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A Mexican Soldier Who Became A Methodist Missionary 1842-1875

By John G. McEllhenney

In 1873, the first train on the new line out of Vera Cruz carried a Methodist bishop and Alejo Hernandez, the first Latino to be ordained in Methodism, who was the bishop’s choice to establish a mission in Mexico City. But the throbbing power in the locomotive’s boiler had a sturdier container than the body that accommodated the pulsating zeal of Hernandez’s spirit. Within eighteen months, he suffered a massive stroke, which left him unable to move more than his head and hands.

Yet during his brief ministry, Hernandez inspired Spanish-speaking people, both in Mexico and Texas. His preaching sparked revivals, and sometimes his impassioned oratory brought whole congregations to their knees. But this was not the kneeling that he had been taught as a child.

Alejo, the child of a wealthy Mexican family, had been sent to college to prepare for ordination as a Roman Catholic priest. During his freshman year, however, he lost his faith, left school, and, without telling his parents, joined the soldiers who were fighting the French forces that invaded Mexico in 1862. Taken prisoner by the French, he eventually escaped and made his way to the Texas border.

While still a prisoner, he had stumbled upon an anti-Catholic tract, which he read in the expectation that it would reinforce his atheism. Instead, it inspired him to make his own study of the Bible. If only he had one! That problem was solved when he came into contact with Methodists in Brownsville, Texas. Not only was he given a Bible, but during a Methodist worship service he experienced conversion, even though the English spoken by the preacher was not his tongue. Hernandez says:

I felt that God’s spirit was there. Although I could not understand a word that was being said, I felt my heart strangely warmed…. Never did I hear an organ play so sweetly, never did human voices sound so lovely to me, never did people look so beautiful as on that occasion. I went away weeping for joy.

In that instant, it was said later, “he became a missionary for ever, so full was the flood of holy passion in his soul.” Soon he received a preacher’s license from the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, and began his ministry in the Corpus Christi area. In 1871, he took the first step into annual conference membership, received deacon’s ordination from Bishop Enoch Marvin, and was appointed to work among Mexicans along the Rio Grande. Following his death, Bishop John Keener said: “He was ready for any enterprise in the Master’s service, to go alone, and on an hour’s notice, if need be, to the ends of the earth.”

A change in Mexico’s laws, previously they prohibited Protestant preaching and the distribution of Bibles, made it possible, in 1873, for Bishop Keener to visit Mexico City, purchase property for a church, and charge Hernandez with the responsibility of opening a Methodist mission. With the result, as described by the secretary of the Board of Missions:

Brother Hernandez has been subjected to the dire necessities of poverty, to the persecutions of superstitious ignorance and bigoted power, and to the no less potent influences of flattery. But out of all the Lord hath brought him by his power.

And a handful of Mexicans began to study the Bible for themselves, sing Methodist hymns, lift up their hearts “in earnest, fervent prayer,”and to experience conversion.

When a debilitating stroke ended Hernandez’s Mexico City ministry, he returned to Corpus Christi, where, along with his wife and two small children, he lived, almost totally paralyzed, until his death on September 27, 1875.

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