Unshackling Mexico City to meet Jesus

MEXICO CITY — The boy stands in Constitution Square with outstretched arms and open palms as a man dressed in native attire circles him, wafting smoke through the boy's clothing and hair. Like many tourists and locals, the boy dropped a few pesos in a basket to receive this tribal blessing.

Less than 100 yards from this scene, worshippers bow before religious icons inside Mexico City's famed Metropolitan Cathedral.

In spite of the city's reputation as a historical hub of religious activity, it remains less than 2 percent evangelical.

International Mission Board missionary K.C. Crino describes Mexico City and most of the urban centers in Mexico as historic "headquarters of pagan worship."

"That's why people flocked there," Crino says. "That's why they're the cities that they are — because something spiritual was taking place."

On the periphery of the city in a district called Xochimilco, Crino and his wife, Gail — former Illinois church planters — focus on building relationships to share Christ with those who have been inundated with religious ritual.

"We preach a Gospel; we don't preach a religion," Crino says. "We preach a relationship with Jesus. People have a real hard time understanding that there's a difference."

By focusing on lost colonias (neighborhoods where no evangelical witness exists), Crino works with a team of IMB missionaries to reach the clase popular (low-income families).

As he walks the crowded streets, littered with open-air markets, Crino stops to talk with local business owners on a Sunday afternoon.

"It's just being on-site, building relationships, loving the people, showing compassion and praying for the sick," Crino says. "That's how Jesus did it; that's what we need to do."