I’ve been in Mexico six years, and I’m only just beginning to grasp the stigma in the minds of locals associated with being an evangelical protestant. Catholics and other non-evangelicals in our area often use the term ‘aleluya’ to refer to an evangelical. For them this is a somewhat derogatory term, whose origin is in the fact that local evangelicals are prone to frequently saying, “Hallelujah!”
Three weeks ago when the new church group had its first Sunday meeting, I asked those present what their vision for the group is. Several people, especially those who have less experience in evangelical churches, referred to the stigma as a reason that many people here don’t want to ever attend an evangelical church service. Our local friends want to create a group that doesn’t have the kind of baggage associated with it that keeps Catholics from participating. That this point was emphasized so clearly during the discussion made an impression on me.
Then came the meeting this past Wednesday. Among those in attendance was “Grant”, an auto mechanic invited by Henry and Nancy. Grant is interested in the things of God, though he’s not exactly a believer yet. This is what he said: “Nancy invited me yesterday, and I said I would come. When she called me today to follow up, I realized I couldn’t get out of it, so I came. I wasn’t really sure I wanted to come, because I thought, ‘I don’t want people to call me an aleluya!’ I’ve asked myself before whether I would be more ashamed to be passed out drunk on the street or to be seen as an aleluya…[pause]…and I’m not sure.” Five minutes later he repeated that last sentence.
Certainly some of the ideas locals have of evangelicals are unfair and unwarranted. But the stigma is very real nonetheless, and is carries lots of implications for our work. What to do when people want to know God, but don’t want to have anything to do with a traditional church? My current sense of things is that more people around us possibly feel this way than I’ve ever imagined. It has us asking ourselves tough questions about what is and isn’t absolutely essential when it comes to following Jesus and being the Church. How can we leave as much unneeded baggage by the wayside as possible, in order to bring as many people as we can along on a journey of knowing and being transformed by Christ?
What would you do if you were in our shoes? What is and isn’t necessary when it comes to being Jesus’ Church and His disciples? Do we have to attend a “worship service” each week? Is it necessary to call ourselves ‘Christians’ or ‘evangelicals’ or some similar term? Other thoughts?
Serving in a cross-cultural context has opened our eyes to many challenging issues we may not have grasped otherwise. The interesting thing for those of you living in the USA is that we’ve created such a distinct Christian subculture there that you too have to do cross-cultural mission work if you want to reach the lost. So jump in and join the conversation as we discuss the issues!