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.
Emails and progress reports from El Salvador prompt me to write a quick update here. The pace of the Project continues to be slower than I would like to see it, but there is progress. Huizucar reports upcoming reception of about a dozen new members, including some children by covenant baptism. Santa Tecla is giving classes on Saturdays in topics from theology to new skills. They have also held conferences designed to attract new people.
Both churches are processing capital expense requests: Huizucar for roof materials in the new community where they are evangelizing and seeing new converts; Santa Tecla to finish bathrooms they started but have not been able to complete. While capital expenditures are technically not contemplated in the Word and Deed project, some funds “over and above” have been raised and will soon be disbursed. These improvements will enhance ministry and lend encouragement.
I’m in communication with not only the CRC pastors but also other reformed leaders about a possible visit before the end of the year, possibly in November.
This is a copy of a letter sent recently to donors:
January 6, 2012
1753 Elser Lane, Escondido CA 92026
Dear friend of the El Salvador Christian Reformed Word and Deed Project (ED-DD*):
Greetings, and God’s peace to you, in these opening days of this New Year, 2012.
Right off, I do here want to “publicly” thank Jerry and Dorothy Deters and the ARMA committee, along with Phil Michmerhuizen who sends out the receipts, for their faithful contribution. I here want to give you a picture of where things have been and are “at” regarding things with our El Salvador involvement. This letter is to ask you for your prayers; and yes, while I can report to you that there is a small “cushion” of funds in the ARMA account for the time being, something else came up: flooding (more below).
If you think the USA is becoming somewhat dysfunctional in its public life, you should visit El Salvador. While the new administration under President Funes has tried to make some needed changes, there have also been both missteps and blockages. I mention this, because that seems to be somewhat the pattern for many institutions in that country, including the El Salvador CRC. They have a hard time “getting their act together,” let alone keeping it together! OK, I know that doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence in a project you have been supportive of, but Lou Wagenveld usually “tells it like it is.” What do I mean? And what can be done to move things forward?
It was hard getting good reporting the first half of the year; meetings there were postponed or missed, there was evidence of poor communication between the leaders, and to some degree ignoring the person that in effect represents us there and coordinates planning and reporting. That is Alba Lopez who worked for CRWRC and is very capable; and it didn’t help that she got a very good job with the government which then didn’t allow her to follow through on some things either.
On paper the Project came to its two year conclusion in early June, and without bothering with details I’ll just say that they were supposed to work up both reports and a proposal for continuing if they so desired. The above mentioned dysfunction led to my traveling there in October. The short version is that in two forthright meetings we came to a signed agreement to re-start the Project. Some of you may have read/heard of the terrible flood-ing that occurred right while I was there, so the $2,000 I carried in case we came to that agreement….well, we re-designated that for immediate disaster relief. And then upon my return after being turned down by CRWRC/DRS (who sent money to a Catholic NGO they had worked with years ago) another $2,000 was forwarded. Thankfully there was enough on hand to forward those emergency relief amounts, and some churches and individuals have stepped up and in part replenished the balances for the meanwhile. The Lord and his people are faithful. Thanks be to Him, and to you among them.
Prayer then…well, there could be so many things…
– for better communication between the leaders, and responsiveness to Alba.
– for the personal finances of both pastors; recently I was asked to send money so the electricity would not be cut off in Huizucar! “Dependency!!” At this point some may be thinking: “why do you continue to try to work with these people”? One response is 1) Christian solidarity; 2) my being convinced that El Salvador needs a Reformed presence; and I guess just my 3) liking challenges – and this is a big one, for which I have experience, relationships, and am perhaps uniquely prepared.
– for the economic situation of El Salvador –and our sisters & brothers in the churches there; with the loss from floods just at harvest time of significant amounts of the corn and bean crops the food prices jumped considerably.
– for the CRCNA agencies’ new strategies in Central America, with various partners.
Funds: if you wish to contribute at this time, please see the information at page bottom.
Permit me one other dimension of my involvement there: an effort both in visiting and correspondence is to bring into conversation and fellowship at some level the pastoral leaders of the four groups in El Salvador who consider themselves “reformed.” This also is a huge challenge in a conflictive society where everyone wants to be king in his own castle. So please pray that the Spirit of the Lord work in hearts and minds to bring a vision that together they can achieve more; areas like training and service need joint efforts. There are some encouraging signs on this front, but also land mines. An example: Carlos, a CRC pastor offered to help teach courses for MINTS in E.S. (Miami International Theological Seminary, autonomously related [!?] to the United Reformed Church – no congregations in El Salvador – yet!) but was turned down as “liberal”!
I close mentioning that in early December, some 20 plus CRCNA regional people held three days of meetings in San Salvador at Casa Semillas de Nueva Creacion (Seeds of a New Creation, the NGO that is now the strategy in Central America) without any reformed churches’ representation at the table even just to hear how the groups are doing. (see next report below) Sad; you can make that also a matter of prayer.
Another “Year of our Lord” find you well and doing your part to advance His Kingdom “on earth as it is in heaven.”
With fraternal appreciation, Lou Wagenveld
* For any who might want a refresher, ED-DD stands for Evangelism/Discipleship – Diaconia/Development. For more information, beside the web site mentioned above, you can contact me at email@example.com or at (616) 392-9079 or (760) 738-4696 Donations can be made out and sent to ARMA, 12964 N Bellwood Dr.Holland MI 49424