After growing up with the idea that God seeks to punish believers, a woman finds solace in full forgiveness through Jesus.
Juana Medina was born south of the border, in the central city of León, Mexico. She grew up in a strong Catholic family. “We were Catholics—we had always been Catholics,” she recalls. “We always went to church.”
Catholicism is predominant in Mexico. Other religions, when Medina was growing up, were few and far between. “I only knew there were two types of religious people: Catholics and Protestants,” she notes. “As for Protestants—well, my family didn’t even go close to homes where they knew Protestants lived.”
Beliefs in Mexico
“Mexican Catholicism is more closely related to Catholicism at the time of Luther than it is to American Catholicism today,” explains Mike Hartman, a missionary who serves in Latin America. “The idea that God is stern and wants to punish you is at the heart of it.”
This is one of the main reasons typically given in Mexican Catholicism for approaching Mary, adds Hartman. “Mothers are kind and gracious. Fathers are stern and macho. They often say, ‘If you want something, you ask Mom, not Dad.’ ”
Throughout Latin America, the thread of Catholicism runs prevalent in the culture. This means other religions or beliefs are often shunned. To explain this phenomenon, Juan Ricardo Díaz, a WELS member who works for Wisconsin Lutheran Child and Family Services, wrote a book titled Soy Católico, no Cristiano (I am Catholic, not Christian).
“A typical Catholic in central Mexico will be insulted if you call them a Christian,” notes Hartman.
A debilitating illness
When Medina got married, she continued to live in León and attend the Catholic church. She and her husband started a family and got together regularly with relatives in the area, who were also Catholic.
As her children grew, however, Medina became ill. Her conditions worsened, and doctors couldn’t find a cure. “All of my bones hurt,” she says. “I couldn’t move anything except my mouth. I was a complete invalid.”
For three years, family members took her to doctor after doctor, without finding a cure. “Some doctors thought I had problems with my kidneys or liver, but I wasn’t convinced. I had different aches and pains each day.” Medina’s disease continued at a debilitating rate. It got to the point where she no longer wanted to live. “Doctors would prescribe medicine and I refused to take it. I just wanted to die,” she says.
Her mother encouraged her to seek treatment elsewhere. One of Medina’s brothers lived in California, and the family sent her there to get help. “I thought they were all tired of dealing with me and just wanted me out of their lives,” she recalls. “I figured I would head there and die.” Weak and sick, Medina arrived at her brother’s home in California. Shortly after, she was admitted to a nearby hospital.
Medina remained in the hospital for three months. When she was released, she felt only somewhat better. “I did recover but never regained full health,” she notes. “No one determined what I had. In hindsight, though, I know part of it was depression.”
After she was released from the hospital, Medina’s husband, Marcelo, decided to come to California and join her. He brought their children, as well as a sister and her baby. All of them stayed with relatives for a time. Then Medina received a housing option through the government, and the family moved there.
Learning about other religions
During her stay at the hospital, one of the nurses told Medina of a place to go for help. While the doctors couldn’t identify what exactly was wrong with her body, the nurse suggested a spot that could provide some aid. “It sounded like an odd place—I was sure it was full of witches,” recalls Medina.
Desperate for answers, when she left the hospital Medina went to the address with her sister. “It was a Christian church, which I hadn’t understood before I got there. I liked it, and it was there that I started learning Jesus loves me just how I am,” she says. Medina attended the church for a while, but she also grew involved in a nearby Catholic church.
A move away from violence
The family settled in to live in California. Medina and her husband had four daughters and four sons. The neighborhood they lived in was a rough and dangerous place, full of gangs and frequent fights. “When my oldest daughter was about to turn 15 years old, we started planning her party,” remembers Medina. In Mexico, families often hold a quinceñera, or special party, for a daughter’s 15th birthday. The daughter usually wears a formal dress, is accompanied by attendants, and receives a service and celebration in her honor.
Medina’s daughter never attended the party. “Two months before the big day, she was murdered,” explains Medina. The event sent shock waves through the family. Medina and her husband worried that when the other children grew older, they would get involved in the neighborhood’s violent atmosphere—or worse, try to carry out revenge on their sister’s murderer.
The family looked for a new, quieter place to live. After sorting through the options, they decided to move to Edna, Texas. There they found a calm atmosphere and lifestyle. After settling in, Medina noticed a Lutheran church was offering English classes. She signed up and started attending the courses. Bible classes were offered as well. “I started going to Bible study there, but I was still active in the Catholic church,” recalls Medina.
Clinging to the Bible
After attending Bible studies for several months, Medina grew to appreciate the detailed teachings of the Bible. “I started realizing that God doesn’t hold my sins against me. Before I was always living in sin and tormented by my bad deeds,” she says. Later the congregation started offering Spanish services. “When the pastor told me they were going to start having worship in Spanish, I said it probably wouldn’t work too well and that not many people would come,” she remembers.
Worried about low attendance, Medina called her family and relatives in the area and encouraged them to go. “I told them to go so that at least some people would be there,” she says. Marcelo agreed hesitantly to go to the service. On the way home from Spanish worship, he said to Medina, “It can’t be that easy. We must have to do something. God can’t just forgive our sins like that.”
Medina explained to her husband what she had learned from the Bible and that God really does wash all sin away. Medina and Marcelo took classes to become members and were then confirmed.
Now both are active and involved in the church. “Whenever something comes up in which I can help, I always do,” notes Medina. “My husband is a painter and fixes things around the church and property.”
She also looks for ways to continually invite her children and family members to attend a church where full peace is offered on Jesus’ behalf. “Before I always had an image of a God who wanted to punish me,” she says. “At the Lutheran church I learned about his love.”
Rachel Hartman and her husband, Missionary Michael Hartman, serve in Leon, Mexico.
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Author: Rachel Hartman
Volume 104, Number 12
Issue: December 2017
Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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