I thought Mexicans spoke Spanish. That was until I visited the Southern Mexican state of Chiapas, near the border with Guatemala. This is Mayan country with a wealth of archaeological finds from the Mayan kingdoms.
263 native languages
The Bible Society of Mexico counts a total of 263 native languages spoken in Mexico, spoken by some 6 million Mexicans. One of these is the Ch’ol language spoken by at least 115,000 persons.
The Ch’ol people is an indigenous group with roots in the pre-Spanish Mayan people, and half of these do not speak Spanish. The Bible Society of Mexico is investing in a new translation for this group, and has already had great success with a New Testament with study notes.
The heart language
We visited two churches where the service was in the Ch’ol language. One of our group preached, and the sermon was first translated from English to Spanish, and then from Spanish to Ch’ol. It makes a fifteen minute message last for 45 minutes. But that at least gives you good time to reflect on what is being said. It was noticeable that when a humorous comment by the preacher was translated from English to Spanish, only half the congregation laughed. When the same comment was translated into Ch’ol, the other half of the congregation laughed even louder. This for me was evidence that the Ch’ol language is the heart language of this region, and proved that many of the Ch’ol people do not understand Spanish.
It was wonderful to experience the lively Ch’ol communities and the active Christian churches in this part of Mexico. And it did change my perception that Mexico is a Spanish speaking country!