Good News of Peace Reaches the Chiapas Highlands
“In the worst massacre that anyone can remember in the state of Chiapas, 45 defenseless peasants, including 13 infants, were assassinated by a group of . . . armed men.” Thus reported the newspaper “El Universal” on what happened in Acteal, Chiapas State, on December 22, 1997.
CHIAPAS is the southernmost state of Mexico, bordering on Guatemala. With a long history of poverty and deprivation, a group of indigenous Maya Indians staged an armed uprising in January 1994, under the banner of the Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (EZLN, National Liberation Zapatista Army). Negotiations for a peaceful solution have dragged. Raids and attacks, both by the rebels and by the government troops, have resulted in bloodshed and death. The turmoil caused many of the peasants in the area to flee to safety.
In the midst of such uncertain conditions, there is one group of peace lovers who have remained neutral as to the political struggle. Zealously, they direct attention to God’s Kingdom as the only hope for resolving the problems that confront people, both locally and globally. (Daniel 2:44) Who are they? Jehovah’s Witnesses. In obedience to Jesus’ command, they are endeavoring to take the good news of God’s Kingdom to the most isolated parts of the Chiapas highlands. (Matthew 24:14) What was it like preaching under such circumstances, and what were the results?
“I Am One of Jehovah’s Witnesses”
Adolfo, a young man who had recently become a Kingdom publisher, was working one day at a radio station in Ocosingo. Suddenly, there was a loud knock on the door. A group of hooded men burst in and pointed their guns at his head. They rushed into the transmission booth, commandeered the equipment, and announced over the air that they had declared war against the government.
Turning to Adolfo, the armed men ordered him to join their movement. “I am one of Jehovah’s Witnesses,” responded Adolfo, even though he was not yet baptized. He explained that the only hope for peace was God’s Kingdom, and he firmly refused the uniform and gun that they offered him. Seeing his determined stand, they let him go. Recalling the incident, Adolfo states: “That event really strengthened my faith.”
Eventually the situation stabilized, but the area was still under military control. In spite of that, Adolfo gladly accepted the invitation of the elders of the local congregation to work with an isolated group of Christians in the area. At the checkpoints that he had to pass through, the soldiers showed him respect when he identified himself as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. He was later baptized and has had the satisfaction of helping that isolated group become a congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses. “Now that I am baptized,” Adolfo declared, “I can say with full conviction that I am one of Jehovah’s Witnesses!”
“Jehovah Strengthened Us”
Shortly after the EZLN declared war against the government over the radio, the townspeople fled. Francisco, a full-time minister, or pioneer, explained how Jehovah strengthened him and his wife in what they had to go through.
“We decided to take refuge in an area three hours away on foot. A congregation was there, so we would be with the brothers. Soon it was time for our circuit assembly to be held in Palenque. My wife and I did not want to miss the special meeting for pioneers, but we learned that the way to the assembly was blocked by the EZLN. We decided to go by way of the jungle, which took us nine hours. We arrived in time to attend the pioneer meeting, which we enjoyed very much, as well as the entire assembly program.
“Upon our return, we found that our home had been burned and our animals stolen. All that was left was a small bag of clothes. We felt sad about our loss, but the brothers in Ocosingo kindly took us into their homes. They also showed us how to work at things that we as farmers had never done before. One brother taught me to take photographs, another to repair shoes. That is how my wife and I have been able to support ourselves until now, without having to discontinue the pioneer service. Reflecting on what had happened, we can see that while it was not easy for us to endure, Jehovah strengthened us.”
Fruitage of the Preaching Work
The Witnesses in Chiapas State did not allow the hardship and danger to deter them from taking part in a special effort to take the good news to the people in the area. For example, back in April and May 1995, they joined their fellow Christians worldwide in a campaign to distribute Kingdom News No. 34, with the most appropriate title Why Is Life So Full of Problems?
During the campaign—in a place called Pueblo Nuevo—Ciro, a regular pioneer, found a family who showed interest. Returning three days later, he was able to start a Bible study with them. But when Ciro and a companion went back to continue the study with the family, the man of the house was not at home. Instead, a group of hooded men were waiting for him to do him harm. They asked Ciro and his companion what they were looking for and threatened to kill them. After silently praying to Jehovah, the two Christians courageously explained that they had come to teach the family the Bible. With that the hooded men let them go. For some reason, the man of the house never came home that day.
One day almost three years later, Ciro was surprised to have the man show up at his door. How delighted Ciro was to learn that the entire family had been baptized and that they were now associated with a congregation in Guatemala! One of the daughters was even serving as a regular pioneer.
Appreciation for Spiritual Food
In spite of the continued hardship in Chiapas, a district overseer reports that the Witnesses in the area truly appreciate the importance of meeting together. (Hebrews 10:24, 25) He relates what happened at a recent special assembly day, which was scheduled to start early in the morning so that those attending could return home in the relative safety of daylight. Even though most of them had to walk more than three hours through the jungle to get to the assembly site, everyone was in his seat by 7:00 a.m. In the audience were six members of the EZLN group, listening and applauding, apparently enjoying the program. They too walked three hours to attend the assembly. Twenty of them also came to the Memorial of Christ’s death, held in a local Kingdom Hall.
Another young man with the guerrilla movement was assigned by his superiors to patrol a certain jungle area. Upon arriving at that community, he found that all the inhabitants, the majority of whom were Jehovah’s Witnesses, had fled. So he settled down in one of the abandoned homes. Not having much to do, he picked up some books that he found around the house and started to read. These turned out to be Watch Tower publications left behind by the Witnesses. In his solitude, the young man had time to meditate on what he was reading. He decided that he must change his life and put down his weapons. As soon as he could, he found the Witnesses and began a Bible study. Within six months, he was telling others the good news. He and three other members of his family who used to be sympathizers with the guerrilla movement are now baptized Christians.
Seeing a Positive Side
Even though it meant a great deal of hardship, the conflict actually had a positive influence on people’s attitude toward the preaching work. An elder in the very city where the struggle started relates: “About five days after the fighting broke out, we got the preaching work organized both inside and outside the city. People were eager to listen to us. We placed much Bible literature and started several Bible studies. In one area, many had been opposed to the truth, but because of the strife, they now listen, study the Bible, and attend meetings and assemblies.”
The brothers are happy that they have been able to keep their theocratic activities going in spite of the very unstable conditions. With the knowledge of both the government forces and the EZLN, they continue to hold their assemblies, which strengthen them spiritually. Visits by traveling overseers have also been a powerful stimulus to continue in the preaching work. Interestingly, encouragement comes even from those engaged in the confrontation, who often urge the Witnesses to keep on in their preaching work.
Although the trials and hardships that people in Chiapas have had to endure have lessened somewhat over time, they have not ended. Regardless, one thing is certain—Jehovah’s Witnesses are determined to continue without letup in their efforts to bring to the people the good news of peace from God’s Word, the Bible. (Acts 10:34-36; Ephesians 6:15) They recognize, as the prophet Jeremiah stated, that “to earthling man his way does not belong. It does not belong to man who is walking even to direct his step.” (Jeremiah 10:23) Only God’s Kingdom in the hands of his Son, Jesus Christ, can bring the solution to the injustice and poverty in the world.—Matthew 6:10.
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Gulf of Mexico
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Witnesses going into the ministry in the Chiapas highlands