Today is Sunday and I elected to visit a Mexican Methodist Church in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico. I was a bit apprehensive about going as I have been told that the Zetas, a pretty blood-thirsty gang that is good at kidnapping, raping and killing, controls the bridge that crosses the Rio Grande or Rio Bravo in Spanish.
As I was planning to walk over, (wouldn’t dare drive!), I wondered if I would see the Zeta tourist booth with a handy map of places to avoid in the city. Luckily for me, with my sun glasses and white beach hat, they must have decided to avoid grandma-types. All I needed was to start snapping photos to convince anyone that I was a bona fide tourist. But I met the young fellow from the church who waited for me without incident and we were off to church.
My destination was one of ten Mexican Methodist churches in Nuevo Laredo. This one is called El Aposento Alto—the Upper Room. It is about 28 years old and in a very marginal barrio. Although the pastor called it middle class, I am pretty sure you and I would tend to classify it as lower class, especially after he told me that only 40% of his congregation have a steady job.
However, a high income is not necessary for showing the love of God. In the two hour plus worship service, this congregation exhibited a great enthusiasm for their church, each other and their faith. As is typical of the Latino churches in Iowa there was an electric guitar and a drum set. The pastor, Jaser, is 26 years old, a graduate of the Monterrey Methodist seminary and serving his first church. He is a good drummer and he has a couple of older, but still very “with it” musicians as singer and guitarist. The “feminil,” or women’s group, presented a choir selection and an older woman stood to give her testimony in a heart-felt solo.
Not to be outdone, another older lady was moved to sing and invited her younger friend in for support. The pastor preached for over half an hour, ending with an altar call and no one complained. This is a church with a daunting schedule. Every day there is a Bible study, meeting of a group or a mission activity. They were planning their Vacation Bible School and solicited the food for the children during the service—planning for 80 some children of the barrio.
Special guests were eight migrants from Honduras or other parts of Mexico. They had been invited as a result of the feeding program of the church. In the evenings some of the men go with the pastor to take simple food to the areas of the city where these migrants are biding their time, waiting for the opportunity to try crossing the river, maybe for more than the first time.
A result of this feeding program has been invitations to church. Some of the used clothes that we have been receiving in Laredo at the Holding Institute have been given to the Mexican church, as have UMCOR hygiene kits. After the worship service, the migrant guests were invited to a simple lunch of rice and mole and each given a hygiene kit and the chance to find a set of used clothes.
It is amazing what can be done by dedicated Methodists full of the spirit when they decide to move forward to help others.