by Rev. Javier Olivares, West District Superintendent
In 1973, in a Methodist church in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico there was a revival like the one in Acts only without the foreigners from various places.
People were speaking in tongues, worship services extended to weekdays, prayer meetings were well attended, lives were transformed, and the Juan Wesley Methodist seminary (one of only two Methodist seminaries in Mexico) was born.
Like when a surfer rides a powerful wave and is in the tube or barrel, so was the experience of this forceful revival which spread to only the Methodist churches in the northern part of Mexico. It was an explosion of youth groups, young people going into seminary, music bands and choirs traveling to other places to share the gospel with their gifts. New churches were born and seen as part of Christian life. You came to Christ, you became a disciple, shared the gospel, and made other disciples. A pastor appointed to a church was expected to grow the church to the extent of creating another ministry or mission that would eventually be another church.
Something transformative came out of that revival. It was a significant milestone in the history of the Methodist church of Mexico. Yet one curious piece, it did not spread to the Methodist churches in the south in a same way. It began to spread but as waves dissipate and lose their force, so did this revival and I think it was because of one huge factor: disunity.
Congregations in the south started fighting over traditional services vs contemporary services. Hymns vs contemporary songs and there wasn’t even the willingness to come together and have two different services in the same church. It was all or nothing, it was either a traditional church or contemporary church. This led to a subtle division of the churches in the north and the south and the word used to describe those who experienced the revival was “the enlivened,” so you were either an “enlivened” or “not enlivened.” Hundreds of people left the Methodist church and went to be key leaders in other non-denominational churches. I have many friends and acquaintances who are now serving in those churches which are thriving.
There are still vestiges of that spiritual wave, there has been healing between both sides, yet there are struggles for the wave to gain back its force.
It reminds me of what we are going through as a denomination and as we look into the future. In order to ride the wave of the Spirit there must be unity. When there’s exclusion and disunity riding the wave is not possible and perhaps there’s not even a wave. We are stronger together.
Pentecost is a reminder of unity. Shannon Johnson Kershner says it well:
“…a Pentecost church is one that is constantly reaching beyond the things that divide us. A Pentecost church is one that is willing to take risks and engage people who may look or sound different or act differently from the usual person sitting next to us in the pew. A Pentecost church is one that does not expect that unity in Christ must equal uniformity, or diversity must bring division. On the contrary, a Pentecost church manages to hold enough trust in God’s wild Spirit to believe that God is at work in the unfamiliar, in the chaos, outside the boundaries we impose, bringing new life and new hope to a world that sorely needs it. A Pentecost church believes God knows how to be God and rejoices that we get to be God’s partner in spreading the word of grace and embrace and reconciliation that we know in Jesus Christ into all the world.” (from “Outside the Walls Acts 2:1-24” Shannon Johnson Kershner)
We are on the shores paddling on the surfboards of our faith, waiting for that giant wave to come; let us seek unity and let us be ready to ride the Wave of the Spirit, the ride of our life.