Judios – contextualizing the gospel.

As I neared town, I could see the small mob of people on the streets. A few among them were dressed completely in black, with all of their exposed skin painted black. They carried sticks and were menacing the crowd a little bit…until they saw my truck. They quickly broke off from the main crowd to take up position in the road to block my path yelling and shaking their sticks at me. As I pulled closer to them several put their hands on the hood of my truck – as if they were pushing my car backwards – in order to completely block my path while the others rushed at my open window. I quickly pulled out the package that I had readied for them and held it high out the window. As soon as I handed the package to one of the black “Judios”, the ones in front immediately “released” my car and rushed over and mobbed the unlucky fellow that had initially received my package to see what I had given them. As they were distracted by this I sped off heart rate a little elevated and breathing a simple prayer of thanks as I had just made it through my first encounter with the “Judios”.

As you know, Semana Santa (Holy Week) is kind of like a week long Mardi Gras celebration where tons of Hondurans come to the North Coast to party and play on the beaches up here. We are remote enough (for now) that the big crowds are still West of us in the bigger towns. The roads are crazy, and there is a real danger to local people of violence and accidents this week. Some unavoidable circumstances led me to have to travel (a three hour car trip) on Thursday. One of the other missionaries had mentioned that the “Judios” would be out and prepared me for the scene that you just read about. They dress up entirely in black and they represent Judas – the one who betrayed Christ on Easter. “They want you to give them a Lempira” (roughly worth a nickel) she said. “Some of us missionaries won’t give them any money and if you don’t, they will try and paint black tar all over you and all over your car”. “Some of us just give them the money and go on.”

Well, what would you do? Would you give them the Lempira and gone on about your way, or would you hold your ground and not give the money to such an obvious cult like expression?

This dilemma faces us as missionaries in many different ways at many different times. How do we reach out to (and live in) the culture in ways that are meaningful without compromising our Gospel witness. If we don’t give the Judios the Lempira, we face being “tarred”. More importantly to me, I want to “fit in” to the culture here. I don’t want to be perceived as an American who won’t participate in the culture and the Judios are definitely a reality during Holy Week. They do this every year and the locals just see it as part of the Holy Week fun. I went to my one friend who was born and raised here (and speaks good enough English that we can communicate well) and asked him about it. He assured me that it is very much a part of the Holy Week here. I know that I may well see those same faces (minus the black paint and clothes) at church next week – or more importantly that they will see me and my actions on the road Thursday will impact how they perceive me as a missionary. Some missionaries that I respect greatly have decided that they won’t play the game and won’t give money to someone who portrays himself as a betrayer of Christ.

Well you already read the little story that I started out with and you know that I gave them a “package”. What do you think was in it? Yes, there was a Lempira in it – but it was wrapped around some Spanish tracts that told these Judios (I hope) how precious they are to God. Next year, I hope to write a tract specifically targeted to how Christ loved even Judas and give one out them. What do you think? Is this an acceptable compromise or just a “religious” way of getting out of being tarred by the hoodlums? Each of us has to decide where we fit in for the cause of advancing the gospel and where we stand firm in the culture in order to prove the point that some things simply can’t be compromised. You can’t come to Christ on your terms. You must come to Christ on His terms – total surrender.

Don’t think that this is only a problem for Christians who serve as missionaries. You deal with the contextualization of the gospel all of the time where you are also. Each week, your church struggles with how much to contextualize the gospel through the message that is preached, the songs that are sung, and the entire worship service. The goal is to make it “appealing” and “relevant” without compromising the heart of the message. What do you think? How is YOUR church doing in finding the balance in this?

Lastly, as a Christian, you probably deal with these same issues as you try and live your life in an increasingly secular culture there in the US. Do we let our kids go to that party or that school function? Do we go to that party at work or to that gathering of co-workers on Friday afternoon at that bar? What are we willing to expose ourselves to in order to “fit in” or maybe to be a Christian witness in our culture. We each have to make real decisions about this topic. Where do you fit in? Have you compromised so much that you’ve lost your Christian witness? Or on the other side, have you isolated yourself so much that you don’t have any real social contact outside of the church?

We all have Judios in our life. It is a cold hard fact of the world we live in. Let’s pray that God would give us the wisdom about how to “be in the world, but not of it” as the Bible says.

I will say that the Judios seemed pretty interested in what I gave them. As I returned through the town again, they rushed up to the car again. They didn’t stand in front of it this time. They all seemed eager to get another Lempira (or were they eager to get another tract?). I can only hope that God was able to use the tract in some meaningful way.