On account of certain restrictions prevalent in Mexico, it has been quite impossible to hold public evangelistic efforts in the past. In the first place it might be well to explain that all religious bodies have found it expedient to move very cautiously in all their activities during recent years.
Although the constitution and the laws of the land have not been altered materially, there seems to be a tendency at the present time toward more toleration and a more liberal application of these statutes. The constitution declares that "Places of public worship are the property of the Nation, as represented by the Federal Government, which shall determine which of them may continue to be devoted to their present purposes."
It states further: "All places of public worship which shall later be erected shall be the property of the nation." Again in Article 130 we read: "The Federal authorities shall have exclusive power to exercise in matters of religious worship and outward ecclesiastical forms, such intervention as by law authorized. All other officials shall act as auxiliaries to the Federal authorities. . . The Congress shall not enact any law establishing or forbidding any religion whatsoever."
Another paragraph reads: "The ministers of religious creeds shall be considered as persons exercising a profession and shall be directly subject to the laws enacted on the subject. . . . The State Legislatures shall have the exclusive power of determining the maximum number of ministers of religious creeds according to the needs of each locality. Only a Mexican by birth may be a minister of any religious creed in Mexico."
In previous years some attempts were made to conduct public evangelistic efforts of short duration in certain cities where we had a nationalized church building, but over a period of about ten years our major problem has been that of legalizing the few churches that we had acquired. At the present time we feel very much encouraged to be able to report that by the aid of some special appropriations, and also by the loyal sacrifice and hard work of our Mexican people, we now have around one hundred church buildings or special meeting places, as compared with five hundred groups of believers, scattered throughout this great land.
Not until 1942 did we feel free to try advertising public evangelistic meetings with hand-bills and in the newspapers. An effort of eight weeks' duration was launched in our new church here at headquarters in Monterrey, during which time some opposition was aroused, but we were indeed thankful to find that no unfavorable reaction came, from the civil authorities. The effort proved to be a real success and the attendance was excellent all the way through. About twenty converts were baptized at the close of the effort, and a large baptismal class was organized. A Bible instructor followed up the many interests awakened, and the advent message was proclaimed with power.
Other efforts were conducted with remarkable results in several principal cities, and the inspiration of those first meetings was carried into the year 1943. Around fifteen well-planned evangelistic programs were realized during last year throughout the country. Each one of our five missions has already launched definite plans for 1944, and we know that this year will mark greatest advance in evangelism.
The Mexican evangelist might be called a self-made man, because on the whole our ministers have not had the advantage of receiving special training along these lines. Some of our younger workers finished a three-year course in our training school, but very few have had opportunity to gain a real experience in aggressive public evangelism. However, with the definite financial assistance being provided by the General Conference for public efforts, we believe that very soon all our workers will have had the privilege of participating in this new endeavor.
Some of these efforts are to be conducted in large cities where we have an adequate church building, and many will be held in country churches. There are still a few large states, among the twenty-eight in Mexico, where we have absolutely no work established, with the exception of our colporteur work, and in those states the Mexican evangelist must get permission from the civil authorities to hold a series of educational and temperance lectures in a rented hall. It is believed that in some localities the authorities would allow our evangelist to pose as a lecturer, and thus tactfully introduce topics which may include some of our doctrines and religious principles. On entering new territory with these efforts we must follow some similar plan, unless sufficient funds can be furnished to erect a church building.
The Mexican evangelist must be prepared to face dangerous opposition, especially in certain localities. He must endeavor at all times to abide by the law of his country. He must advertise his meetings with great discretion, and endeavor to win the respect and good will of the local authorities. Our workers must be "wise as serpents, and harmless as doves." In other words, evangelists in this country, as in all countries, must exemplify the model Evangelist and thus preach the Word as Jesus did.