By Raquel Contreras
Similar to the biblical times, in today’s Latino culture, the name of “Maria” or Mary, is very common.
Many times, we immediately identify the name with Mary, the mother of Jesus, and with other women in the present. Many names of Latinas are binomial ones that start off with “Maria”, Maria Elena, Maria Carmen, Maria Eugenia, Maria Soledad.
Each year the name Maria (Mary) is the most used by parents in the Latino culture. As a matter of fact, in South America, a set of three aligned stars is identified as “Las Tres Marias” (The Three Marys).
Furthermore, we can go on about how the name Maria is commonly used in our culture. We even use it in our kitchens as we cook, we say this is cooked in “baño maria”, or in English we say “bain-marie”. Additionally, we have all enjoyed the delicious “Marias” cookies.
Maria is not only a word we used as the name of women, but it is also a part of our culture, that is why to speak about the leadership of a Maria in the Bible is very interesting and easy to relate to in our daily lives.
In the book of Acts, we study about the beginnings of the Church, and in each story, we learn the way this group of new believers went about shaping their daily life and spiritual disciplines. It tells us how they would preach in the streets, enjoyed fellowship in homes, how they studied the words of Jesus, how they would confront difficulties, how they traveled to share the words of Jesus with all of the known world so that they too would also recognize Christ as the promised Messiah. In the practice of our own life in the 21st century, we have much to learn from them.
For me, a Maria that has always stood out to me is the Mary in the book of Acts, one that we only have 27 words about. “So, when he had considered this, he came to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose surname was Mark, where many were gathered together praying.”
Only 27 words (NKJV) to refer to the tremendous leadership of this woman in the primitive church.
As the new group of believers were growing, it became a threat to the government, and Peter, the spiritual leader, had been taken prisoner. He had been placed in a dungeon, chained to soldiers who did not allow him to move, and placed in the depths of this prison. This was happening all while Acts 12:5 tells us, “but prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him.”
The Church acknowledged that in the face of this tremendous difficulty, not having their leader with them, plus the uncertainty of not knowing what would happen to them, they knew they should pray…and they did.
In a miraculous manner, Peter is liberated from prison. He finds himself on the street unchained and the Bible tells us that he came to himself and realized he had been freed. In that moment the only thing he thinks he can do is go to Maria’s house, because that was where the church was gathered in prayer. This always overwhelms me. Peter had had no contact with the church, yet he knew where they ought to be.
What we know is that, María is a woman who has opened her house for the church to gather to pray, in the face of their tremendous need. Furthermore, based on this story, we can assume that Peter, the natural leader, knew that she had replaced him in those moments and had taken up the leadership that was needed so that this group of new Christians would do what they need to do—to pray.
This Maria is a tremendous example for us. She teaches us to accept the leadership positions we need to take, even when the times are difficult or uncertain. She teaches us to guide others to do what needs to be done by offering what we have in our hands, in order to support and guide others. Above all else, she teaches us to always be the type of woman that others can come to, when they need to draw close to God.
Latina leaders and Latinas-at- heart, we need to always be ready to put into action our leadership with whatever we have in our hands to give, particularly be ready to walk with others in their search of God and need of prayer, especially in these troubled times that we are living.
May God allow us, today’s leaders, to be “Marias” in whichever setting our Lord places us.
Raquel Contreras, J.D., is the general director of Editorial Mundo Hispano in El Paso, TX. She serves on the Board of Directors of CLLI.