The Lord Is Working in Central America
"Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature." (Mark 16:15)
Just before Jesus left His disciples for the last time He gave them the Great Commission of our text. Should not every Christian be eager to help fulfill that command? Some are called to a lifetime of service as missionaries overseas. Others may serve for shorter periods of years. Still others have the opportunity to go for months, or even weeks.
Recently we have been working with a dedicated and talented pastor in Costa Rica, Pastor Jose Monge. Pastor Steve Nash, of the Zarephath Community Chapel, answered the call to conduct a series of meetings in that country, and invited members of his congregation, and others of us, to give a helping hand. So it was that I found myself in that lovely, mountainous country of Costa Rica in January of this year. Others of the "team" included Rev. Bernard Dawson, Pillar of Fire Missions Director, his long-time friend, the Rev. Dr. Mel Barrows, and a number of others, young and old, with the youngest a high school senior.
Almost every day there was opportunity for ministry, sometimes in a chapel, and at other times in a warehouse or a multi-purpose community facility. Generally microphones and sound equipment were taken along, and a set of drums expertly handled by the young son of the pastor. In the services there was a time of worship and praise, a time of testimony from team members, and a Gospel message. Brother Dawson's son-in-law, from Indiana, is a youth pastor fluent in Spanish. He was able to minister directly, without the aid of an interpreter. The rest of us relied on someone who was bilingual to interpret for us.
It was encouraging to see the response to the Gospel of the people in the various areas where we held services. We have faith that the seed sown will spring up unto life eternal in the days, months, and even years ahead.
One particularly interesting location was far off the beaten track, at a remote Indian reservation. How did it come about that we went there? A Christian man was burdened for the young people of his village, where there was no chapel or church. He shared his concern with someone who was passing through the area, who in turn let our pastor know of the need of this remote village. The pastor traveled to the village, part of the way either on foot or horseback, for miles up and down a narrow trail, the only way of reaching the village. He decided to hold meetings there, and a number came to saving faith in Christ.
Pastor Steve Nash also visited this remote village. He found there a suitable spot of level land, and decided to provide some funds for the purchase of roofing and other materials for the erection of a church. After Pastor Steve had returned home for his son's graduation from college, the other members of the team made their way to the village to give encouragement, and to provide an opportunity for believers there to be baptized.
How did we reach this remote village? First we went for many miles in a small rented bus, traveling on a dirt road. Then the bus could go no farther, and we walked a considerable distance. At that point two horses became available, and I was invited, as the oldest member of the party, to ride one of them. It was a rather exciting ride, on this narrow, rutted trail, sometimes very steeply up and down, and sometimes on more level ground.
All went well for me on the trip to the village. After the service and the baptism, however, some members of the party had started to walk back toward the bus. I had just mounted the horse when someone made a loud noise of some sort, probably not by design. The horse "spooked," and I found myself on the ground, with one foot still in a stirrup! Others soon rushed up to see if I had suffered any injury, and fortunately I had not, although I was somewhat shaken up, and perhaps breathing heavily.
Soon I was back on the horse, and eventually reached our bus without further incident. One other horse was available for our party, and several other team members rode for shorter or longer distances.
What do you think a major concern of the village elder was, who was praying and trusting that the Lord would help them get a church or chapel? Remember, this is a remote village, far from the larger towns or cities. This Christian man, even in that remote village, was concerned that the young people of the village were coming under the influence of the drug culture so prevalent in larger communities! Let us pray and trust the Lord that the Gospel preached in that chapel -- and work was already begun to make it a reality when we were there -- will result in the salvation of young and old alike, and that lives will be transformed.
The hospitality and kindness of the pastor, and of others there in Costa Rica, must be mentioned. Every nook and cranny of the small parsonage was filled to overflowing with people. At meal times, when we were there "at headquarters," a number of tables were filled with team members, ready for some nourishment. The pastor's wife and others working with her with always eagerly waiting on us to see that we had what we needed to maintain health and vigor. I was assigned a comfortable bed in what I suppose was the pastor's own bedroom. A retired friend of Rev. Mel Barrows slept in another bed in the room, and on at least two occasions I woke up early in the morning to notice another team member sleeping on a mattress on the floor nearby.
Near the airport, both going and coming, we enjoyed the hospitality of couple who could not have been more gracious and eager to be of service. I had stayed there on my arrival in Costa Rica at 1 a.m. Again on the day of departure, I enjoyed their most cordial hospitality before taking the onward flight. The man of the house assured me that if I came again to Costa Rica I could be sure of a warm welcome in their home!
When I was invited to take part in the evangelistic effort in Costa Rica I wondered whether it would be possible to visit Guatemala on the way back to the United States. Having frequent-flier miles on United Airlines, I inquired whether an additional stopover was possible, and learned that it was. My brother Orland had been a missionary in Guatemala for the last quarter of a century of his life, and had had such a love for the people that he decided to be buried there. On previous occasions I had visited his grave in the family plot of wonderful missionaries with whom he had worked when he arrived in Guatemala not knowing any Spanish.
When I arrived in Guatemala on Monday morning I wondered if it would be possible to make contact with members of the Trotzke family, with whom my brother had worked in those early days. Brother Trotzke, faithful to the end, after more than fifty years of service as a missionary, had died just a few weeks ago, but I was hopeful to meet Sister Trotzke and their daughter, married to a retired Christian business man who is presiding elder or superintendent of a number of holiness churches in the area.
Imagine the pleasure I received the next morning at the cemetery when I saw not only Sister Trotzke and her daughter, but also son Paul, himself a longtime missionary in Alaska. He had come back to Guatemala on the death of his father, evidently to help look into any of the business affairs that might need his attention. He mentioned to me the profound influence my brother Orland had had on him spiritually and otherwise when he was a young man growing up in Guatemala. His father's grave is close to that of my brother's, and I can imagine these two missionaries walking the heavenly streets and looking back on the trials and victories of the past as they served the Lord in their beloved Guatemala.
Sister Charlotte Lindgren, founder of the Christian orphanage my brother had been interested in for so many years, and an evangelist in many countries of the world, had recently spent some time with her son Jimmy, a missionary in Honduras for the past three years. She had gone to Honduras some weeks earlier with some of her workers, and had provided Christmas in several places for a total of two thousand children! She was planning to go back to Honduras in a few days, and invited me to go along. Needless to say, I was eager to go along, so as to gain a better idea of the suffering of the people of that small land where some twelve thousand are estimated to have lost their lives, and tens of thousands have lost their homes and belongings in the terrible mudslides and rampaging rivers caused by Hurricane Mitch.
Not far from the airport in Tegucigalpa we could see some of the destruction. Here was a large new bridge, totally destroyed. Nearby was an automobile dealership, with many vehicles still in the mud. Businesses along the river had been washed away, and automobiles and even buses had been swept a hundred miles downstream!
In gymnasiums of a large Olympic complex we saw many families of refugees housed in little "shacks" made of cardboard or plastic. Outside some of the people were washing their clothes on large rocks, with water from a garden hose. When and where will they be able to secure suitable housing? Fortunately, some kinds of aid has come from a number of countries, including the United States, but it is hard to reach people in some of the remote mountainous areas, even weeks and months after the terrible mudslides.
Life goes on. I took part in a mid-week service where a young pastor and his wife have a vibrant ministry. Many men, women, and children were on hand for the service of praise and Bible study. The pastor has the vision for an enlarged ministry, with a Bible college for the training of pastors. Pray that many whose lives were spared will realize their need of salvation through Jesus Christ, and will become earnest and productive Christians.
Back in Guatemala I was taken to the Sunday morning service on the Christian orphanage campus by a retired farmer, and an earnest Christian. He mentioned how the terrible earthquakes there, some years ago, had helped many people to realize the brevity of life, and had caused them to put more emphasis on the importance of living a true Christian life. As a result, a large proportion of the population became active Christians, something my brother had mentioned to me some years ago.
In the evening I was asked to give the message in a rescue mission in a "tough" part of Guatemala City. There may have been drug pushers on some of the street corners, but in the well-lit mission hall there were many men, women, and children eager for the lively praise service to begin. Then the children were taken to another room for their Bible teaching. The people were very responsive to the preaching of the Gospel, and many went forward to pray, some for initial salvation, I understood, and others to renew their consecration to the Lord. Such response is always encouraging.
By this time the children were coming back from their meetings. Adults and children all crowded around to shake hands and exchange hugs.
Our text is a familiar passage from St. Mark's Gospel. Matthew reminds us of the same theme, again quoting the words of our Lord: "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost." (Matt. 28:19)
Is the Lord calling you to consider this great work of reaching people with the Good News of salvation in some needy part of the world? If so, give heed to the call. If not, your prayers and your regular gifts can be a source of encouragement to those already serving the Lord overseas. Every Christian can have a part in the Great Commission!