(Morning Star News) – Miguel Pérez Díaz, his eight children and 87-year-old father have been living in a mountainside shack since May, when local officials expelled them from their village in Chiapas state, Mexico.
Relatives, friends and neighbors in Tajlovijho, a village in the municipality of San Andrés Larráinzar in southern Mexico, had been harassing them for leaving indigenous religious practices for Christianity, sources said.
“The first action they took against them was to cut their potable water service,” pastor Mario Choj told Morning Star News. “Then they made them leave the humble home they owned.”
Leaving the “traditionalist” blend of Roman Catholic and indigenous rituals and beliefs, the Pérez family put their faith in Christ four years ago and began a small fellowship in their home, said Pastor Choj, who leads an Assemblies of God Church called Jesús Es el Camino.
The family loaded the few belongings their neighbors allowed them to take and headed up the mountains to a village called Mitontic, where they survive by collecting the morning dew from a nylon sheet and rain water that falls from the metal roof of the shanty they built, the pastor said. They store the water in empty soda bottles and other containers.
Despite taking refuge far from their home, they are obligated to pay Tajlovijho officials 500 pesos (US$26) each month to keep authorities from taking possession of their house and remaining belongings, sources said.
Pastor Choj said Pérez told him the family is ready to suffer for Christ.
“To follow Christ is beautiful,” Pérez said, according to the pastor. “It doesn’t matter if we have to live in suffering, persecution and contempt from our village. Everyone in the family says that to live close to God is a blessing, and we delight in the salvation found only in Jesus Christ.”
Their case is one of thousands in which indigenous Mexican families that have been driven from their homes and lost all their belongings “only because they have accepted that Jesus is the only hope that we Mexicans have to be free of sin and eternal punishment,” Pastor Choj said.
The “traditionalist” religious mix practiced by the area’s predominantly ethnic Tzotzil, who are of Mayan origin, includes drunken festivals honoring pagan idols that evangelical Christians eschew. In a misuse of Mexico’s “Uses and Customs” law designed to protect indigenous culture, local caciques (political “bosses”) cite local regulations requiring villagers to contribute fees toward and participate in the festivals.
Christian attorneys note that this misuse of Mexico’s “Uses and Customs” laws violates the guarantee of religious freedom in Article 24 of Mexico’s constitution.
Similar cases of persecution have happened in Oaxaca, Durango and other states outside of Chiapas. In July residents of Huejutla, Hidalgo state, cut water service to two Christian families for refusing to participate in “Catholic festivals of the community,” according to online outlet Animal Político.
Denying any religious motive, officials with the Ministry of Interior blamed the two evangelical families “because they did not fulfill their duties” to villagers and did not “participate in their ‘uses and customs,’” the news site reported.
In Chiapas, Pérez and his family, including wife Guadalupe Hernández and father Miguel Pérez Núñez, came to faith in Christ after reading an evangelistic pamphlet printed and distributed by Cruzada Mexican, a ministry also known as Every Home for Christ-México, Pastor Choj said. Volunteers leave the pamphlets, New Testaments and other Christian literature, some of them translated into indigenous languages, at area Protestant churches.
“The Pérez family previously lived happy and faithful, but they did not know what trials were coming to their peaceful life,” Pastor Choj said. “But they pray that more Christians would spread the Word of God, as many still need to know the love that is available only from Jesus Christ. They also pray for all the families expelled from their own houses and lands.”
Mexico ranks 39th on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2019 World Watch List of the 50 countries where Christians experience the most persecution.