These two missions, among the earliest founded are but a sample of the dozens of direct support or “independent” missionaries supported by the Christian Churches and Churches of Christ in Mexico. The number of American missionaries working in Mexico began to grow significantly, particularly in the era after the Second World War. Presently there are more missionaries of the Christian Churches and Churches of Christ working in Mexico than in any other country; that number is in excess of 110. Some of these families and mission organizations have been at work in Mexico for many decades. Given this large number it would be impossible to give an overview of the work, which includes children’s homes, church planting, campus ministries, translation work, educational institutions, and many, many various evangelistic programs. See the links listed below for additional information.
In his global survey of the a cappella Churches of Christ, Mac Lynn attributes the advent of Churches of Christ into Mexico to Pedro Rivas, a national, who was baptized in Harlingen, Texas in the 1920s. Pedro was able to attend Tennessee’s Freed-Hardeman College in 1929, afterward he went to Torreon, Coahuila to preach the Gospel with the financial support of the Central Church of Christ in Houston, Texas.
J. Willie Treat of Abilene, Texas was a pioneer American evangelist in the Churches of Christ work in Mexico. Haven Miller is another American who is known to have been working with the Church of Christ in Mexico City prior to 1950. Agustin Figuero of Mexico City was a student at Abilene Christian College in about 1950. While there he was converted to Christ and after which he returned to Mexico to begin a church. Much like the Christian Churches and Churches of Christ the a cappella Churches of Christ saw a surge in mission activity south of the border in the era following the Second World War. Beginning in 1954 the James Brandon family began work in Mexico City. By 1957 Bill Stivers and a group from Pepperdine College were teaching in Tijuana. Medical Evangelism Ministry began under the sponsorship of the Bridge Avenue Church in Welasco, Texas resulting in numerous medical campaigns into Mexico involving hundreds of Americans. Large amounts of religious materials have been shipped to the Yucatan for educational purposes. Joe Romero coordinates campaigns and literature distribution, as well as directs the Spanish World Bible School under the sponsorship of the Faith Village Church in Wichita Falls, Texas. Mac Lynn says that scores of groups from the United States have assisted with orphanage, teaching and service projects, and building construction over the years. See Churches of Christ Around the World and the websites listed below for further contact information. Again, it is difficult to ascertain a comprehensive list of those who have served in Mexico and the work that is currently being carried out.
In 1990 there were an estimated 375 Churches of Christ in Mexico with an estimated membership of 3,500. By 2000 that number had grown to approximately 400 known congregations and a membership in excess of 25,000 with approximately 18 missionaries in residence.
The 9 th World Convention was held in Mexico City, Mexico, July 30 through August 4, 1974 under the theme “Emmanuel-God With US”. Dr. J. Daniel Joyce was the Convention President. Daniel Lopez De Lara served as First Vice President and welcomed the Convention to his home town. At that time Mexico City boasted 24 congregations of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) with a total membership of 1,323. A number of Christian Churches and Churches of Christ in and around Mexico also participated in the Convention. At that time Convention did not extend to a cappella Churches of Christ. Sessions of the Convention were held in the Maria Isabel Hotel and the National Auditorium. On the opening night the former President of Mexico, His Excellency, Miguel Aleman, brought greetings to the Assembly, as did, U.S. Ambassador Joseph J. Jova. Among the speakers that year were President Daniel Joyce, Walter Bingham, Richard Crabtree, Leander Keck, Mrs. Luis Parrilla, Ron O’Grady, Frank Wood, Ernest Campbell, and others. The Communion Service for that year was a bit different from the typical closing service in that it was held in three services in the Fiesta Palace Hotel Ballroom at 8, 9 and 11. Each time featured different interpretive meditations from different individuals on the themes of The Family of God, The Shameful Divisions in the Family, and The Walls are Crumbling. After which a love offering was taken to be used for the Mexican Churches. An estimate 4,500 people attended the Mexico City World Convention, including 1,000 youth, representing about 30 different countries.
Clinton J. Holloway
National Profiles Editor
For further historical reference:
Churches of Christ Around the World, Lynn, Mac, 21st Century Christian Publications, Nashville, TN, 2003.
Disciples of Christ Historical Society, 1101 19th Avenue, South, Nashville, TN (USA) 37212, Telephone: 615 327 1444
Website: http://www.discipleshistory.org (provides links to other historical sites/databases).
The Christian Woman’s Board of Missions, 1874-1919, Ida Withers Harrison, privately published, 1919(?). This contains a record of the work done by the CWBM in Mexico.
Survey of Service, compiled by the International Convention of the Disciples of Christ, Christian Board of Publication, St. Louis, Mo., 1928.
The Background, Current Condition and Suggestions, for Future Growth of the Christian Churches in Monterrey, Mexico With Special Reference to the Church Growth Movement, William F. Hoff, unpublished master’s thesis, Cincinnati Christian Seminary, 1983. Used with permission of the author.
The Church Abroad, Lora Banks Harrison, Southern Christian Press, San Antonio, Texas, 1960.
For online directories of a cappella Churches of Christ see:
Though it is located in Eagle Pass, Texas this school is devoted to the evangelization of the Hispanic culture. Supported by Christian Churches and Churches of Christ.
264 N Brazos St.
Eagle Pass, Texas 78852
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada
P.O. Box 1986, Indianapolis, IN 46206 (USA)
For a list of many Christian Churches and Churches of Christ (in the United States) missionaries/ministries see:
Mission Services Association
7545 Hodges Ferry Road, Knoxville, TN ( USA) 37920
Telephone: 1 800 655 8524
Fax: 865 573 5950
Directory of the Ministry
1525 Cherry Road, Springfield, IL ( USA) 62704
Telephone: 217 546 3566
Workers for Mexico is a conference of Christian Churches and Churches of Christ missionaries and their families. Contact Francis Nash, Director
Website: www.workersformexico.org or write to Francis Nash at Box 400, Grayson, KY 41143