Mexico City is one of the top five largest metropolitan areas in the world, and ministering here presents unique challenges and opportunities. It is at the same time a first-world and a third-world city, a place where the rich live in comfort while others struggle to eat every day, where racism constantly rears its ugly head. But for those very same reasons and many more it is an incredible mission field with few faithful churches, a place where millions and millions of people still need to hear the gospel and be transformed by the power of God.
One of the largest practical challenges that we face in Mexico City is the traffic and the difficulty of transportation. Getting from one place to another is a big ordeal. Just driving from point A to point B can be drastically unpredictable. Some days it’s just so terrible on the roads that you have to call ahead and cancel your plans because you know you’ll be stuck for an hour. Although there are many forms of cheap public transportation available in the city (bus, subway, train, and taxi), taking them is very time consuming and exhausting! We were purposely without a vehicle for our first year in Mexico so we could learn the bus and subway routes. As we took the bus daily to language school we came to understand the difficulties that half our church deal with every day.
This challenge of transportation leads into the next challenge: time. Because of traffic and the time-consuming nature of public transportation, many people leave for work at 6 a.m. and come home around 9 p.m. It’s a very difficult life. Imagine the effects of this work schedule on families or what it means for the working single mom! There is little time for a pastor to minister to church members, let alone for them to minister to their own families. If pastoral visits need to be made, it will take all day just to visit a couple of people. Few can make it to midweek meetings. Even middle and high school students can be in school until 7 p.m.
Another obstacle that we face is the lack of a Christian heritage. Our church is almost completely made up of first-generation Christians. There is an incredible lack of role models. Most have never seen what a healthy, functional Christian marriage looks like. The same goes for parenting and Christlike leadership. The dynamics are different in churches here, as so much discipleship is done with new Christians, especially at the beginning of the life of a church. For this reason we have a desperate need for these new Christians to mature spiritually in order to take leadership positions in the church and to disciple and help others. It can be overwhelming when nearly the whole church is new Christians needing spiritual milk.
Another very real challenge is space, as you can imagine in a city so large. The church has very little room. There is no parking lot where people can go to hang out or play (let alone park!), no place for the kids to run around in. Our rooms have to serve many purposes. For instance, our children’s Sunday school room is used as nursery, audio equipment area, counseling room, and youth meeting room. Every inch of space is used as more visitors come in, and we desperately need a location with more room to be able to continue to meet the needs of the people who come in.
One last challenge has to do with the low education level. In Mexico reading just does not happen. The average Mexican reads half a book a year. This lack of education affects many areas of life, including bad financial decisions and lack of a basic understanding of certain life skills. Spiritually speaking, sometimes it is hard for people to read their Bibles consistently, not because they don’t want to know God more, but because they really have never learned how to read with understanding. We strongly encourage the reading of good Christian books, but find that at first we have to take the time to read the book with them; otherwise, they won’t understand what they read. Thankfully, we have gotten to the point where the people we were doing book studies with are now doing them with others, and we are in the beginning stages of seeing fruit.
Of course, even with all these challenges our God is sovereign, and we see Him working. He has raised up His church, and even through the tough times He has blessed and given growth. Please pray for us, that the Lord would give us wisdom to deal with the challenges we face, but also give thanks with us for what He has done, and pray that He will continue to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think (Ephesians 3:20).