Across what might have been insurmountable barriers of race, culture, and experience, it was a time of communion, says Troxler. “The oneness in Christ was palpable.”
The reach of that hospitality became clear on the first night of the trip. When the group stopped in Ozumba, just outside Mexico City, their guide invited them to a special service led by the women of the Methodist church where her husband was pastor.
Although they expected to hear only a brief word of welcome, the visitors were led to the altar, where members of the church laid hands on them and prayed over them.
“Everywhere we went we were offered hospitality,” said Leah Skaggs D’09. “But more than the hospitality one would expect to find while traveling on a pilgrimage or mission, we also found community through the connection to our Wesleyan heritage.”
Methodists, a tiny minority among a Mexican population that is 95 percent Catholic, share a powerful bond, says Colón-Emeric.
“It’s something we [Methodists in the United States] sometimes take for granted,” he says. “We move in many different societies and groups: school, church, sports leagues, and other groups.”
In a population of more than 100 million Mexicans, the country’s Methodists number fewer than 100,000. For them, says Colón-Emeric, “Methodism is the primary social identity.”
An important aspect of the trip was the group’s effort simply to learn and experience fellowship, Troxler says. They did not come to Mexico to teach or build houses, or to dispense medicine or clothes.
“So often on trips to other countries, we’re there as the givers and the people we’re visiting are the receivers,” he says. “I think people realized that we were there to listen. That was our posture: ‘We really would like to learn from you.’ Not ‘We’re here to save you, build a church, give you money.’”
That was especially clear in Huitzapula, where the leader of the mission instructed the group from North Carolina not to give away material things.
“Pastor Manuel called us to come and share the gospel with his people,” Skaggs says. “He did not ask us to bring things or money. ‘First bring the gospel,’ he said. ‘Then, the resources will be through the sharing of that good news.’”
Colón-Emeric hopes the success of Encuentro will lead to other trips and closer relationships between the Divinity School and Mexico’s Methodist Church.
In addition to their exposure to Spanish, other languages, and Mexican culture, visitors from Duke can learn and draw inspiration from the great diversity within Mexico’s Methodist Church.
“It’s more charismatic in the north and more traditional in the south, but it’s strong in both places,” says Colón-Emeric. “I thought that diversity was important for us to see. People here sometimes think Hispanic Methodism can only thrive if it’s Pentecostal. But it’s diverse there.”