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Susan E. Jones de Arevalo and Luz Heath Barrios: Pioneer Baptist Missionaries in Mexico in the Twentieth Century.

Susan Jones and the Baptist Missionary Training School

The Baptist Missionary Training School was established September 5, 1881, in Chicago by the Women's Baptist Home Missionary Society. The rationale for establishing the school emphasized the seriousness of preparing women as fully as possible for their work: "Not every Christian knows how to lead sinners to Christ. Not everyone that has zeal has knowledge, and not everyone that has knowledge is filled with the spirit of Christ as to make her work a power for good." (2) The Prospectus continues, affirming that missionaries need preparation in both spiritual and physical welfare: "Besides familiarity with the Bible...our missionaries need some knowledge of the structure of the body, the laws of health, the presence of disease, the preparation of wholesome foods and healthful clothing--in short, of everything that enters into the question of intelligent Christian home-making." (3) Further, they needed to know how to train children in "habits of cleanliness, truthfulness, honesty, industry, politeness, and purity as the outgrowth of true religion." (4)

The school's course lasted one to two years, depending on prior training of the women. The early faculty (1881) listed eight men (seven pastors and one professor) and two women (instructors in Bible). Eight members of the medical faculty of the Woman's Hospital of Chicago (including one woman) also taught the students. Specialized faculty included one in music and one in kindergarten culture. In its first year the class size grew from fifteen to thirty-two. In the Baptist Missionary Training School publication for 1881-1894, Susan E. Jones' name appears in the class of 1893. (5) By 1894 the school had enrolled 306 students. (6) The religion faculty had grown to fourteen and the medical faculty to eleven. (7) The faculty of ministers and physicians served without pay. Areas of study included theological and biblical, Sunday school, medical, rules of order, physical and vocal culture, music, missionary, kindergarten methods, temperance, industrial, field work, and reports. (8)

Annual reports to the Women's Baptist Home Mission Society reveal just how relevant were the skills learned in the training school. Susan Jones' review for 1905 includes reports of her work in industrial schools, children's meetings, temperance meetings, and women's meetings along with evangelistic efforts and conducting Sunday schools. (9)

Although a few Baptist missionaries worked in Mexico earlier in the nineteenth century, the successful planting of sustained churches can be dated from the 1870s and 1880s. Baptists established a church in Monterrey in 1882 and in Mexico City in 1883. (10) At the beginning of the twentieth century Mexican Baptists organized their own convention. (11)

The reports on early Baptist work in Mexico almost always explained the need for missions by describing the centuries of Roman Catholic privilege and religious domination in the culture. Further reports emphasized the importance of the political revolutions that had occurred under Benito Juarez (1857) and Porfirio Diaz (1877) that had set Mexico on a progressive path. The key change for Protestant missions was the adoption of the principle of separation of church and state, thereby opening the opportunity to evangelize freely in the nation. (12)

Protestant anti-Catholicism was common and vigorous in the late 1800s. An 1895 report described the collaboration of Spain and Rome in the conquest of Mexico as cruel and enormously destructive. The Home Mission Monthly reported that the Roman Catholic Church held one-half to two-thirds of the wealth of the country, employed the Inquisition to hold its power, enslaved the native population, and promoted superstitious belief. The modern government reforms included confiscation of church property, closing of monasteries and convents, and legislation requiring civil marriages. (13) Mexican modernization included economic reform, introduction of new technologies, and expanded trade with the United States and Canada. The new political openness created further openings for Protestants to establish a presence in Mexico, and many churches and church-related groups responded including Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Quakers, the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, Methodists, Baptists, Independents, and the American Bible Society. (14) Some of these preceded Baptists. It was into this context that Susan Jones arrived to serve the Baptist cause in Mexico.

The Key Role of Women for Baptists in Mexico

From the earliest years of Protestantism in Mexico (1862) women played an important role. As mothers, they taught their sons and daughters to read, using the Bible as a lesson book. Some womem wrote articles in the first denominational or church papers and magazines. As missionaries and teachers, they supported their husbands and the pastors, working as translators, playing music, organizing festivities, and writing plays for special occasions. They also worked as nurses, secretaries, and assistants and participated actively in the women's associations founded in the churches during the first decade of the twentieth century. Mexican and American women worked together, hand in hand from the beginning, creating ties and traditions of service for the generations to come.

This paper examines the cooperative endeavors of two Baptist women working in Mexico during an early era of Protestant planting, one from Illinois in the United States and one from Mexico City. Their stories demonstrate how missionaries from abroad and national Mexican Baptist women, both deeply devoted, contributed to the establishment of the Baptist tradition in Mexico.

Susan E. Jones

Susan E. Jones, who became a notable pioneer missionary from the United States to Mexico, was born on April 18,1869, in Carlinville, Illinois, to James S. and Jane Wylder Jones. She began her studies in a rural school; then at age seventeen she moved to a school in Jacksonville, Illinois. While in Jacksonville she attended the First Baptist Church. At the age of twenty-one Jones began her missionary training at the Baptist Missionary Training School in Chicago. Like many young students, she thought she would work in China. But in 1893 she was sent to Mexico, and there she began a long and fruitful career. (15)

Jones arrived in a country that had been submerged for many years in economic, political, and social crises and made worse by both internal and external wars. But when President Porfirio Diaz assumed the presidency (1876-1880, 1884-1911), many things changed for the betterment of Mexico. He started by respecting the Constitution of 1857, which was a big help for the development and growth of Protestantism because it guaranteed freedom of religion. Diaz also stabilized national politics, and the economy grew because he opened investments to foreign countries such as Great Britain, the United States, France, and others. Additionally, his government worked to develop education and public health. (16)

With Protestantism allowed to develop under the Diaz presidency, in 1893 the growing nine-year-old First Baptist Church of Mexico City, led by co-pastors Albert J. Steelman and Teofilo Barocio Ondarza, began opening new missions in different neighborhoods. OnNovember 17, 1893, Susan Jones presented her letters from her home churches in Granville and Jacksonville and joined in the work of the church in Mexico City. Immediately she started working in the missions of Nahuatlato in the street of Republica del Salvador. The work consisted of house visits, distributing literature, and inviting people to the late afternoon church meetings. (17) Susan had a very enthusiastic group of women who helped her: Esther Galvan, Jennie G. Bristol, Elena Waring, Elma Grace Govern, Francisca Salas, and young Luz Heath. (18)

The same year another missionary, William H. Sloan, arrived, bringing radical ideas about how pastors must behave and insisting that Barocio must be ordained. At Barocio's ordination Jones, Miss Galvan, and Miss Govern presented a Bible to him with the inscription, "May the choicest blessings of the God whom you so faithfully serve rest on thee. December 28, 1893." (19)

After twelve years of working at the First Baptist Church of Mexicio City, Jones moved on to establish missions in Temamantla, Ajusco, Tacubaya, Chapultepec and perhaps the most significant of all, the Villa of Guadalupe. (20)

The Villa of Guadalupe had a long Catholic tradition in Mexico: The Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe was the most frequently visited shrine in Mexico, the shrine to which both Catholics and Indians often joined together on pilgrimage. When Jones arrived there, she faced the violence and intolerance of the people, especially opposition by the Catholic priests.

Between 1897 and 1908 Miss Jones worked without any break. She rented some houses for the services at Guadalupe, using her own money, until February 16, 1908, when a new church was dedicated. This ceremony of dedication was so important that it is recorded in books, magazines, and personal notes. (21) Tepeyac Hill, where the shrine of Guadalupe is located, was used by the Nahuas, a prehispanic tribe, as a worship center where priests assumed the qualities of the gods in elaborate and sacrificial rituals, with music and dances. In this ceremonial center they worshiped three female goddesses: Cihuacoatl (snake women), Tonantzin (our mother), and Toci (our grandmother). People came from the town and surrounding vicinity, causing the Tepeyac Hill to grow in population and importance. (22)

According to tradition, in the territory of Extramadura in the southern part of Spain, in the little village of Guadalupe, a virgin appeared in 1326. The site became so famous that even Catholic kings such as Ferdinand went there to worship. The image of the Virgin of Guadalupe was used by the soldiers who discovered and conquered the new territories in America. When the Spaniards arrived at the Valley of Mexico in 1519, they surrounded the lake and discovered the sacred site. One of the militia members brought a small image of the Virgin of Guadalupe; consequently, when the the capital city of the Mexicans was defeated by the Spaniards, both groups joined in worshipping the Virgin of Guadalupe. In the eighteenth century, when New Spain needed a symbol that would join all the social classes together, the combined figure of the old goddesses and the virgin became the figure thought to protect all of the inhabitants.

In 1897 the Tepeyac sanctuary had five churches: one each for the Indians, the Creoles, and the mestizos; a convent; and the Colegiata where all ethnics went on pilgrimage to worship the Mother of God--which is why Susan Jones' work there is recognized by Baptists today as an act of faithfulness and bravery in the face of opposition.

After the Diaz presidency came to an end in 1911, Jones became a teacher at the Colegio Anglo Mexicano for young ladies in Toluca, Mexico. She knew the pastor, Moises Arevalo, son of one of the first Mexican pastors in that city. Susan and Moises soon married and started to travel through the country, first to Taxco and later to Morelia. During these years Susan worked with the Indian tribes in Uruapan, Patzcuaro, Zacapu, Acambaro, Zamora, and other places.

The National Baptist Convention of Mexico was begun in 1904 to work among the Indian people. This coincided with a major project that President Diaz had implemeted: to rescue and give more dignity to the Mexican-Indian people. Susan worked so diligently among them that she was called by the endearing names of "Nana Susana" or "Susanita."

Jones, who worked for more than fifty-five years in Mexico as a teacher, missionary, publisher, and activist in the National Women's Mexican Convention while carrying out her tasks as a wife and mother, represents all of the women who worked for Baptists in Mexico in the early twentieth century.

Luz Heath Barrios

Even as women missionaries arrived early to assist in planting Baptist churches in Mexico, Mexican women also devoted their lives to this task. Luz Heath Barrios is a prime example. The first notice we have of Luz's family goes back to the early years of the nineteenth century. Her grandfather, James Heath, an English immigrant, arrived in Mexico in 1826. (23)

Mexico had gained its independence from the Spanish empire in 1821. Emperor Agustin de Iturbide had failed in his attempt to establish a constitutional Mexican empire, so the politcians decided to name a provisional government. Between 1823 and 1828 the country was divided by two political parties: the centralists and the federalists. A new constitution was enacted, but the economy was in chaos. (24) Most of the Spanish merchants migrated to Europe, leaving the market open to immigrants from other countries, such as England, which was the reason James Heath decided to go to Mexico as a miner. His son, Francisco Heath Flores, born in Zacatecas, was a Lutheran. Francisco married Luz Alcade, and they had several children. On May 10, 1875, Luz Heath Flores was born at Fresnillo, Zacatecas.

In 1888, when Luz was thirteen years old, her cousin Lucia Barrios Heath married Teofilo Barocio Ondarza in the city of Zacatecas. This was the first time Luz had attended a Protestant wedding ceremony. Her uncle, Alfredo Barrios Heath, gave her a Bible as a present, but when she arrived back in Fresnillo after the wedding one of her relatives tried to destroy the "Lutheran Book." The town priest insisted that she give it up, but her mother allowed her to keep it. (25) In 1896, when Luz attended her grandfather's funeral in San Luis Potosi, she had the opportunity to listen to the preaching of her cousin, Teofilo Barocio, pastor of the Baptist church in that city. (26) This was the moment she was waiting for: she joined the Baptist church and was baptized.

In 1899 the Baptist Society of Domestic Missions in America named Teofilo Barocio as the first Mexican missionary to Cuba, so he moved from San Luis Potosi to Santigo de Cuba. Luz then joined her cousin Lucia and her family in Mexico City, where Luz began her missionary work that would last for more tan forty years.

Luz continued working even when the Mexican Revolution exploded in 1911, despite the danger in places such as the Villa of Guadalupe. She traveled by train, by foot, and often by horseback. On Sundays she started her work by 4:00 a.m. in order to be back for Sunday School at 10:00 a.m. From 1911 to 1926 she served as president of the Sunday School Board at the Villa of Guadalupe.

For more than thirty-one years Luz worked with the Sunday School, the young ladies classes, the feminine societies, and the National Ladies Society and founded public schools for poor women where they learned to sew and cook. She taught more than two generations of Mexican Baptists. Like Susan Jones, Luz Barrios often used her own money to fund her missionary work. One of her last appointments was as a teacher at the Baptist seminary in the town of Tlalpan. People who knew Luz said she was strong, noble, energetic, and sincere.

The Women Working Together

Luz Heath started working with Susan Jones at the missions and also taught Sunday School. Therefore, when Susan came to the United States in 1900, Luz took charge of the work at the missions they had established at the Villa de Guadalupe, Santa Julio, Santa Maria la Redonda, and on the street Republica Del Salvador.

When Jones returned to Mexico City, she and Francisca Salas joined Luz. They worked together visiting hospitals and jails and founding temperance societies. Around this time Luz was transferred to Yuma, but Susan wrote a letter asking that Luz be returned to Mexico, where she was needed more urgently. Luz returned to Mexico and was appointed as a missionary, with a salary paid by the Women's American Baptist Home Mission Society. Beginning in 1904 she worked in several missions: Atzapotzalco, San Pablo, Santa Julia, Temamatla, Huechotla, Coyoacan, and Atlixco.

Jones' annual report in 1905 after more than a decade in Mexico began by summarizing her activities: "This year I have made 1527 visits, held 116 conversations, conducted 122 Industrial Schools and children's meetings, taught 55 Sunday School classes besides women's meetings, young people's meetings, temperance meetings, and a thousand and one things we have to do which are never reported." (27)

In her first field report of 1905, Miss Helen Waring, a new missionary seeking guidance, wrote, "To be associated with Miss Jones is constantly a source of thanksgiving to me. With her example before me of self-denial, patience, and kindness, and with her long experience, I have a true helper." Moreover, the condition of women in Mexico had moved her deeply: "The more I realize the narrow lives of the women, bounded by the four walls of the room they call home, burdened with cares, mothers of many children, with little or no knowledge of the way in which they should be trained, the greater the ache is in my heart and the desire to help them." (28) Women missionaries were indispensable for meeting these human needs.

In her 1906 report Heath wrote that the work remained prosperous. However, the mission still faced severe persecution in some places. Moreover, there was a constant problem of finding a place to worship, and once found, dealing with the high cost of rent. Luz found a new opening for her witness by working in a hospital and giving reports to family members who were not allowed to visit their relatives. (29) In addition to these reports of activities and obstacles, both Heath and Jones included moving accounts of an individual conversion experience they had witnessed.


Susan Jones and Luz Heath lived long lives. Susan died in Guadalajara in 1948 at age 79, and Luz died in Mexico City in 1968 at age 93. They worked for the Mexican people in many ways, in a country where Protestantism was a new way of church belief and practice. They helped create some of the Baptist insitutions that are still contributing today. The Baptists of Mexico are indebted to these two pioneer Baptist women missionaries.


(1) Prior to organization as a convention, Baptists in the North organized various aspects of their work under separate societies. Northern Baptists organized two separate women's mission societies--one in Boston (1877) and one in Chicago (1881). Jones attended the training school in Chicago. The two societies merged in 1909, shortly after formation of the Northern Baptist Convention.

(2) "Prospectus and Brief History of the Missionary Training School" (Chicago: Donnelley & Sons, 1889), 1. This goal was restated in the training school's literature for many years.

(3) Ibid.

(4) Ibid.

(5) "The Baptist Missionary Training School: 1881-1884" (Chicago: R.R. Donnelley and Home Printers, 1884), 22.

(6) Ibid., 9

(7) Ibid., 2-5.

(8) Ibid., 6-7.

(9) Susan E. Jones' report in Minutes of the Tuienty-Ninth Annual Meeting of the Women's Baptist Home Mission Society (Chicago: Baptist Home Mission Society Headquarters, 1906), 121.

(10) For a detailed account of early efforts in Mexico, see H.I. Morehouse, "The Gospel in Mexico," The Home Mission Monthly, 17 (1895): 196-203. The author, field secretary of the area, includes Susan Jones in his account (p. 200).

(11) Thomas Starkes, God's Commissioned People (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1984), 244.

(12) "Dialogues of the Day: Concerning Mexico," The Home Mission Monthly, 26 (October 1904): 387.

(13) "Scenes, Life, and Work in Mexico," The Home Mission Monthly, 9 (1887): 243-245.

(14) The statistics for 1892 reported: 469 Protestant congregations, with 16,250 members; 177 American missionaries and teachers and 512 native workers; 7 theological schools; and 5 publishing houses. See Morehouse, "The Gospel in Mexico," 203.

(15) "La Luz," Tomo VI, Ano XI (Jan. 20, 1938), 111-112.

(16) Nueva Historia General de Mexico (El Colegio de Mexico, 2010), 487-488.

(17) Rubi Barocio Castells, "Los inicios del Protestantismo en Mexico: Teofilo Barocio Ondarza (1867-1912), Primer Pastor Bautista Mexicano en la Ciudad de Mexico" (Tesis Maestria en Historia, Universidad Iberoamericana, 2013).

(18) "La Luz," 110.

(19) Teofilo Barocio Ondarza, Bible, 1893.

(20) Alejandro Trevino, Historia de los Trabajos bautistas en Mexico (Casa Bautista de Publicaciones y Convencion Nacional de Mexico, 1939), 175-176.

(21) Josue G. Bautista, Huella Sangrienta en Mexico (Uruapan, Michoacan, 1958), 77-80.

(22) Guadalupe Tonantzin, Artes de Mexico, no. 125, 80-81.

(23) The date appears in Heath's passport, issued in England by the Mexican ambassador in 1826 and now in the hands of Jose Ortiz, age 93, an uncle of this author.

(24) Luis Pazos, Historia sinoptica de Mexico, de los Olmecas a Fox (Mexico, 2008), 73-75.

(25) Bodas de Plata, Datos Biograficos de la senorita Luz Heath, Union de Sociedades Femeniles (Octubre 1965), 1-2. This author now owns the Bible, given to her by her grandmother.

(26) Teofilo Barocio was the great-grandfather of the author of this paper. He was born in 1867 and belonged to the first families in Mexico to convert to Protestantism. The author is currently working on a biography of Teofilo's life.

(27) "Miss Susan E. Jones," Minutes (1906), 121.

(28) "Miss [Helen] Waring," Minutes of the Twenty-Ninth Annual Meeting of the Women's Baptist Home Mission Society and Report of the Board of Directors (Chicago: 1905), 133.

(29) "Senorita Luz Heath, Minutes (1906), 122.

Rubi Castells is historian for the Convention National Bautista de Mexico in Mexico City.
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Author:Castells, Rubi Elizabeth Barocio
Publication:Baptist History and Heritage
Article Type:Biography
Geographic Code:1MEX
Date:Mar 22, 2019
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