A Zapatista church: Presbyterians in Chiapas

Displaced and abandoned

Amid poverty, war and, occasionally, massacre, the Presbyterians in the town of Polhó in Mexico's southernmost state of Chiapas are singing for their lives. The language of the Tzotzil Maya has a special lyrical quality. Sentences float like melodies in dialogue, rising and falling so that one speaker's tones spill over into the responses of the next. When this church of 700 to 1,000 members worships, their spoken "joys and concerns" become a singing into one another's hearts and minds.

But the lyrical phrasing and song cannot conceal the fact that something is wrong. The weariness that comes from poverty grinds away at nearly all the church's members, most of whom are displaced persons—part of the 8,000 internal refugees that make up this community of 11,000. More than half of all the internal refugees in Chiapas live in Polhó.

You can also sense the fear haunting these refugees' lives. Has their flight taken them far enough, to a place safe enough?


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