Witchcraft was a way of life for an ethnic Mixtec father of six in a Mexican village who lost his two youngest children to mysterious illnesses.
The 55-year-old Roberto* had an ample collection of trinkets and animal parts for spells, and he had long implored the mountain and river gods, along with a pantheon of Catholic saints, to grant his wishes and those of others. Often offering sacrifices, he treasured the carved idols of some of the gods and saints he invoked.
Some villagers relied on his potions and rituals in their yearning to acquire fortune or favor. As a result, many of the villagers believed that Roberto’s two young sons must have died in a war of spells between him and another specialist in witchcraft – and that his rival’s spell also doomed his other children to die.
Unlike a tribal shaman, Roberto was not revered as a priestly chief; he was known mainly as a drunkard who had continual fights with his wife.
Many of the villagers believed that Roberto’s two young sons must have died in a war of spells between him and another specialist in witchcraft.
A native missionary undertook the challenge of befriending Roberto. The relationship took months to form, and many more passed before the evangelist, who had a small side job in the village, was able to discuss passages of the Bible with him on a weekly basis.
“It is not easy to affect the worldview of tribal indigenous people, so visitation house by house is vital for our ministry,” the leader of the native ministry said. “It takes time to create a bond and friendship among the members of the village.”
About the time that Roberto realized a perpetual drunken stupor would not take away the pain of losing his two young sons, the native missionary told him his only hope in life was to believe in Christ’s death and resurrection. Roberto brooded over the meaning of Christ’s sacrifice for several more months.
“It took a long time for him to decide to follow Jesus,” the ministry leader said. “But after he surrendered his life to Jesus, he has become a completely different person. He has been transformed by the power of God, and people in the village are surprised by his change. He was baptized a few months ago.”
At the same time, many villagers have reviled him for abandoning the drunken, pagan religious festivals that provide income for some businesses and have become integral to local indigenous culture.
“Please pray for Roberto to resist the criticisms that the village people hurl at him for deciding to follow Jesus and the change in his lifestyle,” the director said.
Declining to support or participate in the religious festivals, which reflect a blend of Roman Catholic figures and indigenous rituals, can present real dangers to new Christians. They can lose jobs, have electric and water service cut or be expelled from the village, all with supposed support of local laws that wrongly draw on the “Uses and Customs” provision in the Mexican constitution protecting indigenous rights.
The misuse of the “Uses and Customs” provision conflicts with Article 24 of Mexico’s constitution protecting freedom of religion, but it is routinely invoked in indigenous villages in Oaxaca, Chiapas and other states to coerce or persecute Christians.
With such centuries-old practices ingrained in the psyches of many indigenous villagers, most instances of tribal people putting their faith in Christ come from personal, individual connections with native missionaries who are in touch with them on a daily basis, the director said.
“There are many hours that are invested each day in visiting these families that we are trying to reach with the gospel,” he said.
A native missionary in another remote village exercised patience over an extended period with a young Mixtec couple lost in drinking, jealous fits and violent outbursts. Living together at age 23 and 22, they were slow to begin opening up to the worker. Eventually, they allowed her to pray for them.
“Many times our missionary shared with them Bible principles about the family, and finally they opened their hearts to Jesus,” the director said. “Today they are a totally transformed couple. They got married legally according to the civil laws, and the two have left alcohol and other vices.”
They are walking close to God and want to serve him with all their heart, he said.
“Their transforming testimony is helping in this community so that people are interested in the gospel,” he said. “We pray that this testimony may be of great blessing for other families.”
Even in large evangelistic events for children in indigenous communities, native missionaries share the gospel in strategic, subtle ways so as not to unduly alienate villagers. Also, when possible they build relationships with local officials heading up the indigenous religious festivals as a platform for softening any opposition to Christianity.
Such dedicated native missionaries throughout Latin America are investing their lives in the broken lives of others to bring healing and wholeness. Please consider a donation today to help them introduce the grace of Christ to troubled souls.
*Name changed for security reasons