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Its Present Conditions and Needs
By Missionary John S. Cheavens, 1901
      Mexico is unlike any other mission field in some respects, while in others very much like all the rest of the world. As religious work viewed from the human standpoint depends upon the varied conditions of the people, not only religiously, but industrially. Politically and educationally I shall endeavor to set forth in few words some of these conditions.

Present Conditions in Mexico

      Industrial conditions. "An invasion of ideas" cannot be resisted. The "industrial revolution" is striking at the ancient order of things. The cities along the lines of railroad are progressive, the remote interior cities and villages conservative in the superlative degree. In Saltillo, for example, we have electric lights, street cars, the city is now putting in a sewerage system, building a market house, a corporation is building a hotel and bank building in the modern style and a railroad is being built between this point and Torreon. This kind of work is going on all over Mexico. On the ranches twenty miles from here they use wooden plows, cut wheat with a sickle, tramp it out with horses and bring it to town in a wooden-wheeled ox-cart. However, the American plow, self-binder and steam-thresher are coming into use.

      The forces at work are many. Mexico is cosmopolitan in these centers of reform. I buy my daily paper from a Swiss newsdealer, my hardware from a German, my watch was repaired by an Italian, my clothes are laundried by a Chinaman from Canton, our butter is made by a Texan. I have eaten ice-cream made by a Greek from Athens, the walls of the adobe house being adorned with photographs of ancient Greek statuary. I have bought gents' furnishing from a Turk from Bethlehem of Judea. Nor is the native Mexican an idle spectator. The poor peon's part is to dig a ditch at fifty cents a day, while the patrician whose wisdom permits these changes gets rich and sends his boys to New York, Paris or London to be educated.

      Politically everything is quiet. We live in an imperialistic but non-expansive republic. The election has just closed. Don Porfirio Diaz was re-elected, but unless I had seen an account in the papers I should have known nothing about it. The "whoop and hurrah" so characteristic of our own politics is entirely absent. The government is progressive. This is in a large measure responsible for the changes now taking place. The government takes the initiative here.

      Education is feeling the pressure of progress. Government schools are being established everywhere. Norman schools are finding favor in many states. In these schools no religious teaching is given and in the higher grades much that is distinctly irreligious takes its place. Evolution undiluted by the faintest trace of theism has no terrors for many teachers. The Romanists are not idle. The ubiquitous Jesuit is here although the law says he isn't, or at least there are no converts, but there are schools taught by nuns in many cities.

      The religious condition of Mexico is a debatable question. Senor Mariseal, the secretary of State, created a storm last year by writing an article to the New York "Independent." He said that Mexico was "entirely Catholic," as it has always been. Some of the Protestant leaders claim 75,000 members and adherents. There is no doubt that many of the better classes are atheists. An American physician who has lived here since 1882 says the influence of the priests is seventy-five per cent less than when he came here. Yet doors of opportunity that were wide open twenty years ago are closed now. When the first missionaries came the reaction against Romanism made many disposed to accept Protestantism, so it happened that many prominent families became Protestants and many others lent their influence to the missionary work. But we can't count on that now. The social influence of Romanism is greater now than then, although the religious influence is on the wane. Many people are not Catholics now in order to be saved, but to be in society. Nevertheless, conditions are not the same in all parts. In Leon, where Bro. Hooker is located, fanaticism is rampant; they burn Bibles in the public parks and refuse to buy and sell to Protestants. Bro. Hooker worked for ten months before he could find a house in which to hold services.

      Yet with it all our work goes forward. If one door is shut another is opened. In the newer towns like Torreon there is more indifference but not more fanaticism than in many places at home. Last year with a very small force of efficient workers 175 baptisms were reported.

      We need:
      (1) More missionaries. The work established needs supervision, and if new cities are entered and new churches organized, new men must be sent. One man can do much in new fields in establishing new work, but blazing the way is not building a road. To make the work permanent takes many workers.

      (2) More schools. The government schools should not be depended on to train Christian workers. The workers so trained are not Christians. Some sad cases of good boys going into infidelity show us what to expect from government schools. I am speaking now of the more advanced schools.

      (3) We need to pay more attention to printing and distributing our own literature. One reason why this has not been done before is because we have had so few men. No one man can do everything and if a man is in the saddle nearly all the time he is not apt to write many books. With an increased missionary force some of us could take the time and pains necessary to write some Baptist books in Spanish and at the same time the evangelistic work would not be neglected.

      (4) We need the prayers and sympathy of all our brethren that we may plan wisely and do successfully the work committed to our hands, for we remember that Paul may plant and Apollos water, but the Lord of the harvest must give the increase.
      Saltillo, Mexico.


[From The Baptist Argus, January 10, 1901, p. 6. Transcribed and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

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