One couple’s faithful witness in a region of Mexico where their livelihood — and lives — have been threatened.
In 2020, Mateo and Elena crossed an invisible boundary when they moved their family to central Mexico to plant churches. Encompassing 115 counties in eight states, the region has been dubbed the Circle of Silence because fewer than 1% of its residents identify as biblical followers of Christ. Central Mexico is rich in industry and pre-Columbian history. But despite its reputation as a welcoming place for business and tourism, not everyone receives a warm welcome there. “People lose their inheritance; people get attacked,” said a church planter who has worked in the region for more than two decades. “Usually it is the closest family members that give [biblical Christians] the hardest time. We have had people cut off [the Christians’] water or do stuff like that to try to scare them.”
Christian workers like Mateo and Elena struggle to meet even the basic needs of their families. When they first moved to the region, they couldn’t find anyone who would rent them a home, and Mateo struggled to find work. “I knew that there was work to do,” he said, “but they wouldn’t open the opportunity to me. I prayed, ‘God, I am looking to do Your will, but You know that I need this job to support my family’.” Two weeks later, he was offered a university teaching job. When word spread that Mateo was a Christian, however, university administrators began looking for a reason to dismiss him. His Facebook page, email account and bank account were hacked, and within a year the university fired him.
Elena, too, was threatened after trying to provide biblical counsel for a friend. The friend, a woman named Linda, often discussed her problems with Elena, so Elena read passages of Scripture to her that addressed her issues. As Linda continued to ask questions and witness Elena’s life, she decided to burn the religious idols and images in her house. “I will obey just the Word of God,” Linda told Elena. But when Linda’s daughter, Karina, learned that her mother had burned the idols, she began to verbally attack Elena both at home and in public, screaming curses and threats at her. Elena prayed faithfully for Karina, and the two have since become friends. But not all of their relationships have been blessed with that kind of transformation.
Mateo and Elena learned through a friend that a local priest had instructed his parishioners to “take care” of the couple because of the gospel message they were preaching, a veiled suggestion to harass them … or worse. At about the same time, a neighbour who practised witchcraft and had attended a Bible study with the couple hacked their bank account. In addition, the neighbour tried to put a curse on them and destroy their marriage, even burning candles and spreading blood in front of their door.
Mateo and Elena’s five-year-old daughter, Sara, was not immune from the persecution either. She was publicly shamed by her teacher and shunned by classmates because of the family’s faith in Christ. Then, in December 2022, things became even worse.
Just two months before VOM workers met with the couple, Mateo and Elena found a note at their front door, reading, “This is your first warning: you cannot preach, neither you nor your wife.” The letter was signed with a skull and crossbones. The next day, all of the tyres on Mateo and Elena’s vehicles were slashed. Three days later, the tyres were slashed again. After they installed a security camera, a man warned Elena to take the camera down. “He was very aggressive and threatened that he wasn’t playing around,” Mateo recalled.
Three weeks later, during a prayer meeting in their home, two men on motorcycles stopped outside their building and revved their engines loudly. “I wanted to see what was happening or what they wanted,” Mateo said. “But the Lord said, ‘Take it easy. Keep praying.’ So I focused on prayer.” “We really felt the spiritual oppression in the place,” Elena said, reflecting on the incident. As the noise continued, a neighbour phoned, crying. She told Elena that she and her children were hiding under her bed because the men had guns pointed at the house.
When Mateo and Elena finished praying, they went to bed. Mateo said he thought the men might kill them. “I was afraid for my daughters,” Elena said. They considered leaving the city, but through a friend’s encouragement they decided to remain there and continue proclaiming the gospel to their neighbours. “It is on those occasions that we feel like God is telling us, ‘Don’t worry, I am with you’,” Mateo said.
Mateo eventually found a new job that enables him to have an influence on families and youth in the community. He is still under scrutiny for his faith, but he is seizing the opportunity to share the love of Christ. “I know they are watching me, if I am making some mistake, to fire me,” Mateo said. “But God has put a lot of grace on me, so in that way, I get to be a light in the middle of [these families].”
Although the enormous pressure sometimes leads to discouragement, Mateo and Elena keep their eyes fixed on Christ as they lead a group of 15 believers. “My prayer request is that God [will] give us protection and that we [will] have opportunity to reach those people,” Elena said. “So please pray for protection because we are not wanting to leave this town.”