July 15, 2020 | Tuxtla Gutiérrez, Chiapas, Mexico | Uriel Castellanos / IAD News Staff
As coronavirus numbers spike throughout Mexico, the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the State of Chiapas is feeling the pain of losing hundreds of church members in recent weeks. Church leaders have accounted for 275 deaths among its membership believed to have died due to the coronavirus pandemic. Among the deceased were two church employees and a retired pastor.
Joel Alvarez, 52, a school accountant for the Adventist school system in the Central Chiapas Conference in Tuxtla Gutiérrez, died yesterday from complications of Covid-19. He spent the last 10 days on a ventilator, church leaders reported. He is survived by his wife Mayra, a son and a daughter.
Humberto Pérez Aguilar, 59, who was a district pastor in Tecpatán in the northeastern part of the state, died on June 28. He had just completed 30 years of active church service this year and leaves his wife Lea and three daughters.
Miguel Ramos Contreras, 65, who retired from church service three years ago, died on July 3. He worked as a school chaplain for numerous years and is remembered among the first experienced chaplain in the region. He is survived by his wife Susana and two children.“We are going through a difficult time right now,” said Pastor Ignacio Navarro, president of the church in the Chiapas Mexican Union. “The past three weeks have been the most complicated.” Pastor Navarro, together with leaders at the union office, have led online memorial services for those three employees, honoring them for their dedicated work in mission of the church.
Less than twenty-four hours after his death, the church leadership in Tuxtla Gutierrez spoke of the work of Joel Alvarez during a two-hour online memorial service earlier today. They sent condolences to the family and offered messages of hope to the Alvarez family who were gathered at home to watch.
Hundreds of church members sent messages of Christian solidarity for the loss of Alvarez, and shared their experiences with him.
Mayra Cadena thanked church leaders and fellow members for their prayers, support and messages of faith and condolences. “There are many families who are going through so much hurt,” she said. “The only thing I can tell you is to cling to the Lord because Jesus is coming soon.” Cadena said that she is looking forward for that day so she can see her dad who passed away some time ago, her husband and her baby who died days after birth three years ago. “Only God can help us to be firm and await for Jesus soon coming,” she said.“We have an enormous amount of members that are suffering from very evident symptoms of COVID-19, even though they have not been confirmed,” said Navarro.
Local pastors have been connecting through cellphone messages and online messages to provide comfort to the surviving families and members who are being affected by the pandemic.
There are 79 church employees who have been confirmed positive with COVID-19. Leaders have accounted for more than 4,000 who believe to be suffering from coronavirus symptoms but many have not been tested.
Government figures in Chiapas show that there have been 742 deaths due to the coronavirus and 5,201 positive cases. In the rest of the country, the national numbers indicate that more than 36,300 have died from the pandemic and 311,000 positive cases have been identified. The numbers are escalating every day.Church leaders continue to hold worship services, seminars and evangelism campaigns online, said Navarro.
Even with many members out of work and unable to support their families, they continue to support the mission of the church through their tithe and offering. As of last month, the church has seen a 30 percent decline in the collection of contributions. It’s still a significant amount, but God will continue to lead them through, said Navarro.
The church in Chiapas has been able to assist thousands of needy Adventist families with food boxes since April across the territory and thousands in the community through the local Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) Chiapas.
Navarro reported that each of the eight local fields in Chiapas have distributed medical kits and medicines and have provided oxygen tanks for the treatment of the coronavirus to hospitals and to aid church members during their treatment in health care institutions.The church in Chiapas also has a physician who is coordinating with health professionals to provide medical advice to employees and members who suspect they may have COVID-19 symptoms through a call-in telephone line as well as video calls, available 24 hours a day. Pastors have also been reminding members to continue practicing social distancing and sanitizing measures.
“These are very challenging times but this is a time to be united and on our knees in prayer as one big family, a great Adventist family,” said Navarro.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church in Chiapas, Mexico, has nearly 258,000 members and 3,229 churches and congregations. The church operates a university and 31 primary and secondary schools.