Standing Strong Through the Storm
APPEALING TO LEGAL RIGHTS
As they stretched him out to flog him, Paul said to the centurion standing there, “Is it legal for you to flog a Roman citizen who hasn’t even been found guilty?” Acts 22:25
The scriptures illustrate responses to persecution in three primary ways. On the one hand is the command of Jesus to flee when it occurs and on the other, the stalwart example of those who stayed and endured, persevering through the challenges. In between is the example of the Apostle Paul (whose life responses exhibited both extremes also). When arrested in a mob violence scene in Acts 22, he appeals to his legal rights for protection from a needless beating. In Acts 25, he escapes almost certain death at the hands of the Jews by appealing to Caesar, again a right of his citizenship.
Pastor Abdias Tovilla studied law in order to help his indigenous people of Chiapas in southern Mexico who have been expelled from their homes simply because of their evangelical faith. He is following the model of the Apostle Paul who used whatever means possible to stand up to persecution.
You could say Abdias Tovilla practices two vocations—law and grace. Ordained as a pastor of the National Presbyterian Church of Mexico in 1981, Tovilla enrolled in the School of Law of the National Autonomous University of Chiapas the same year. He passed the bar exam in 1988 to become a licensed attorney and represent persecuted Christians. He resigned his pastorate in 1992 to be the Executive Secretary and Legal Advisor to the State Committee of Evangelical Defense for Chiapas (CEDECH), but is still a voting member of the Chiapas Presbyterian Synod and preaches on many Sundays at the invitation of local churches.
Abdias Tovilla has a concern for justice—especially for others. Dealing with injustice is also part of our Christian calling. Pastor Tovilla knows that those who speak out to denounce injustice are on the very front line of persecution themselves. He has gained some support from Mexico’s southernmost state Bishop who has appealed for an end to the violent and prolonged persecution of evangelical Christians by “traditionalist” Catholics. Bishop Felipe Arizmendi called for “no more expulsions nor divisions on the basis of religion” and asked that “there be no more destruction nor house-burnings, nor skirmishes, nor the shedding of blood due to religious, political, cultural or economic differences.”
Over the past 30 years, religious intolerance has triggered the forced expulsion of some 35,000 evangelicals from ancestral lands in Chamula and other districts. Despite the unrelenting pressure, evangelical Christianity has grown steadily throughout Chiapas. Today, thirty-five per cent of the state population adheres to evangelicalism, according to census figures. Since the early 1980s, Open Doors has been working in Bible distribution, training and community development with a vision to contribute to reconciliation in the area.
RESPONSE: Today I will speak out against injustice and discrimination of brothers wherever it occurs.
PRAYER: Thank You, Lord, for brave brothers, like Abdias Tovilla, who stand for justice and truth.