After celebrating Mary Anne’s birthday in Gilbert, AZ (east of Phoenix where our youngest daughter now lives), the next morning I left for Central America via a layover long enough in Houston to make a stop at the nearby conference of Christian Churches Together (Google this). Reason I stopped was to hear the very best lecture on Immigration that I have ever heard, given by Daniel Groody, S.J. (look him up also!)
But then on to an overnight in El Salvador, and some contacts at Casa Semillas the next morning before dropping 4 boxes of Tim Monsma’s Hope for the Southern World (Spanish) off at the Libreria Bautista. Please pray for the special promotion we are working up via media avenues to put this reformed world-view material in the hands of local Christians. Here a word about Casa Semillas, the CRCNA related NGO in San Salvador. Please pray for a leadership change they are undergoing, seeking a new director. They are now housed also in a different location. The Inter-Varsity program continues from there; if you have a heart for University student ministry, you can channel a gift via ARMA (for a tax receipt) or directly to me. Another program coordinated through Semillas is the Timothy Leadership Institute, with training of trainers taking place in many locations throughout the country. This modular biblical teaching strengthens leaders in several areas of ministry. ….But on with my trip….9 hours by bus to Honduras.
I spent a long weekend in Tegucigalpa at the invitation of son John, whose Multiplication Network was holding its continental conference there. I translated for the few English speakers attending this large gathering from 18 countries and 13 denominations. The range of speakers and topics covered was impressive; a special feature was the visit of a trio of representatives from the Lausanne Movement doing a survey in Central America on church planting initiatives. I also took the opportunity to visit with CRCNA mission personnel Casper and Leanne Geisterfer, local World Renew staff, and the Central Church pastor. Who also was there but Moises Colop of Guatemala, long time CRWRC worker, now in training with MNM! I bused back to San Salvador a day early for a follow up meeting there with the Lausanne folk who did a “consulta” with 30 leaders gathered at the Evangelical University. With a very positive endorsement of John’s Network, I was given the floor to explain that church planter training.
El Salvador: a country with continuing multiple challenges. I was there in the week prior to elections for the national assembly and mayors, so there was a lot of talk of that (and afterward of fraud.) There is a fracture line right down the middle of the society in that many elections are decided by very narrow percentages. E.S. traded places again with Honduras to be the world leader in violence and homicides. My interests were to see a host of people – with only a few days to be there, I maxed that Friday starting with an early breakfast meeting and had eight face to face conversations until 8:30 PM; great! The Saturday meeting with the various leaders interested in reformed perspective didn’t go as well; low attendance with some people new to the group, others were missing… so more another time.
A very good meeting was held Sunday afternoon with the eight leaders – including now one woman – of the Directiva Nacional of the ES/CRC’s two congregations. Mostly we went over the progress of the agreed upon objectives of the Word and Deed Project; all in all quite satisfactory. I heard some stories of progress and growth. While they asked for a commitment for this present year, due to their owing a couple of financial reports, I made my answer subject to receiving those yet this month of March. For you who are wondering, my intention is very much to continue, so feel free to continue to send your donations to ARMA (see link). Last year you helped raise $11,000 of the $12,000 projected. Thanks!
Some years I have made two trips, and now my sights are on October; pray with me about that, please
Central American children and the U.S. border.
See my translation of a poignant article from El Diario de Hoy that gives perspective; see El Salvador children and youth migration …
the article begins: “Salvadoran youth are leaving because they have no hope….”
THE WORD AND DEED PROJECT This has been my main concern for the past several years, and is really getting on track, finally. Two meetings were held with the coordinator and the two lead pastors. We went over the projected goals and the accomplishments; real improvements are evident at the same time as it was seen that some time frames were not observed. The desired results? Mixed… in Huizucar there has been significant growth and a lot of work done in getting a second congregation started in a distant community. Santa Tecla has seen the incorporation of three new members, and there is a sense that there is more unity in the group than previously experienced. Both churches see the project with more emphasis on evangelism than development, which is what they locally must decide. I still coach toward a balanced word and deed effort, to reflect our reformed understanding of transforming mission.
A joint meeting of the two congregations was held with limited participation, but a very good time of evaluation and interchange of ideas. I came away with a sense that the members are growing in awareness of the value of the Project, and a willingness to try to participate more. Now a new push to raise more funds is in order. Hint, hint (see page”You can help’!).
Pastors on quite opposite ends of the church/theological spectrum respectively picked me up and dropped me off at the airport. The two plus hours of conversations I had with each of them helped me to somewhat understand the complexities of ministry in El Salvador today. It is almost not too strong to say about the church/mission scene in that country (“the little finger of Central America”) what is commonly heard in Latin America: “little town, big hell”! Even now when over two decades have passed since the Peace Accords, people’s memories are scarred by the ideological struggle and the interpersonal conflicts of who was aligned with whom. Can you conceive of some maximum 420 reformed adherents split up in four tiny denominations with some nine ordained pastors serving ten congregations ?! That is the case, sadly.
So for the past several years I have been making a concerted effort to bring those leaders together for the purpose of getting better acquainted and exploring what are the things in the reformed faith perspective that interests them to self-identify as “reformed.” Finally this past year responding to an intentional monthly invitation, the group has been gradually coalescing. Additionally, there are several other men who are indicating interest in some affiliation as well, as they distance themselves from former alignments and seek out new directions. Interesting is that the name in one of these new churches where I preached is “Sendas Antiguas (Ancient Paths).” That bi-vocational university math professor / pastor came upon reformational teaching through reading church history.
A big question is whether to encourage each of these groups to seek growth each on their own ecclesiastical track, or to try to bring them together in some kind of new uniting church body. The meeting this November did not very consciously address that; if anything, the convener seems to want to proceed very slowly on that front. One of the participating pastors, however, outside of the meeting even proposed a name for a new united denomination! Prayer for discernment is in order, please.
A NEW CHALLENGE
Three years ago Dr. James Skillen of the Washington D.C. based Center for Public Justice expressed interest in accepting an invitation to give some lectures in El Salvador. This is going to happen the first week of February, in combination with the presidential election taking place Feb. 1. Those who know the Center know of its keen interest in helping form leaders who encourage Christian’s participation in civic affairs, and inform the Christian public about how to think in principled ways about involvement in societal issues.
Lectures are being set up in two universities, with the largest pastoral alliance, and with the Reformed Fraternity. These will follow on the heels of the election, so interest should be high and many questions in the forefront of citizen’s minds. More will follow in future posts, but meanwhile your prayers are important for this new ground to be fertile. Should you wish to help fund this effort please contact me, or just designate your gift via ARMA on the Memo line.
Please see a fuller note on this under on the PAGE Jim Skillen in El Salvador
There are meetings with different “communities” (churches, IVCF) scheduled every day from Sunday to Sunday. I’ll be visiting the Seeds of a New Creation “casa” – the CRCNA’s mission presence there which has risen in profile over the last while, in part owing to a linkage with the Elim mega-church. (Timothy Leadership Institute is now training their pastoral leader team) And over these 15 years since our service in El Salvador, and subsequent yearly visits, there are many friends who want me to stop in. Most importantly, I hope to encourage the pastoral leadership, as well as some long-time members who affectionately remember past missionaries.
On February 2 the next presidential elections will take place. If I am able to go, that will be the fifth time I participate as an International Observer. That function helps to guarantee more transparency in a country torn by conflict, violence, and polarization.
UPDATE: Dr. Jim Skillen, director emeritus of the Center for Public Justice has accepted the invitation to accompany me as an election observer, and hold meetings with Christians involved in political activities as well as give a couple of lectures. I’ll be making those arrangements on this first trip.Another item for your prayer, please.
My 2012 trip to El Salvador was at the very last possible hour, on Dec. 31 – I was picked up on schedule and dropped off at my lodging at 10:30 PM. The custom there is to shoot off fire-crackers and bottle rockets for both Christmas and New Years. I later joked with the people about how my arrival was celebrated; except that it didn’t let me sleep til 2AM !
The two full weeks were a little less packed than other years, but I did manage to see lots of people and have some good conversations. The first meeting however with the Directiva Nacional about the Word and Deed Project I didn’t handle very well. They had not invited Alba, the Project overseer; the upshot was that a second meeting just with the two pastors and her had to be scheduled during the week – that went much better. Reports were shared, and clarifications were made about expectations and planning.
I look for 2013 to be a better year.
Questions come to me about the churches. Santa Tecla is happy with three new attendees, one of whom if he can be retained is an exceptionally gifted person. In Huizucar the father of a large new member family came and introduced himself; later I saw him as a new face on the local Directiva, which is a positive development. Now I await the presentation of the new plans for the Projects. It is not easy to keep the balance between Word and Deed in a programmatic fashion. And the truth is that the culture there is more spontaneous than we North Americans are accustomed to. Ever heard the expression: “you make your path as you go?!” That is OK in the jungle, but not for Christians who have been trained that things must be done “decently and in order” in the church and kingdom!
Another dimension of my visits is to encourage the meeting and collaboration of about a dozen leaders that self-identify as “reformed.” A large part of the discussion at a Saturday morning meeting was about training/education options. I had invited the Salvadorean representative of MINTS – the Miami International Theological Seminary. They offer modules of education from a decidedly Reformed perspective; interesting in that this is a growing institution that has developed over the last two decades from the efforts of a former CRC missionary who is aligned with conservative churches in both North and Central America. In the next meeting after my visit it was communicated that the group will now be receiving training from MINTS on a monthly basis. “Lord only knows” what may develop out of this relationship; please pray.
For those of you who like details, two weeks ago I received from one of the key leaders (of the National Christian Reformed Church; one congregation, one new Bible Study group) a 35 page summary/survey of classical reformed doctrine. He is sharing that with the group at the meetings. Another thing I did was use some of the Project money for purchase of reformed books from the CRCNA publisher in Grand Rapids, Libros Desafio, for distribution to each of the participants. I’ve already gotten several thank you notes; good literature is both expensive and much appreciated.
Another conversation I had was with the president of the Evangelical Alliance, who also coordinates an initiative forming a group to help develop civic awareness in Christians. Next year presidential elections will again be held; he asked for any material that would be helpful in educating to that end. So I await developments in El Salvador, and the interest that the churches and those leaders show in the accom-paniment I might have for the projects and encouragement of any collaborative initiatives.
So this leaves me praying about “where to” in 2013?
PS I’ll be happy to see comments or questions on the comment page.
Dear friends of the El Salvador Project: Greetings now nearing the end of another year; may the Good News of God’s doings in history once again be renewed in the world and in our hearts. And may that bring Hope again for another New Year.
For the first year in the decade since we left that country after five years of service there with CR World Missions, I did not travel there. The last couple of years I went in October but this year reasons seemed to pile up why not to go until a bit later; finally now early this month I made plans and have tickets to go Dec. 31, returning January 14, D.V.
This past year there were some delays in planning and execution of projects. Exactly why I cannot say; part of it is just the endemic slowness seemingly built into the culture. Even the church leaders are influenced by this; although I have to recognize that both pastors work full time jobs and only attend the ministries as volunteers. And a sad reality is that they do not work especially well together; one is in a city church, the other in a small rural town. Volunteer Alba, the former CRWRC worker, makes real efforts to keep them on task, but it doesn’t always come together as well as hoped for.
Thankfully, I’ve had a recent flurry of communications and photos*, because I wrote them that I was going to write this letter!
So you’d like to hear of what was accomplished. In Santa Tecla courses were given equipping a few people in things from bakery skills to theological studies. The church there has only grown slowly;
lately there are three new people who look like they will stay, a real encouragement to Pastor Carlos.
Huizucar over the last couple years has been reaching out to a new community a twenty-five minute hike from town. People were relocated there by the government after being displaced by earthquakes and floods. Our Projects have been able to help with diverse activities, from helping trench for bringing in water to distributing corrugated fiberglass materials to replace plastic tarp roofs. Services are held in the community; some have not only come to the town church, but a dozen have been baptized as new members.
So Word and Deed monies are blessing lives, and the churches are encouraged to be able to project this kind of community involvement. While they can not even afford to pay their own pastors, and even less do much formal benevolence on their own, these funds help them to better equip themselves and also project a witness beyond their walls. “Presence,” Pastor Joaquin calls it; higher practical visibility makes people more ready to listen.
I’ll put another report on upon my return, D.V., later in January.
* for photos, see the Photos tab