by Francisco Feliciano Cruz
I became a 12-year-old adolescent in 1970. As I grew older I observed how much society suffered. The men, young people, children and even the women drank fermented sugar cane juice called tepache. Everyone was getting drunk.
At that time everyone had sugar cane plantations and were making crude sugar called panela. There were large pots of tepache on each plantation—not one, but several large pots of fermenting tepache. Some even distilled this tepache into rum! There was societal licence to prepare these alcoholic drinks so people could forget about their poverty and lack of economic resources; they could just get drunk.
There was a lot of abuse in the homes. Men returned home drunk from their fields or from their jobs. Those who were day labourers gathered at places where tepache was available after finishing a day of work and returned home drunk at any time of the night.
Drunks often ended up in jail for fighting with their comrades, or for domestic violence. They would frequently need to borrow money to pay the fine to be released. So instead of working for himself, the drunk had to work to repay the loan. In that way they remained trapped in the cycle of poverty because they could not work in their own fields.
Despite seeing the economic need in their homes, men spent weeks in a drunken stupor. Whenever they sobered up they didn’t know what to do because there were so many needs. So life was very difficult: parents were in a sad state and there were serious family problems.
For a long time the children were forgotten. There was no school. As a town, San Pedro Sochiapam was totally marginalised and far away from social services. So from an early age the children helped their parents in farm work and, as a result, they got involved in the vice of intoxicating drinks, copying what they saw in the lives of adults.
When at last a Primary School began, offering the first and second grades, a big change started for the people. The children could no longer go to the fields; they had to go to school. A few years later all six grades of Primary School became available. But those who did not want to study had to do town duty which is why there are still many people who do not know how to read or write.
Then the day came when someone arrived teaching the good news of salvation that spoke of a changed life if people wanted to accept it; it was the holy gospel. Some accepted this message and began to study the Word. Those who began to believe those truths saw changes in their lives and in their families.
Observing that it was possible to lead a different life, to be responsible for one’s personal life, for one’s family, and for society as well, I decided to believe this message because I did not want to live as the people of the town had lived and even less as my dad had lived, beating my mom and their children. Living like that was not life.
I thought it better to believe in the truth about God because I did not want to be a drunk. I did not want to go to jail or mistreat anyone, and I did not want to be mistreated. First my elder brother accepted the Word and he encouraged me to believe the Word of the living God. Then I began to attend the meetings that the Christian brothers were holding.
At that time people began talking about developing coffee plantations, and started planting coffee trees. They began to change the focus of their work. Instead of planting sugar cane they planted coffee. They worked with great enthusiasm, achieving benefits for themselves and their families.
People quit drinking and began to look for work outside of town to get away from the pressure to drink. Those who had stopped drinking became good examples: they no longer beat their children or their wives. Instead they helped each other and behaved responsibly in their homes. They began to dress well! This is how the town of Sochiapam began to change through the power of the Word of God.
From that time there have been amazing changes and change is continuing to this day. All the credit belongs to the Good News of Jesus Christ the Son of God, although there are people who try to deny it is God who has brought the changes that people now enjoy.