The Layout of Mexico City
It has always impressed me that Mexico City is one of the only major cities in the world which was not built beside a lake, an ocean or a large river. When it was founded several hundred years ago, Mexico City was on a shallow lake bed, but that water has been drained off and one of the city’s biggest problems today is insufficient liquid. There seems little hope of improving the quality of the water, but if there were simply enough water for all the people in Mexico City, we would be thrilled. Praise God that the tropical mountain climate does include a wonderful rainy season, which helps.
Another advantage of being beside a large body of water would have been more possibilities to transport goods, food and raw material which could be transformed into manufactured products in the thousands of factories in Mexico City. Instead, trucks are used to transport almost everything, leading to more pollution, increased traffic and loud motors. The train system is nearly dead and the immense international airport handles mostly people, with only a relatively small amount devoted to carrying cargo.
Life in Mexico City
In spite of marvelous natural resources in the country as a whole, poverty in rural areas has become so bad that millions of Mexicans have abandoned their fields and tried to find work and opportunities in Mexico City. This migration has not solved the problem; at least ten million Mexicans have given up and risked their lives trying to enter the United States illegally in hopes of finding decent-paying jobs. In turn they have shown an incredible love of family, sending money back to their home towns in quantities equal to what Mexico’s entire petroleum industry produces annually.
The overall population in the metropolitan area of Mexico City is about twenty-four million people; this includes some of the poorest of the poor (perhaps fifty percent of the population of the city), as well as prosperous middle class professionals. Traffic here is slow and dense; non air-conditioned subways are crowded to capacity most of the time and thousands of people spend as many as four hours a day going to and from their jobs, thankful to have even a small paycheck. On the political scene, after seventy-one years of having a one-party government, the region has begun to awaken to new opportunities for democracy.
Despite this, Mexico's principal problem is corruption, which can be found in many levels of government and society. Businessmen and women and industrial leaders spend huge amounts of their income on protection and security. The government complains that few people pay their taxes. The country has the world's highest rate of kidnapping (topping even Colombia). Much of the crime is not even reported because it seems so few criminals are ever caught and punished. Usually a bribe can get people out of anything.
There is only one answer for corruption: a spiritual revolution, a turning to Christ. When people follow Jesus Christ as Lord, they attempt to live as their Saviour lived by serving others, being honest, working hard, obeying the laws and sharing the good news. Simply put, they fear God. Mexico City is indeed one of the world's greatest challenges for the gospel, but praise God that many hundreds and thousands of its citizens are accepting that new way of life.
Historically, Mexico is a country where foreign missionaries have played a very limited role. The Christian Church (generally referred to here as evangelical, covering all types of believers) is definitely a Mexican Church, and everyday new congregations spring up throughout the metropolitan area. There are hundreds of people worshipping in historic church buildings, but many groups also meet in hotels, social halls and homes. Although there are no precise statistics on the number of evangelical Christians in Mexico City, it is estimated that at least fifteen percent of the population have trusted in Christ.
Another phenomenon is the curious arithmetic seen in Mexican churches. Mexican Christians laughingly say that they multiply by dividing, often because of personality clashes, doctrinal disagreements or resistance to new ideas or styles of worship. However, the fact is that they are multiplying. Still, evangelical Christians are a minority and are still largely ignored by the national media. The traditional religion here does everything possible to discredit and discount the evangelicals, leading to prejudice in many forms.
Latin America Mission, Milamex and Mexico City
Because the challenges in Mexico City are so vast, we who are working with Latin America Mission (LAM) sometimes feel like tiny ants struggling to make an impact on an entire football field. Our motto has been to serve, not to be served. Some LAM missionaries have started churches on the north side of the city while others work among victims of poverty to the east side of the city. However, the goal of Milamex (Latin America Mission of Mexico) has been to concentrate on ministries to help and strengthen the existing Church. We believe in fostering a spirit of unity.
Milamex was founded in 1964 by evangelist Juan M. Isais and today is directed by his daughter Sally Ramirez. Milamex has attempted to serve in four key areas:
- Evangelism. Our principal emphasis is on “evangelism in-depth,” an evangelistic movement pioneered on a nationwide basis by Latin America Mission during the 1960s and 1970s in many Spanish-speaking countries. More recently we have focused on citywide efforts, particular denominations or groups of churches or local congregations. This past June 2006, for example, the president of the Mexican National Baptist Convention hosted two seminars in his church and was tremendously enthusiastic about the teaching. The courses are given in churches of all types, whenever requested by local leaders. It must be noted that throughout all of our ministries we emphasize evangelism not as a method, but as the first love of true believers as taught in scripture.
- Christian camping. All of the tensions of a metropolis like Mexico City, where most families live cramped in tiny apartments with no yards (plus all the problems mentioned above), made us realize the need for places for Christians, particularly children and young people, to have opportunities to live with nature and enjoy clean air, blue skies, star-studded nights, walks in the woods, broad grassy playing fields and places for quiet meditation. Day to day the Christians in Mexico City are victims of unhealthy television programs, video games, boredom, drug pushers, overcrowding and other negative influences that counteract the joys of the gospel. They need a refuge. Well-planned camps provide leadership training, healthy competition, nutritious food, Bible study and prayer, relaxation and new Christian friends. Camp Kikoten, a large wooded property located in the mountains near Mexico City, is now independent of Milamex, with its own installations, staff and programs. Churches can rent the camp or people can attend camps planned by the staff. Another camp called Kikomar, on the beach of the Gulf of Mexico, is being developed with its own legal organization but under the Milamex umbrella. Praise God that many significant decisions for salvation, Christian service and even finding Christian mates has happened at the camps.
- Christian literature. This aspect of the ministry has been growing although Milamex’s publications began more than thirty-five years ago. We publish a monthly tabloid newspaper called Noticiero Milamex, which contains (a) relevant news about what is happening in church affairs in Mexico and other countries, (b) a section for prayer on the increasing persecution and intolerance of Christianity around the world and (c) items about missions and
Equipping Christians in Mexico City to reach the lost.
evangelism. This newspaper is now given away free of charge to churches which request it. This type of ministry requires us to be a center of information concerning the Church here. We also publish a bimonthly family magazine called Prisma, which includes testimonies of conversion, a photo novel (similar to a comic book story told in pictures) and articles on varied subjects. Beginning in 2002, Milamex started to also publish books; we now have a dozen titles, including five books with advice for women, two with advice for men, children's stories, a juvenile novel, two biographies and one title on discovering the will of God. These have been widely read and accepted and we expect this publishing house to continue to grow, Lord willing.
- Biblical teaching in special events. Milamex has pioneered a variety of courses open to Christians and their non-Christian friends. Christian journalism and writing courses are held at least once a year. We have sponsored three courses on Christian comics with Nate Butler, president of COMIX35; another is scheduled for February 2007. One-day gala events for women have been enthusiastically received four years in a row, and a fifth event is planned for the city of San Luis Potosi in October 2006 plus a sixth one next spring in Mexico City. A third special event for men will be held in Mexico City in November 2006. Our workers are involved in key ministries in local churches as well, and interdenominational activities are always encouraged. We believe in Bible studies with friends and neighbors.
As God opens new doors and encourages us to pass through them, Milamex will continue to pioneer new avenues for extending the gospel in the midst of the tremendous needs in Mexico.