‘I AM Manel - Not Moses: The Thoughts of an Indigenous Leader

By James.B

LA UNION, PUEBLA, MEXICO (ANS March 16, 2017) -- It was back in 1972 when Manuel Arenas, a Totonac Indian, born in a primitive hut in Zapotitlan, Mexico, and who turned out to be a brilliant young Indian man, began reaching out to his own people with what was then called the Totonac Bible Center, Inc.

Right from his early days, Manuel exhibited a fiery curiosity about life beyond the green canyons that hemmed his village, and the course of his life changed radically when he met an American Wycliffe Bible translator, Herman P. Aschmann, who introduced him to Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior, and then used him as his principal translation helper for in his early Wycliffe translation efforts among the Highland Totonac people. (Mr. Aschmann died on February 18th, 2008 -- his 94th birthday -- at the Life Care Center in Longmont, Colorado, due to complications from pneumonia.)

Manuel went on to build a Bible school/cultural center and then a network of 50 churches that reached half of the 250,000 Totonac Indian population with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. At his cultural center, Manuel also operated an experimental farm and a medical/dental clinic that served his people who were too poor to afford professional care. Manual passed away in 1992, leaving the ministry to be taken over by the many pastors he trained and motivated.

After having gained an excellent education in the United States and Germany, Manuel determined to establish a school among his own people. He recruited Felipe Ramos, another Totonac in seminary at the time, to help him begin the project. The Centro Cultural Pro-Totonaco in La Union, Puebla, is a witness to his vision. Felix also runs a radio program in the Totonac language which is listened to by many of these people.

Manuel ArenasOver the years, Manuel tried in various ways to expand his vision to all the tribal groups of Mexico. He organized three different consultations of Christian leaders from other tribes. The first was held at the Totonac Center, the others in the states of Oaxaca and Chiapas, as he wanted to attract more of the pastors from those areas. He also opened his school to students from other tribes.

On one occasion, I had the privilege of traveling to La Union, Puebla, with Dr. Dale W. Kietzman, a former head of the U.S. branch of Wycliffe Bible Translators and a founding board member and first chairman of ASSIST Ministries, to meet this amazing man and view at first hand the work he had founded in this remote area of Mexico.

After Manuel's death in 1992, Dr. Dale Kietzman, became president of the Totonac Bible Center board in the United States.

Increasingly, the support activity focused on other tribes, following Manuel's vision. As a consequence, in 1996, the Board voted to change the name of the corporation to Latin American Indian Ministries (LAIM) -- and later changed it to Latin American Indigenous Ministries (https://latinamericanindigenousministries.org/.)

Today LAIM is continuing the vision of Arenas by helping the Totonac people and the work among this tribe which is now being spearheaded by Totonac Christian leader, Felipe Ramos, who has a popular radio show in the Totonac language.

Now the board of LAIM has decided to publish an extraordinary paperback book called "I Am Manuel -- Not Moses: The Thoughts of an Indigenous Leader Finding a Way Forward for His People" (Lulu Press, Inc).

David Andrés Kietzman, grandson of Dr. Kietzman, and now the Executive Director of LAIM said, "It is fast read of some very interesting stories right from the mind of Manuel, that were told to my grandfather during their many travels across Mexico, the United States, and world."

Totonas in native dressSadly, Dr. Kietzman didn't live to see the publication of the book that he worked so hard on as he died peacefully in the early hours of Thursday, February 12, 2015.

A description of the book says, "View the world as seen by Manuel, a Totonac Indian from Mexico. This trailblazer, educator, civic leader and Christian describes his relationship to the Mexican people and culture, and shares real stories from his travels. Fifteen short stories are brought to life, narrated by Manuel himself, ranging from his adventures growing up on tribal Totonac land, to the building of an indigenous school, to his personal spiritual and educational journeys.

"These tales are informative and cautionary, filled with lessons on Christian values, community building, personal growth, education and authentic leadership. Manuel knew the best way to bring value to his people was through education and a faith in Jesus Christ. Follow Manual's travels, thoughts and stories as he takes us through his life explorations as an evangelical leader, educator and Indian."

Manuel Arenas once said, "Although we were here first, we know that God put us all here together, and it is my hope that we can learn to live together in harmony and love."

Manuel Arenas speakingOn the occasion of Manuel's death, Prisma, Mexico City, wrote: "Mexico has lost one of her brightest sons... an outstanding example of the innate capacity of Mexican indigenous peoples, if they are only given an opportunity."

There are several ways to purchase the book. First via Amazon -- https://www.amazon.com/Manuel-Not-Moses-Thoughts-Indigenous/dp/1483463893  then by Lulu at: http://www.lulu.com/shop/manuel-arenas/i-am-manuel-not-moses-the-thoughts-of-an-indigenous-leader-finding-a-way-forward-for-his-people/ebook/product-23051418.html, and finally via Google Play at: https://play.google.com/store/books/details/Manuel_Arenas_I_am_Manuel_Not_Moses_The_Thoughts_o?id=X9wjDgAAQBAJ.

Having met Manuel Arenas on several occasions, I heartily recommend this book for in it, you will "meet" one of the most inspiring indigenous Christians in the wold who made such a great difference in the name of Jesus Christ, in the lives of his Totonac people.

Photo captions: 1) Book cover. 2) Manuel Arenas in La Union.(Photo: Dan Wooding). 3) Totonac men in native dress. (Travel by Mexico). 4) Manuel Arenas (right) speaking through an interpreter to Aguacateco pastors in Guatemala. 5) Dan Wooding with Dr. Dale Kietzman on the occasion of Kietzman's 90th birthday. 

Dan Wooding with Dale Kietzman at his homeAbout the writer: Dan Wooding, 76, is an award-winning author, broadcaster and journalist who was born in Nigeria of British missionary parents, and is now living in Southern California with his wife Norma, to whom he has been married for nearly 54 years. They have two sons, Andrew and Peter, and six grandchildren who all live in the UK. He has written some 45 books and hosts a weekly radio show and two TV shows all based in Southern California.

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Crossmap, ‘I AM Manel - Not Moses: The Thoughts of an Indigenous Leader