September 12, 2016 — A Week in Mexico

You can find a shorter version of this report, called “A Visit to RUF in Mexico”

I flew to Mexico last Monday. I had been focused on the sermon for my church, Lehigh Valley Presbyterian, in the previous week. So on the flight I launched into preparing for my sermon at the university on Tuesday and mostly finished by the time we landed. I arrived at the hotel by 9:30 PM, Central Time, and hit the sack.

Tuesday morning I finished my sermon and sent a copy to Monse, who would be translating. At noon Matt Jesch arrived. Matt has taken over from Larry Trotter as the MTW person overseeing the ministry at UNAM. I had never met Matt before, so I was eager to see him. We spent a couple of hours together before heading to the Large Group Meeting. My sermon on Jesus as the Lamb of God seemed to connect with the students, even through translation. As customary, we had lunch afterward, this time at a tiny restaurant. In the few hours before bedtime I continued orienting Matt to the RUF ministry at the UNAM (National University of Mexico).

Wednesday morning Matt and I were planning to meet with Marco Escalente and Victor Cruz. Victor could not join us, but we had a fine time with Marco. We discussed the progress of the CUR (the Spanish name for RUF), and how to draw the Mexican churches into supporting this ministry. There are many hurdles, including tax laws that are unfriendly to ministries, a denomination which has never done much campus ministry, and very limited financial resources. In spite of these things, Marco’s and Victor’s churches are supporting the CUR. Our next step is to enlist the support of their presbytery. They plan to bring this up for discussion at a presbytery meeting in the near future.

After meeting Marco, Matt and I headed to the university for the English Club. Over 30 students showed up, and many had lunch with us afterward. We ate little because Lizet was preparing a special dinner for us – Chiles en Nogada – the dish served only in September in honor of Mexican independence, which is celebrated on the 15th. I had eaten Chiles en Nogada once before, but Lizet’s dish was superior! Later that night Matt and I debriefed the day. Matt and I share many convictions, and it was very helpful to have another perspective on things.

I had no scheduled meetings on Thursday, which was fine. Matt left for home in Guadalajara in the morning, and I caught up on stateside business and prepared for an apologetics seminar coming up on Friday. I finished in the afternoon in time for a nice bit of exercise, then walked a half hour to the center of Coyoacan, a neighborhood of Mexico City. Coyoacan center strikes me as a sort of hippy/hipster neighborhood. There is a wonderful park surrounded by restaurants with outdoor seating. Traveling musicians and other performers pass through, along with all sorts of people with friends, dogs, and babies. The Mexican exchange rate is now 19:1, so a dollar buys a lot. I had a nice dinner there, and a nice walk back to the hotel.

Friday morning I spent several hours with Barush and Monse reviewing some fundamentals of ministry, then English Club, lunch, and the apologetics seminar. We expected 6-10 students, but 32 came. We had about 10 unbelievers, two Swedes in the country for ministry training, a seminary professor, as well as the CUR students. Monse translated again, and the material was well received. Most students stayed long after we ended the meeting, and I spent an hour and a half answering questions.

Saturday morning Barush took me to meet his father, who is also a pastor in the National Presbyterian Church. Reverend Sanchez is an officer in the General Assembly, and was just returning from their annual meeting. The president of their presbytery also joined us. It was a wonderful opportunity to explain what RUF is doing at the UNAM and encourage their churches and their presbytery to boost their support for Barush. Reverend Sanchez invited us to the Mexican Independence Day celebration being held at their church that evening.

I had previously agreed to spend part of the afternoon with Monse, who wanted to show me a new museum in the Zocolo, the center of Mexico City. It is a world-class museum dedicated to 20th century genocides. We spent three hours glued to the exhibits until we were starving. Over dinner we discussed some other concerns. Then we headed over to the party. It was just as you would imagine: singing, dancing, costumes, food, the Mexican national anthem. It was wonderful. I met Barush’s mother and sister, and I think my presence was encouraging to them.

On a previous trip I had worshiped with Victor’s church, and I had promised Marco that on my next visit I would worship in his church. I made the half-hour walk to Coyoacan center and had a leisurely breakfast before the service. These churches are small, but impressive. Marco invited me after the service to tell about my ministry, and they prayed for me. Monse’s mother has been eager to meet me, so she came. (She is a member of a different church.) After the service we had a delicious pot luck lunch, at which I met another fascinating set of people: a woman with four children who is homeschooling them, a woman who is Mexican but grew up near Atlanta and speaks flawless English, and Monse’s father who is not a Christian but came for the meal! The young people organized a soccer tournament afterwards while the rest of us visited.

Eventually I wandered back to Coyoacan center, which by now on Sunday was swarming with people. I was able to find a park bench and spent a couple of hours reading a fat book Christopher gave me on political events in 19th century central Asia. There was a 30% chance of rain and the clouds began to darken a bit, so I selected a restaurant which had outside seating with an awning for an evening snack. Soon after I had ordered, it began to rain. Sometimes in Mexico City there is a light rain, but it can also be torrential. The awning was rolled into place, but instead of shedding the water, it collected it. I assisted the restaurant personnel in holding up the awning from collapsing while also pushing the water off the canvas. Soon I was ushered to an indoor seat. I took my time eating so that the storm would pass before I needed to venture out again. Fortunately the walk to the hotel was uneventful.

I type this in my first-class seat on the way to Detroit, having been given a complimentary upgrade at the last minute. A roomy seat is so great on a five hour flight when you have work to do. They also served us a meal that was better than some restaurants. I am grateful for God’s grace in my sermon, apologetics seminar, and interactions with staff, students, and pastors. This ministry will eventually die out unless the Mexican church adopts it and supports it. I see amazing signs that this is slowly beginning to happen. I normally feel, due to my lack of Spanish and cultural ignorance, as though I am looking into a dense fog. But God is strong enough to work through this weakness, and I hope He is building a long-term ministry in Mexico.