Guillermo Villaseñor, member of INESIN’s board, talks with Lucía Jiménez, INESIN’s first administrator.
Photo courtesy of INESIN

Guillermo Villaseñor, member of INESIN’s board, talks with Lucía Jiménez, INESIN’s first administrator.

CHIAPAS, Mexico – In a place where religion has sometimes divided people, a group in Chiapas, Mexico, is forging relationships of unity and respect.

Instituto de Estudios e Investigación Intercultural (INESIN) formed 15 years ago. In partnership with Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), it works with Catholics, Protestants and communities practicing Indigenous Mayan spirituality.

“INESIN’s birth stemmed from the hope of generating encounter, dialogue and unity between people separated by different religious beliefs,” said Ernesto Martín Guerrero Zavala, director of INESIN.

INESIN promotes its vision of peace and justice through theological courses, spiritual retreats and pastoral training. It also coordinates environmental workshops, organizes organic family gardens and educates on water and waste management.

For Zavala these concepts are connected. “INESIN has experienced the profound relationship between faith and all dimensions of life; planting the seeds of unity and planting vegetables to achieve greater food security are equally important.”

Learning how to live in harmony has been a challenge. Divisions among indigenous communities along political, economic and religious lines followed the Zapatista uprising in Chiapas, a movement that continues. The uprising was a response to several factors, including the signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994.

In May, INESIN celebrated a decade and a half of service. Brother Eleazar López, from the Catholic Indigenous Ministries of Mexico City, said the work is bearing fruit. “We are no longer saying ‘Catholics are like this’ or ‘Protestants are like this.’ Instead, we are saying ‘We are humans and we are like this.’”

MCC has supported INESIN since its inception by providing funding and support staff through programs such as Serving and Learning Together, one of MCC’s young adult service programs. MCC was one of several funding organizations at the anniversary celebrations.

Strengthened by the atmosphere at the festivities, all those involved with INESIN look forward to continuing their work.

“The future holds much work for us,” says Zavala. “Our prayer is that this work will render good fruit and that more people and organizations join us in this labor to promote life.”

Ellen Paulley was an intern with MCC’s Latin America Caribbean Advocacy department from May-July 2012.