Corpus Christi, Texas, Dec. 20, 1876
To the Editor of the Christian Advocate.
MR. EDITOR: - The Advocate has such an extensive circulation especially among the preachers, that though it I wish personally to say some things of these missions [Mexico Border Mission District, West Texas Conference].
By consulting a map of Texas one will see the extent of territory included - it being the Mexican population between the San Antonio River and the Rio Grande, and on each side of the later, the one thousand miles that Texas borders it. Within these limits I believe there are one hundred and fifty thousand Mexicans and several thousand Americans, who have no opportunity to hear the gospel only as preached by our missionaries. To strengthen the claims of these people to the consideration of our Board of Foreign Missions, let us make a few inquiries:
1. Has the word preached yielded any fruit? Are any truly convinced of sin and converted to God? Thanks to the Giver of the increase, by the foolishness of our preaching many are brought to God who, by holy lives and happy deaths, demonstrate the genuineness of the work.
2. Have we access to the people? Will they come to hear, and let us visit and "testify from house to house?" I answer in the affirmative. So despotic have been the priests, and so general the diffusion of liberal and enlightened ideas, that among all classes there are attentive hearers and ardent advocates for reform. Even our first visits to new places are often more like triumphant marches than arduous campaigns. Perhaps no foreign field presents people better prepared to receive the word - no greater harvest promised to the laborer.
3. Are these fields of importance besides the salvation of those who now reside there? We think they are. Christianize the Mexicans of this frontier, and no earthly changes or circumstances can keep Mexico from being evangelized. Texas borders Mexico one thousand miles, blessing with a stable and free government scores of thousands of Mexicans of all classes. An immense trade and extensive intercourse are kept up between the two countries, reaching far into the interior of the latter. Thousands of the better class of Mexican citizens are looking and coming, as never before, to this country, weary of the wars and changes to which their Government and society appear forever doomed. These receive the gospel more readily than those of long residence here, and many of our new converts are of that class. Invariably their first care and attention are for those left behind them. Several have returned to their old homes and "showed how great things God had done for them, and hath had compassion upon them." Thus is the gospel being introduced into all Northern Mexico; and it will be more and more so until there shall be found "going everywhere preaching the word." One family from Corpus Christi, returning into Mexico, were instrumental in the conversion of many souls in one village. Besides, there is another aspect of the work. As I said, there are several thousand Americans that receive the word of God in no other way than through this mission. Excepting in Brownsville, there is no other English preaching on the Texas Rio Grande frontier. These Americans welcome the missionary gladly, hear our message, and generally express themselves as anxious for our continuance and success. This country is going to be much more populously settled by them, and now is the time for us to enter. Let all your readers know that no other agency is so influential in reconciling the Mexican population to the American Government. They publicly and fervently acknowledge the hand of kindness and Christian liberality that sends them the gospel, and are anxious to become better acquainted with the customs and laws of this country. Nothing will so allay the border strifes as the gospel of love.
4. No other Foreign Missions in our Church are yielding so large returns for the outlay, and the prospects and increasingly promising. Our preachers and members are becoming educated in Methodist doctrines and discipline, and are imbibing its powerful and progressive spirit. I am learning their language, customs, and wants; and the people, Americans and Mexicans, are beginning to look with respect and confidence at us and our efforts. Besides, and above all, the Holy Spirit is beginning to manifest himself with power. Never were our encouragements so great as since the late session of our Conference. Almost every mail of late brings news from the preachers of our new conquests; and yet the work is not fairly begun. Are not these marked evidences of the Divine presence and approval? But there is another consideration not at all pleasant.
5. It is, that though six new Mexican preachers were admitted at Conference, making in all ten, yet only half are employed for lack of funds. They all received appointments from the Bishop, but I judge it not a good policy to pursue for the men to go to their stations without being sustained in the work. As yet this is truly a foreign field, and not analogous to Domestic Missions; and until the people are convinced, converted, and educated, the missionary must look abroad for his support.
6. Next to the employment of the preachers comes the building of six or eight churches. They are very much needed; our cause has suffered, and still suffers, for lack of them. Ten or twelve thousand dollars, with what could be raised on the ground, would build them. Than aiding in the building of these churches a better pecuniary investment the Board could not make; for these would secure valuable local assistance in the support of the ministry, and proportionally lessen the future expenditures of the Board. My desire to have all these preachers employed and churches built is very great indeed.
These, Mr. Editor, are some of the facts. Is it needful that I should "add a word of exhortation?" To the Board it would be unnecessary, for I am sure it will do in all its power. But should I urge greater fidelity on the preachers I do not think I could be considered either impertinent or presumptuous. Brethren, the preachers are the "stewards" of the Missionary Board. As in the pastorate the stewards are chiefly responsible for the support of the ministry, so are the preachers chiefly responsible for the support of the missionary cause. The congregations will give when intelligently requested to do so. To deny this is contrary to fact. The ministry, more than any other agency, makes the Church what it is. O brethren, when shall our zeal equal our faith, and our faith measure itself with the word of God? Soon could we remove the reproach from the Southern Methodist Church of being the most unmissionary of any of the great evangelical denominations. We of the ministry must bear the blame; it belongs to us. We have never done our duty, nor are we doing it now. One united and intelligent effort all along the line would double the funds of the Board in one year; and I am convinced that in five years, such a course would find us placing half a million annually at the disposal of the Board. May God enlighten and guide us into all duty!
A. H. SUTHERLAND