A CHRISTMAS AT THE MEXICAN MISSION
- Published on Friday, 14 November 2008 09:26
The establishment of a Protestant church in the largely Catholic Hispanic community in Lordsburg came about with the help of a much appreciated lady we know as Grace Miller.
She had a long, abiding commitment to helping people in our town and made a special effort each Christmas.
As Grace Hileman, she was told never to return to her father’s home in Pennsylvania. He was a staunch Presbyterian and had found that while taking a teacher training course she had joined the local Brethren church. She came to what was then Lordsburg in 1902 to possibly teach in the Lordsburg Academy/College.
Grace found employment as a clerk in J. L. Miller’s general store. She married him in 1904 in a ceremony conducted by W. C. Hanawalt.
Grace Miller was soon a pillar of the Lordsburg church of the German Baptist Brethren, and became Sunday School superintendent. The church - now our Church of the Brethren - strongly supported missions, not only in foreign countries, but at home and had a Chinese mission in Los Angeles. Grace had the mission spirit and held English classes in her home for many Japanese grove workers.
She was particularly interested the immigrants who lived in “Mexican Town” south of the Santa Fe railroad tracks. It was not a wealthy neighborhood. She did her home mission work here, and each Christmas went to homes taking toys and games, one for each child.
‘Grandma’ Francisca Rodriquez held Bible study in her home. In 1917 Grace Miller helped her start a church.
All the ministers in town helped with donations for an old home which was remodeled. Services in this Emmanuel Presbyterian Mexican Church were held by Rev. Sotero Mageno for three years. When it was destroyed by fire, the Millers provided a house they owned at 1835 2nd St. for Rev. Mageno and the church services.
Every December a Christmas party was held at on the porch and front yard of this “Mexican Mission.” Students of the Mission Band at La Verne College helped.
The Christmas festivities of 1920 were described by Rev. Mageno, whom Grace Miller quoted in an magazine article.
“I thank our great God for this Spanish-American Christmas. Once more the Mexican and the American Christians of La Verne united their activities to serve the Lord. It was 1:30 P.M. when the good sister, Grace Miller with the assistance of Senor Mageno began to distribute Christmas treats and toys to the Mexican children. There followed pinataes, baseball, and supervised play. Next we served a supper of Mexican and American dishes. Some of our American brothers, for the first time in their lives, ate Spanish bunuelos. An American girl noticed that some of the Mexicans were too timid to come up for their plates, and carried supper to them.
“At last the Christmas program, came, which pleased very much the spectators, who were over 300 in number.”
“The program was given in Spanish from the front porch of the mission, workers represented being Senor Juan Rodriquez, Senorita Marina Lopez, Senorita Elvira Lira, Senorita Maria Mageno. Senor Lupe Alvarez, Senor Salvador Villasenor. Senorita Josefina Lira, Senorita Ines Vargas, Senor Francisco Elias, Lucifa Romero, Senor Jose Alcala, Senor Isidro Rodriquez, Senor Bartolo Estrella, Lorenzo Mageno and Senorita Eva Rodriquez.”
“Later it was a surprise to the Mexican people when they heard the American young people sing the Angel Chorus in Spanish.”
“Another thing which the Mexicans admired was the Christmas star which flashed intermittently from the mission roof. They also liked the words ‘Dios es Amor’ (God is Love) which appeared in the cradle instead of a baby. The designing and lighting of the cradle were the work of our brother Eulugio Perez, who comes far to assist in the Mexican Mission.”
“The treats were furnished by the Beginners and Primary Departments of the Sunday-School and the Intermediate Christian Workers. The toys were the gifts of Bro. and Sister Chas. Eshelman. Pauline Shirk led out in supervised play. Approximately one hundred and seventy Mexican children were present during the afternoon.”
Mrs. Miller took pride in relating these Christmas activities, and summed up with “The King of Glory only knows who was the happier – the Americans or the Mexicans.”
We have long since become one community - no longer termed the ‘Americans,’ or ‘Mexicans.’
Grace Miller has passed on, but memories of her goodwill such as this Christmas of 1920 are why we now have a school named after her.