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In March, about 70 Protestant families were expelled from the Mexican village of Plan de Ayala, in Chiapas state, by the town's Roman Catholic majority. "Fourteen homes were demolished by the mob as the Protestants fled to the hills for refuge," reports Seventh-day Adventist pastor Isaias Espinosa. This is not unusual for Mexico's much-troubled southern region. Yet despite a climate of open hostility and violence, a handful of Roman Catholics and Presbyterian evangelicals are in pursuit of peace. "Political and religious leaders need to be looking for reconciliation," says Vern Sterk, a missionary of the Reformed Church in America. Both Catholic and Protestant participants are discussing how to return refugees to their homes, bring justice for innocent Christians, heal violence and division, and forgive one another.

Expulsions, Arrests

Paramilitary groups among indigenous Indians have waged guerrilla war since 1994 against Mexico's government, mostly in the Chiapas province.The ethnic and political conflicts have fanned the flames of religious tensions between Roman Catholics (80 percent of the population) and the fast-growing Protestants, who have surged at three times the rate of population growth during the 1980s. Recently, Plan de Ayala has been practically sealed off from outside contact since a quarter of the local police department fled along with 20 evangelical families in May. About 50 evangelical families who remain have been held as semi-hostages, according to Hortensio Vázquez, a Seventh-day Adventist attorney."The evangelicals are being harassed and threatened with expulsion again," he says. Evangelicals' children are not allowed to attend school and the adults cannot go to their jobs."It appears to be a last-ditch ...

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August 7, 2000

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