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 of members from COVID-19. 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 on July 14, 2020, from complications of COVID-19. He spent the last 10 days on a ventilator, church leaders reported. He is survived by his wife, Mayra, and a son and a daughter.
Humberto Pérez Aguilar, 59, who was a district pastor in Tecpatán, died on June 28, leaving behind his wife, Lea, and three daughters. He had just completed 30 years of church service.
Miguel Ramos Contreras, 65, who retired from church service in 2017, died on July 3. He worked as a school chaplain for many years and is remembered as the first experienced chaplain in that region. He is survived by his wife, Susana, and two children.
“We are going through a difficult time right now,” said Ignacio Navarro, president of the church in the Chiapas Mexican Union. “The past three weeks have been the most challenging.” Navarro, together with leaders at the union office, have led online memorial services for the three employees, honoring them for their dedicated work to the mission of the church.
Online Memorial Services
Church leadership in Tuxtla Gutierrez spoke of the work of Joel Alvarez during a two-hour online memorial service on July 15, less than twenty-four hours after his death. They sent condolences and offered messages of hope to the Alvarez family, gathered at home to watch the service.
Hundreds of church members sent messages of Christian solidarity for the loss of Alvarez and shared their experiences of working 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 she is looking forward to that day so she can see her father, who passed away some time ago, her husband, and her baby who died days after birth in 2017. “Only God can help us to be firm and wait for Jesus’ soon coming,” she said.
Local pastors have been connecting through cellphone messages and online messages to provide comfort to the surviving families and members affected by the pandemic.
Navarro said, “We have a sizable number of members suffering from very evident symptoms of COVID-19, even though those cases have not been confirmed.”
Seventy-nine church employees in the region have been confirmed positive with COVID-19. Leaders have accounted for more than 4,000 members whom they 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. Across Mexico, the national numbers indicated that more than 36,300 had died from the pandemic by mid-July 2020, and more than 311,000 positive cases had been identified. The numbers are still escalating every day.
Church leaders continue to hold worship services, seminars, and evangelism campaigns online, Navarro said.
Even with many members out of work and unable to support their families, they continue to support the church’s mission through their tithe and offerings. As of the end of June, the Adventist Church reported a 30-percent decline in the collection of contributions. It’s a significant amount, Navarro said, but they hope God will continue to lead them.
The church in Chiapas has been able to assist thousands of Adventist families in need with food boxes since April, as well as thousands in the community, through the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) in Chiapas.
Navarro reported that each of the eight local fields in Chiapas has distributed medical kits and medicines and has provided oxygen tanks for coronavirus treatment 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 think they might be experiencing COVID-19 symptoms through a call-in telephone line and video calls, available 24 hours a day. Pastors have been reminding members to continue practicing social distancing and sanitizing measures.
“These are challenging times, but this is a time to be united and on our knees in prayer as one big family, the great Adventist family,” Navarro said.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church in Chiapas, Mexico, has nearly 258,000 members and 3,229 churches and congregations. The church in that region operates a university and 31 primary and secondary schools.