By Isolde Doubell

On Sunday, 31 May, in the biggest election in its history, Mexico elected Claudia Sheinbaum as president – the first female president, but also the first from Jewish background in the country’s more than 200 years of independence.  Ms Sheinbaum, the former mayor of Mexico City, achieved a landslide victory for the ruling left-wing Morena party, founded by her charismatic mentor and former president Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who had been in office since 2018. Ms Sheinbaum herself studied physics and became an engineering professor. Along with a group of other experts she contributed to the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change which won the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize.

The election campaign was marred by violence with an unprecedented 37 political candidates killed and more than 828 incidents of politically inspired violence. During Sunday’s vote, two people were killed at polling stations in Puebla State. President Sheinbaum will be under pressure to end the lawlessness of violent cartels, who promote lawlessness and are extorting businesses and municipal governments for protection payments. She promised to continue López Obrador’s policy of addressing the root causes of violence by bringing in measures such as expanding youth programmes and offering apprenticeships to discourage young people from joining drug cartels. However, under López Obrador’s “hugs, not bullets” policy, the government has avoided direct confrontation with the cartels, allowing them to essentially take control of a dozen or more mid-sized cities. Evangelical Christians, especially in these areas, have experienced persecution, and have often been forced out of their homes and ministries because of violence.

Ms Sheinbaum, 61, is a life-long leftist born to two Jewish Science professors from Mexico City. Her grandparents migrated from Lithuania and Bulgaria to escape discrimination and Nazi persecution.  She has been low-key about her Jewish heritage, saying she was raised in a secular home, which valued political activism over religious affiliation, although Jewish holidays and culture were celebrated at her grandparents’ homes. During the presidential campaign, she described herself as a “woman of faith and science”, and she emphasised the separation of church and state in Mexico. Political opponents criticised her during the election campaign for wearing Catholic symbols in what was deemed as pandering among the country’s vast majority of Catholics. According to the latest official census report (2020), 98 million of the 126 million Mexicans are Catholic. That is the second largest Catholic population in the world after Brazil. They are followed by 14 million Protestants, mostly evangelicals, and around 59 000 in the Jewish community. In her victory speech early Monday morning, Ms Sheinbaum told her cheering supporters, “We imagine a plural, diverse and democratic Mexico. Our duty is and will always be to look after each and every Mexican, without distinction.”

Ms Sheinbaum will assume office just a month before Americans head to the polls in November, where immigration is a top issue on the ballot. America has relied heavily on Mexico to step up immigration enforcement and help stem the flow of migration to the US southern border. President Biden will sign the new migrant law in this coming week that will likely shut off asylum requests and deny entrance to migrants into the USA once a daily threshold is reached. With the numbers of migrants in Mexico significantly increasing (230% increase in the first four months of this year compared to 2023 according to WOLA, an NGO advocating for Human rights in the Americas), Mexico has an unprecedented number of migrants in its territory. The government’s policy of relocating them within the country and granting temporary resident visas that enable them to work for four years, has given the Church more time to reach migrants with the Gospel.  Enrique Serralta, Director of Child Evangelism Fellowship in Mexico and his wife Mayté, who work among the migrant children, say many have come to Christ, but Christian workers need prayer and support to address the overwhelming needs.

Please join us in praying for the following:

  • For wisdom for President Sheinbaum and her government to handle the migrant and drug cartel situation
  • That freedom of religion will be honoured in Mexico, not just at policy level but on the ground where Evangelical Christians are intimidated and threatened by cartels
  • That churches and Christian organisations that work amongst the migrants will be well-equipped to share the good news and have strength, resources. and wisdom to reach these vulnerable people