Richards column: A Yucatan mission

Published 12:00 am Monday, September 12, 2011

When I was a child, my parents often thrilled us with stories of their many adventures when they lived in Africa. They were married in Casablanca, Morocco, North Africa during World War II, during which period my mother was an Army nurse while my father played in the Army band.
It was not until 2005 and 2006 that I had the opportunity to visit that vast continent, traveling throughout Zimbabwe, Zambia and the Congo for the purpose of training pastors in various cities.
My interest in missions stems from the influence of my parents, both of whom were strong supporters of missions, especially in other counties.
This July, my wife, Debbie, and I went to the Yucatan, Mexico, in order to preach in various churches and help with the establishment of a new seminary, Yucatan Seminary, in Cenotillo, Mexico.
There are several ways to get to Merida, where we stayed for the majority of our time there. Some prefer to fly to Cancun, which is on the eastern shore of the Yucatan, not too far from Cuba, and then take a four-hour bus trip to Merida. Since there is not a direct flight into the city, we opted for the Charlotte-Houston-Merida route, which actual flying time is only about five hours. We had lived in Dallas for several years, and it was a refreshing experience to be back in the state once again, though only in an airport.
Our hosts were Gene and Sonya Kim, who own houses in both Concord and Merida. Both born in Korea, they came to the Concord area several years ago after selling a business in Hong Kong. About 15 years ago, they moved to Merida, which is now a thriving city of over one million.
In 2008, Gene asked an architect to draw up plans for a new seminary, which he envisioned would be located in Cenotillo, approximately eighty miles southeast of Merida. Yucatan Seminary is now completed after two years of construction, and is a most impressive structure. Applications are already being taken for those who qualify and feel called into Christian ministry to enable them to more effectively minister to those throughout the Yucatan and Mexico.
Since I have been a pastor and involved with theological education for many years, I have been able to help primarily with the curriculum as well as other administrative matters.
Life in the Yucatan is exciting! There are many fabulous pyramids throughout, and especially well-known are Chichen Itza and Uxmal. I am certain, though that there are cooler times of the year to travel there rather than in July. There were many days when we thought maybe we were in a perpetual sauna. Long sleeve shirts, sunscreen, and a good sun hat are a must there—especially in July.
Every Monday evening in the Merida square, young dancers entertain large crowds. Merida is a city of contrasts, with some sections looking somewhat like a third-world country and others offering such businesses as Porsche dealerships.
Most Mexicans are Roman Catholic, though various Protestant denominations are represented, especially Presbyterian.
I am ordained with the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church and found that this denomination is well-represented there. I visited and preached in several churches which were mainly connected with the Presbyterian and Assemblies of God denominations. Their church services are enthusiastic with lively singing and inspirational messages. Their lives are difficult as unemployment is as high as eighty percent in some areas. But their faith and vitality are real and sustain them.
Outside the cities and villages, there is primarily jungle-like terrain, and, yes, there are pythons, boa constrictors, and jaguars there, though we did not see any. However, we did see many iguanas, which are quite friendly though somewhat fierce-looking.
We had somewhat of a dramatic experience in Cenotillo while we were eating a mid-afternoon meal. We heard Sonya scream, and all three of us rushed to see what was wrong, and were shocked to see a very large scorpion which had just stung her. Because Sonya was having symptoms from the sting, we took her to a medical clinic in the nearby town of Izamal. There she received medical attention, and was soon feeling better.
It had been many years since we had experienced real Mexican food. The first and last time was in Dallas, and the experience resulted in Debbie going to the emergency room from a reaction to the very spicy food. But this time was different. The Yucatan is heavily indebted to the Mayan influence which extends to the foods. Debbie especially enjoyed the lime soup, which contained chicken and vegetables. I enjoyed various pork dishes as well as the luscious mangoes and papayas. Two favorite drinks were the refreshing coconut milk and the tangy lemonade made from sweet lemons.
The Yucatan is a delightful place!
Dr. Jeff Richards lives in Salisbury.