What a neat time of ministry we had with Venancio today! We drove to Puerto Juarez and took the ferry to Isla Mujeres. The island, which is about 9 kilometers off the coast, is 7 kilometers long and only 600 meters wide. But it also houses 17,500 people, of which maybe 1,000 claim to be Christians. We met up with a brother there who drives a taxi and he took us to a small village called La Guadalupana. As he dropped us off, he promised to return later and charged us no fare saying "This is God's Taxi. He pays all of my bills."
Venancio knew about 3 different families in the village, two of which were believers and one Catholic. It was too cold for us to show the Jesus film outside, so we invited several different families to a Bible study at one of the believers' homes. We visited the Catholic family for a good while, talking. Outside of this home was a miniature chapel - I suppose you would call it - made of concrete. Inside it were colored, blinking lights and beautiful decorations. It housed a statue of the Virgin Mary. The "chapel" was made of concrete, while the house comprised wood and corrugated metal. The "chapel" had fancy decorations and electricity, while the inside of the house was left in the dark. We couldn't even see the people we were talking to until one of the daughters finally brought in an old, battery-powered lantern.
Though I'm still trying to get my Spanish back in practice, I was able to catch most of the conversation and was a bit surprised, yet very encouraged, by what I heard. While Venancio was inviting them to Bible study he said, "I know 2009 was a bad year for us all, but we are expecting a better year in 2010." And the man of the house spoke up, I think arguing. "No, this year is not going to be better. All of humanity is dying. It is colder here than it has ever been. There are storms and natural disasters more than there have ever been. We are in a financial crisis. We are in a health crisis. We are in a violence crisis." It seemed to me like the perspective of a pessimistic old villager who is fed up with the world. I was waiting for Venancio to respond when the man continued. "And where is the church? What are they doing to help? Why do we have so many children starving in Africa and India, people dying in Iraq and Afghanistan, why don't they help them?" All of this is coming from a man who obviously is a devout Catholic, ensuring that the statue of Mary has a better lodging than his own family. "What is wrong with the Pope? He is supposed to be the representation of Christ on this earth, but he does not follow the steps of Jesus. He just sits there with his big, tall crown on, made of pure gold, while the poor people of the world starve. Jesus went to the poor. He helped them, talked to them, healed them, ate with them. If he is supposed to be the representation of Jesus, he is not doing his job!" So I finally spoke up. "But that's not his job. That's our job. That is our responsibility as Christians. Jesus said that we are supposed to be the light to the world. And that's why we're here today."
Please pray for this family. As I talked to Venancio later, he was as encouraged as I was. He said, "You see??? God is working in him, in his mind! He is preparing his heart." The family didn't come to Bible study, but pray that as we continue to work there, we will show them the true representation of Christ on this earth.
So we began the Bible study - the first one in this village. Along with Venancio, Abby, and me, we had four people - a lady, her 16/17 year-old daughter, her 11/12 year-old son, and the man whose house we were in. By the end of the service, three more people had joined us. We sang a few Spanish choruses (all back to back in the same key - mas o menos) and I played along on someone's old, out-of-tune guitar. Then we shared praises and things we were thankful for during this past year. After prayer, Venancio preached on Luke 13:6-9 and the parable of the fig tree. He did such a great job of explaining how we are called as Christians to bear fruit. He explained how Christ intercedes on our behalf to the Father, always wanting to give us one more chance, another opportunity. He explained how a life not spiritually cared for will not spiritually bear fruit. And from there he shared his goal for this Bible study to begin the process of discipleship. We handed out some very basic Bible study materials that we will be going through each week and assigned everyone the first chapter to read before our meeting next Tuesday or Thursday. Venancio explained the Great Commission to "make disciples" of all people and that today is the day that discipleship begins.
It was such a neat opportunity to be here at the very beginning of the growth process for these very new Christians and the start of the church body on Isla Mujeres.