Denise and David Love’s visit to a spiritual hot zone provided an inspiring picture of what it means to be truly free in Christ.

We grabbed our Bibles and hurried out the hotel door for the street below. My husband, a professor of theology at Rio Grande Bible Institute, was invited to give a three-day pastors’ conference in the southernmost state of Chiapas, Mexico, known for its active persecution of believers.

We were about to be introduced to one of the bravest national pastors in the region. “Pastor G” gives oversight to thirty-two young pastors who man remote mission outposts and church plants in the hot zones of persecution.

The conference was held in a cement-block church that sat in the middle of a busy neighborhood. As we walked in, I froze. The room was filled with hundreds of humbly dressed country folk all kneeling in prayer. The women had pulled scarves over their heads. Everyone prayed reverently, earnestly as if the Lord stood right there listening. Tears flowed down weather-worn cheeks. We joined them quickly on our knees.

The woman behind me prayed, “Dear Lord, thank you so much for that plump chicken you sent to our home last week. It fed our whole family. We are grateful.” I looked down at her sandals, worn from years of walking, yet they looked good in comparison to her battered feet with oozing sores. Each step had to be painful. Most had walked to church, some from miles away. 

After the weekend conference, Pastor G invited us on a clandestine tour of four church plants inside the persecuted region. As we traveled remote dirt roads, Pastor G told us stories.

When Villages Convert, Assassins Follow

"There is a village just up the mountain range that is surrounded by dense forest,” he said. “When the gospel reached that village, over eighty families converted to Christianity. The traditional church got word of this outbreak and ordered an attack to stop the spread of the gospel.

“The assassins arrived after sundown and began burning the wooden houses while the families ate supper inside. When the believers saw the flames, they grabbed their children and tried to escape through the doors and windows, but the murderers were waiting outside. Children died beside their mothers and fathers. The assassins worked quickly across the clearing. Only twenty believers escaped into the forest. 

The fleeing believers, separated by the darkness, had no idea if anyone else had survived. They each ran in terror for some time until suddenly they found themselves surrounded by flashing blue lights.

Guided by Firefly

Unique to the mountain regions of Chiapas lives a rare firefly. The ancient Spaniards used to call them “The Shining Beetles.” They are more than one-half inch long and have four little lights on their bodies.These large lightning bugs illuminated the forest around the terrified believers so they could easily see a path ahead.

As these brothers and sisters hurried on through the forest, each one became aware that the lightning bugs seemed to lead them in a specific direction. They felt impressed to follow the bugs. Eventually the lights guided them into a clearing where other survivors were also being led at the same time. Over the next hour all twenty villagers reunited, escorted by fireflies! The believers were able to regroup and comfort each other and later escape to a safer location.”

We drove on for several miles in quiet reflection, noting the beauty of the rolling hills and quiet streams. I struggled to imagine persecution in a place this lovely.

“More commonly the first thing that happens,” explained Pastor G, “after someone converts to Christianity is that the town they live in will permanently cut off their electricity. Next they turn off their running water. Many of the believers lose their jobs and are fired. Often their children are kicked out of school.”

“Why don’t they tell the police what is happening?” I asked.

Pastor G smiled patiently. “The local authorities have a deal with the traditional church to look the other way. The police, the lawyers, and the judges are all in on it. We focus instead on preparing the Christians for the price they will pay to follow Christ. Ironically, our state in Mexico has the highest percentage of believers out of the whole country. Christianity is flourishing!”

Our car rounded a bend and headed up a hill where we saw thirty homes nestled together. A white chapel stood facing the main road. The pastor noticed our stares, “As the gospel spreads to a new community, the Christians always build a church. Believers arrive from all over the region to make bricks. The house of worship becomes a symbol of hope.”

As we approached a ranch-style home, I saw a large wooden sign nailed beside the front door. It said, “This is a Christian home. The peace, love, and presence of the only True and Living God, the Lord Jesus Christ and the Creator and Savior of the World, is here. Receive Him and take Him with you when you leave.” I read the sign twice, marveling at the believers’ courage. 

The Large Family of Christ

The two families sharing the house greeted us with hugs. They treated us like long lost relatives. A little boy was ordered to catch the fat chicken in the yard, and off it went clucking in the mother’s firm grasp. We sat on the porch out of the afternoon sun enjoying lukewarm lemonade. There were no TVs, radios, or computers to distract the fellowship.

Pastor G, wearing a smile, pointed to a low circular block wall behind the chapel at the end of the road. “Guess what that is? God laid it on our hearts to dig a well. After twenty-five feet we struck water. There is now enough water for the whole community, and the believers freely share their water with all their neighbors.” I sipped my lemonade and pondering the real meaning of forgiveness.

Later that night when we crawled into bed, I knew I would forever love the believers in Chiapas. They had given us tangible pictures of how to live out Paul’s exhortations to the Roman Christians: “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; Bless and not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another" (Romans 12:9–16).

After working as missionaries in Colombia, Denise and David Love (ThM, 1994) now serve Christ at Rio Grande Bible Institute in Edinburg, Texas.