After completing our first week in eastern Chiapas our investigation of the Gospel among the Zoque Indians continued in yet another region of the state. The Zoque people are descendents of the Mayans who inhabited much of present day Chiapas and the Yucatan Peninsula. Today the Zoques are divided into numerous ethnic groups throughout Chiapas each with distinct variations in their language and culture. Dave and I gradually made our way back to Tuxtla Gutierrez after many hours in ‘colectivo’ taxi-vans winding through the jungle and mountain roads. I was very pleased to hear from Megan that she would be able to join us for our last leg of the research trip. I met Megan at the bus terminal in Tuxtla Gutierrez the next morning after her 10-hour overnight trip from Oaxaca. After so many hours on the road the past week, the thought of another bus ride through the night was not my idea of a great time! The rest of the day became an intentional respite from the intensity of the previous week. We were all completely wiped out and needed a break. The next day however we back on the move, departing early from Tuxtla Gutierrez to finish our work within the northwestern part of the state. This time we had a ride from a Mexican missionary from Chiapas who has his own vehicle. He arranged to get us into the Zoque mountain town of Copainalá where the Gospel is just being introduced for the first time. As we ascended the windy roads in the missionary’s small Ford SUV I was awed by the extreme mountainous landscape. It reminded me of an investigative trip I took several years ago sitting in the open bed of a pickup truck traveling through the backwoods of northern Laos. The rugged mountainous terrain in this region, like so much of Chiapas, is an impressive testimony to God’s craftsmanship of creation. As impressive were the many scattered villages perched on the steep mountain sides contrasted by the more prosperous towns a thousand feet down in the valleys.
Again, so much of the diversity of language and ethnicity of this region can be explained to some extent by such complex geography. We made it safely to our destination, the town of Copainalá, by early evening. Once there we immediately set to work assisting another missionary and his team who were preparing to present a Spanish-language version of “The Cross and the Switchblade” to as many of the townsfolk as possible in a local gymnasium. As we walked around and talked to many of the residents to invite them to our event, we quickly realized that Spanish is a second language after their native Zoque tongue. In spite of the language barrier several people accepted our invitation to attend the viewing and hear the Gospel message preached. We prayed that those in attendance at least understood enough Spanish to understand the message, and by God’s grace about four people made a decision for Jesus by the end of the evening. This was an exciting time for all of us. We realize though that the work of pushing through language, culture, and worldview barriers will remain a huge challenge for the Spanish-speaking Mexican missionaries who now call this town their home. While it seems that native Mexicans reaching other Mexicans would be a straightforward process, it is often tantamount to English-speaking Americans bringing the Gospel to non-English-speaking Native American Indian tribes within the United States. But it has to start somewhere. We spent the night there in a small shelter under several wool blankets due to the drop in temperature and proceeded back to Tuxtla Gutierrez the next morning by way of Rayón where another Zoque Indian group lives.
In Rayón we actually found a pastor who, with his wife, actively ministers to the Zoques. This was fantastic news! This also concluded our research among several of the Zoque groups in Chiapas. We originally set out to Chiaps with a mission to validate 30-year old data about the status of the Gospel among these people groups. During our time among them in their villages and with various missionaries working with them we were able to conclude with encouragement that there is a church planting movement among them, and that they at least have an opportunity to know Christ as their Savior. As we traveled back to Tuxtla Gutierrez we stopped in the town of San Juan Chamula, a Tzotzil Indian town with a very tragic reputation for persecution against Christians. In fact, Voice of the Martyrs has found this to be the site of some of the most extreme violence against Christians in Mexico, and certainly in all of the Americas. We had to be very careful there, and as we walked through the town were amazed at how they have actually capitalized on their infamy. Tourists, many seeking some sort of ‘spiritual’ enlightenment, as well as anthropologists visit from all over to visit the main church in which pagan gods are worshiped through ritualistic sacrifices and shaman sorcery. While originally a Catholic church, an actual Catholic mass has not been conducted there for at least 30 years. Please continue to pray for the Tzotzil Indians of San Juan Chamula, that the true living God will be known to them and that they can break free from the demonic deception and deep spiritual bondage. And please continue to pray for the Zoque tribes, as missionaries struggle to shed the light of Christ among them.
We have profiles of the three groups we visited in the Spanish portal of Etnopedia; they are the Zoques of Copainalá, the Zoques of Rayón, and the Zoques of Francisco León. It is in Spanish to primarily serve Spanish-speaking missionaries. If you are an English speaker and feel compelled to pray specifically for these groups or go to them as a missionary, please let me know and we will gladly translate these profiles into English. – by God’s grace, Drake & Megan