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How to reach Mexican Indian people in your area!

Practical Suggestions

The following was written specificaly for some who had expressed an interest in reaching out to the Indian people in Nogales Sonora, In the spring of 2000. It is included here because it applies to all border cities, (except for local geographical details) and (only slightly less) to many locations in the interior of the USA. Florida, Georgia, N.Carolina, California, Oregon, Washington, To name just a few.

About an Appropriate Approach to the task, of reaching the Mexican Indian people with the gospel, while they are here.

In Isa 18:7 We find a very accurate description of the Indian people of Mexico:

In that time shall the present be brought unto the LORD of hosts of a people scattered and peeled, and from a people terrible from their beginning hitherto; a nation meted out and trodden under foot, whose land the rivers have spoiled, to the place of the name of the LORD of hosts, the mount Zion.

The word "Nation" is Hebrew "Goy", and refers to the same peoples as the word "ethnos" ("nations") in Matthew 28:19. When a nation is so scattered among other nations, Their hearts are tenderized, and they are made ready to receive the gospel message. The above verse speaks of the fact that these people who have been so "scattered and peeled" will be brought as a gift to the Lord. You may be one of those who will bring such a gift to Him!

But their being scattered among the other nations makes for some difficulty in reaching them. In Mexico, there is a very strong cultural prejudice against the Indian cultures. For that reason, the Indian people themselves do not want to be thought of as Indians. That's why I never use the terms "Indio", Indito", "Oaxaquito" with them, and almost never ask them directly if they speak an Indian language (unless I am quite certain that they do, and have a very good idea which one). In a practical sense this prejudice (from both sides) severely limits our approach.

DIAGNOSTIC APPROACH:

My approach is usually as follows: I have "done my homework"! (want to talk about that?) Then I approach the location where I hope to find some Indian people (probably mixed in with people from other cultures), And look out the local authority (usually a Spanish speaker) who can give me permission for whatever program I have prepared. (Usually a gospel film, but sometimes a drama, puppet show, or musical presentation). I try to get to the site early, so as to leave some time for interaction with the people. I may tell a flipchart story in Spanish, or get someone to do it. (You can do this without knowing Spanish). And I try to make friends quickly with some of the people. Especially if they appear to be Indian. Since I will avoid mentioning their "indian-ness", and since the location of their origin is going to be my first and biggest clue about the language that they may speak, I usually use that theme of conversation to get aquainted:

"Seņor, pardon me, but where are you from?" I might say in Spanish. He will usually answer the question in a general sort of way, because he has no reason to think that I would understand a more specific answer. He might, for instance say: "Oaxaca." Then I will try to get more specific with him. I will have to convince him that I will understand a more specific answer. Since my "homework" included some study of the diagnostic maps, I should be able to name a few of the districts of Oaxaca. So I will ask him from which district in Oaxaca, and name a few districts. Even if I don't name his district, the fact that I know something about Oaxaca might convince him that it is safe to mention his district by name. If I don't recognize the district, I might need to actually get out the diagnostic map, and look for it. (Don't expect the Indian people to understand anything about a map.)

If he names the district (for instance) of Juxtlahuaca, a quick review of the two appropriate maps will reveal that he probably speaks either Mixteco, or Triqui de Copala (not Trique, because that pronunciation is an insulting word in their language).

Now is the time to mention the Indian language, but not its "indian-ness". How do we avoid that? I would ask in Spanish: "Do you, perhaps speak the Mixtec language that so many there speak?" This question gets to the heart of the matter, without mentioning the subject of "indian-ness", and at the same time shows a degree of personal interest on my part in the individual, in that I have taken the pains to know that many in his region speak Mixteco. Even if I am wrong and he in fact speaks Triqui, this approach will help embolden him to say so. But if I get a non-committal negative answer, I may have to mention the availability of the audio cassettes (and the fact that they are free), or even get out the diagnostic cassette, and begin to try the various languages that are shown on the maps to be in the district of Juxtlahuaca. It is possible that he will answer with a very definite "no" that he speaks only Spanish. In that case, I may offer him a gospel portion in printed form. If he does not read, there are also cassettes available in Spanish, but I use some caution in bringing them out in a big crowd, because everyone wants them, and one can very quickly be bogged down serving only the Spanish speaking population with cassettes, when they in fact can read the Bible for themselves.

If the answer to my question is that he speaks Triqui, I can immediately know that it is the Triqui of Copala (code named O:9) because that is the only form of Triqui spoken in that district. If his answer is Mixteco, I will need to get out the diagnostic cassette, and quickly find M:12d, and begin to demonstrate the several versions of Mixteco that are spoken there, until I find which is most appropriate for the individual. Having discovered which cassette is best, I will make him a copy, and give it to him, or if for some reason I cannot do that, I will suggest to him that on a subsequent visit I will try (never promise) to bring him a cassette in his own language, and then (in order to find him again) ask him precisely where he lives, and for his full name. Even though I did not promise him anything, I must treat my suggestion to him that I will bring him a tape, as a promise, because he will be counting on it. On occasion I have driven hundreds of miles to fulfill that suggestion, and the fact is not lost on the Indian man or woman who receives the cassette.

WHERE WILL YOU FIND THE INDIAN PEOPLE IN THE NOGALES BORDER AREA?

First: You will find them on the streets in the "tourist area of Nogales, Sonora. Some of the details of what I am about to say may change, but this is what I have found:

Prepare yourself in advance with 15 or twenty copies of the cassette Mixteco: Silacayoapan AV (or B/N, or G/N)(code name: M:11a A/V) and a few copies each of the Mazahua, and Otomi cassettes from the master box, If you don't have them, ask for them from LA, or Oaxaca. Walk across the line and turn right at the end of the first block. Continue to the Hotel Fray Marcos de Niza. As you go you will pass some Indian ladies begging on the street. The majority of them speak Mixteco of Silacayoapan (M:11a). Put that cassette on your tape player, and begin to play it from the beginning. If there is interest to do so, you may want to play the entire cassette (turning the pages of the booklet as the "beeb" on the tape suggests). In so doing, you will be sharing with that lady the gospel message in her own language. Or you may prefer (once you are satisfied that she understands the language spoken, to just give her the cassette, and go on to the next individual.

By the way, this cassette is available in almost thirty of the languages of Mexico, and is also available on Video. The booklet that goes with it is available in colors, and in three sizes, ranging from the size of the cassette, to 5 in. X 8 in., to about 14x17 (Flip chart style).

It may be that the individual speaks another language, in which case, you might need to proceed as above ("DIAGNOSTIC APPROACH"). In that part of Nogales the next most likely language that you are likely to find is Mazahua. You might just try that one.

Just before the Hotel Fray Marcos de Niza, on the left, there is a sort of "peddlers alley". The ladies selling in that area are mostly Mixteco ladies from Silacayoapan (M:11a). Across the street is another such "peddlers alley", but the folks selling there are for the most part Mazahua people from near Mexico city. Most of them have already received cassettes, but you might find some who have not, and the fact that you are there and care, may present some openings to minister to the spiritual needs of the people.

Moving on down the same street in the same direction, you will find still more either selling, or begging. Most will be Mixteco ladies from Silacayoapan. Turn left at the end of the block, and continue South - same scenario. But after about a block, you will see a large Catholic church on the left, and just South of the church a group of sellers. I don't know what you are likely to find there - hopefully some fruit for the Master.

Continuing South on the same street, you will be finding more sellers, and more men, some with their wares spread out in one place, and others carrying their wares with them from place to place. Many of these speak Mazahua, and others speak Otomi. Some speak both (it appears that the languages are similar). Only a few of these have received cassettes in their own languages. Soon you will come to another small market/park on the left. There are a few Mixteco people, and a few Otomi, and several Mazahua. Most there have also received a cassette in their own language. But again, they may now be open to discussion, and ministry in the things of God.

As you go farther South, you will see other sellers along both sides of the streets. They may be selling belts, or brooms, or who knows what. Most are either Mazahua, or Otomi. And I have also met Cora, Hna-hnu, Zapoteco, and others in that area.

If one individual or team makes the above described walk in one day, you are moving much too fast. Take your time, and come back another day. You are there to win them to Christ, and although we hope that will happen soon, Don't rush them. The message that we have is one of the love of God, and haste can convey an opposite message. Try in your contacts to befriend the people, so that when you come again, you will be able to greet them, and interact with them. If you are a "non Spanish speaking" member of a team, you will need to exercise even more patience. It will be hard for you to stand or sit silently and patiently while others are conversing in a language that you do not understand. Remember that these Indian people have the same problem, though most of them may speak more Spanish now than you do. Give yourself to prayer that the gospel may take root in their hearts and grow. Also, You who do not speak Spanish may want to get one of the flip charts spoken of above, and learn to use it. Or there might be unconventional ways for you to interact with the people. One brother who spoke no Spanish and spent time with us in Culiacan had a series of comical tricks that he did with his hat, which conveyed no message other than the very important one: that the children were important to him. A woman from Korea who spoke neither Spanish or English was obedient to the leading of God to kneel publicly in one of the camps and intercede for them earnestly for a space of about half an hour. then she went on to play volleyball with the young people. They loved her and respected her immediately, and her intercession was effective in that camp to the salvation of many.

NEIGHBORHOOD MINISTRY:

The above location and conditions may develop into a complete ministry for some one or several someones. But there are other likely locations, also to find Indian people in Nogales. Several are marked on the maps. Most of the people in the marked neighborhoods are not Indian, but some are. Because they are a distinct minority, and despised, they may not readily present themselves as Indian speakers. It may take quite a few visits to a particular area before they begin to show themselves. For that reason, it is important to be patient, and to remember that those who speak only Spanish in these areas are also in great need of the gospel. Most of the people are new to this area, and come from areas that have been very poor. Missionaries have (very rightly) evangelized the cities first, but (very wrongly) have duplicated their efforts there, while the poorer rural areas have been left out in the "breaking of the bread". In addition many of these poorer rural people do not know how to read, and so have not been able to read the Bible even if it was available to them. They will not feel at all insulted if you ask them if they know how to read when you offer them a portion of the scriptures. In these locations I like to use gospel videos. response is usually very good, and there is a strong likelihood that local meetings will grow out of your efforts. Success in reaching the neighborhood for Christ ought not to divert you from your search for those who could better hear the message in another language. It is probable that only after several visits will some such a one present himself, (and only if you continue to make it clear that you have the cassettes in the various languages of Oaxaca, Guerrero, and other places). But such a one who finally presents himself to receive an Indian language cassette may be the one through whom God will open the door to the rest of his people, both here, and in his distant village.

"WET BACK" MINISTRY (SOUTH OF THE BORDER):

p>Another opening to reach the Indian (and other poorer rural peoples of Mexico) is due to the huge influx of people in these Northern Mexico citys with the intent of crossing the international line to look for work in the USA. Tactics change, but at the moment hundreds are arriving every day along the border just South of Arizona, and (usually at night) trying to cross the border. Some of them make it, and present special opportunities for evangelism in destinations all over the USA. Many others are turned back, and present special challenges and opportunities for evangelism along the South side of the border. If you meet these people, some may ask for your help to illegally cross the line. Of course you cannot do so in good conscience, but there are other things that you can do. You may be used of God to provide a much needed blanket, or jacket, or meal for such a person, or family, and in the process reveal the loving heart of God, and the story of salvation. One such was thrust upon me recently having been physically beaten by the men whom he had paid to help him get across the line. They beat him and his two companions, and robbed them, and at the time I talked to him, he didn't know if his companions had survived the beating. While Pastor Roberto Estrada called for medical help, and for the police, I talked to the young man, and was able to give him in his own language two cassettes of the gospel of Christ. Even in his distress (or perhaps because of it) he was extremely grateful.

Before they cross the line, one of the systems commonly used is that the "coyote" (the man they are paying to help them pass the line) will tell them to wait in a special hotel until evening. Then he will come and guide them across the line. Obviously (since they will be leaving shortly after dark) movies are not going to be much help in reaching them. But in some of the locations they stay several days, in which case movies would be useful. Several of these hotels have allowed me entrance to share with the men about the gospel (only a few women are among these groups trying to cross the international line). If they are literate, it is good to distribute something substantial (John/Romans, or something similar). If not, use gospel cassettes. You will not usually find the Indian people traveling with non-indians, but sometimes the whole group will be Indian people from mostly one location. Don't waste your breath trying to persuade them not to cross the line looking for work. The are in desperate situations, and will not easily see your line of reasoning. What is far more important is to win them to Jesus, or at least share the gospel with them. In Nogales I can't tell you where those hotels are, but they are certainly there, and you can find them. They will be the cheapest hotels - some constructed for this exact purpose.

Dave McMullen

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© Dave & Ella McMullen, 2001
(Harvesting Harvesters)

Last update
Oct. 15, 2001