Change Comes to an Ancient Mayan Tribe

Change Comes to an Ancient Mayan Tribe

By: Cesiah Magaña in Mexico and Leura Jones, contributing writer   |   Posted: July 27, 2009

Hard-working farmers and their children are inspired by local church
The Filipos Student Center has brought change to this ancient Mayan tribe in Mexico. Pedro's parents (captured above) are strong believers and serve at the church.

As you drive through the high mountains in southern Mexico, wide expanses of fertile soil unfold in front of you. The people who live here are short, dark skinned, and speak their own native language.

The Tzeltales are hard-working farmers who raise enough to feed their families, but must walk hours to exchange their products for other supplies. They hold fast to many of their ancient Mayan customs and live without the modern conveniences taken for granted throughout North America: electricity, running water, roads.

It is in this setting that a new Compassion child development center has been established. In partnership with a local church, the Filipos Student Center in Matzam, Chiapas, now serves 200 children. Among them is 7-year-old Pedro, whose family is one of the first in this community to pursue a different way of living.

Life Motivated by Purpose

In this very crop-centered culture, a few families like Pedro's have taken the work of the Lord as their calling and are now serving the children in this community. Instead of working the fields day and night, Pedro's father has begun growing and selling arum lilies, which require much less work and enable him to serve in the church and work at the child development center.

Of the center, he says, "It is a benefit to the children. I have seen the changes, ever since my son started attending the Bible classes. He is changing. He knows the authority and acknowledges it."

"Thanks to the Lord, we have life, and with the life He has given me, I will serve the Lord in His temple," continues the father of seven. "When I started working for the Lord, I had believed, but I also thought I would not have any means to survive." Although he doesn't earn much more than $30 a week, he is content and has enough to care for his family.

The child development center has brought its own kinds of changes to this community. Children receive regular health checkups, tutoring, nutritious meals, and sports and Bible classes. Simple practices like brushing their teeth after every meal have been introduced and are already making a positive difference in the children's health.

Through the addition of flushing water latrines, running water faucets, and many other facilities, the children are learning better how to take care of themselves.

Hope That Inspires Change

Some cultural traditions are slower to change, but the child develoment center is introducing new practices that send a subtle message of change. According to Tzeltale culture, women serve the men. Men have all the authority and power inside the families and in public. Church leadership roles are carried out by men, and men and women don't even sit together during church services.

During the Compassion-supported activities, the church leaders and tutors have decided to have boys and girls sit together. They acknowledge that in front of the Lord, all are equal, and that their community has not treated women fairly. They are just beginning to change this paradigm, which they believe will benefit future generations of their people.

"I have a view for the future," says Pedro's father. "I dream of my children learning from the Lord and with wisdom from God."

Though Pedro is only 7, he carries on his shoulders generations of traditional expectations. But he also is an example of the kind of change that can occur when God intervenes in a family and an entire community.

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