April 19, 2011 § Leave a comment
1. Was there a specific strategy/philosophy/model that guided your church plant? When did you plant the church(es)?
My first church planting effort as a leader was in Dallas, TX toward the end of my seminary career at Southwestern Seminary. A dying Anglo church hired us to begin a Hispanic church in their buildings. In that experience I used a lot of door to door visitation. I began Bible studies in several homes and intended to bring them together as church. I taught the Gospel of John inductively. I was highly influenced by Ralph Neighbor, Jr.’s book “The Seven Last Words of the Church” (1973) and other materials by him. We had some success but because the then FMB did not accept church planting as an acceptable pre-appointment experience, left the effort to pastor a rural church in Mississippi after graduating.
When we arrived in Guatemala to work with the Tajumulco Mam people our plan was to learn Mam before beginning the work there so that our work would be in Mam rather than in Spanish. We were engaged in that effort when our first Christmas in our house in Tajumulco came. Neighbors came to us and said. “You are evangelicals. Do you sing Christmas songs? I said that we did and when the neighbor expressed interest we began teaching Christmas songs to our neighbors which progressed quickly to Bible study in simple Spanish, professions of faith, baptism and church. I knew I was in trouble
because of language and literacy, besides the fact that there was not one word of Scripture in Tajumulco Mam. We asked for help and Don Kammerdiener sent Jim Slack to me to get me started in Storying. This was in the late 1980’s. We adapted “God and Man” by Dell and Sue Schultze for simple Spanish use. Later we tried to move into the “Firm Foundation” series by Trevor McIlwain but this did not work with the primary oral learners we were dealing with.
The church met at our house until well after we had left Tajumulco and finally they built a building. I would not build a building for them. At that point I would have helped their initiative but was not willing to do for them what they needed to do for themselves.
I guess my favorite church planting story took place in El Rancho, Nicaragua. I taught a short Storying session to some agriculturalists who came to the Ag. Center for training. Most were not believers. I gave each person a printed set of stories and encouraged them to teach them in their villages. At about the same time I taught a seminar on storying to rural church planters at the church in Somotillo. I encouraged them to begin multiple new works using what I had taught them. That is all I knew for a couple of years. We transferred back to Guatemala and I did not maintain contact with the brothers. Later, when I took a co-worker to introduce him to the task he was inheriting in Nicaragua we went to the Ag Center. The leader there told me I had to go to El Rancho. I told him that the folks in Somotillo were going to take me somewhere but I didn’t know where. That
Sunday we drove to El Rancho. We entered the chapel in that rural community. The group was large. There were more men than women. A church had resulted from the meeting of the church planters from Somotillo and the man from their community I had also trained. They had recognized each other’s stories and discovered that I had taught them both.
2. If you were starting over today, what would you do the same?
I would insist on heart language. I would use storying. I would model methodologies that were reproducible without limit. I would not make a building a priority. I would continue to emphasize relationship building.
3. In an ideal world, what would you do differently?
I would look for “men of peace” and purposefully work with them training them, using their language skills, encouraging them to be the leader from the beginning.
I would spend my primary efforts training church planters and trainers of church planters. The question does not take into account that a person grows from his experiences. Often credibility is earned through hard knocks.
We tried the man of peace approach in subsequent church plants. It did not always work but we were able to keep mobile and not be bogged down to keeping a congregation alive by the force of our own personality. There is a weakness in this approach in my experience. In a church planting experience on the other side of San Pedro Sac., San Marcos we entered a “man of peace” home. As I began to teach/evangelize and disciple the family they invited others in and the work grew each time I would go. In the Mayan world there is no effective way to limit your teaching to one person, they like groups and will purposefully bring more in to hear and participate inwhat they find good.
Let me return to the first question regarding a church plant in Managua. We invited a Nicaraguan couple Elias and Chilo to work with us in a church planting effort in an extremely impoverished, high transition squatter community. They worked along side us, learned from us and carried on in our absence. We did everything together and this couple became lay associational church planters after we left Nicaragua. The time we spent in mentoring this couple paid off multiple times as they have continued to be involved in church planting. I asked them what discipleship approaches they thought were best in Nicaragua and they said, “What you did for us. You took us with you and showed us how”
Early on in our team effort with Elias and Chilo we thought we had a man of peace but he turned out to be a real problem as he loaned and borrowed money from our congregation, was unfaithful to his wife and publicly intoxicated when we were not around but giving a very bad testimony in the community. After the church plant died a couple of times women from the community confided in Chilo to tell her what was happening. We disassociated ourselves from him and on the third effort the church began to grow. We left just as the fellowship was becoming “sweet” and the church has continued to grow into a healthy reproducing church.
4. What was the most difficult thing you encountered during the process?
Probably the fact that we have had to start over again many times. The next most difficult thing is to leave a healthy growing church just as the communion becomes sweet because to stay would hinder the maturing process of the growing church. Knowing when to leave.
5. What was the most unexpected thing you encountered during the process?
Perhaps the quick devastation of a new work when the man of peace gives a bad testimony. On a more positive note, the absolute commitment to church planting of our Nicaraguan co-workers after working alongside them for a couple of years.
6. What did you learn from a cross-cultural perspective? (e.g. importance of knowing target audience)
Worldview differences are real. Animists really believe in animism. A US based “simple” Gospel presentation does not impact worldview – does not affect how people think about spiritual issues – does not bring people face to face with Jesus Christ. The force of our logic does not change minds. Bible stories added one on another over time has the best potential for long term impact, retention and reproduction.
7. What help did you need that you wished you would have had?
I have grown in my understanding of storying and its discipleship and leadership training potential. I wish I had known then what I know now.
8. What role did your spouse/family play in the process? Any suggestions for involving families, or helping them through the process?
My wife and family have been an integral part of our efforts in church planting in Tajumulco and Managua. Penny has worked as much in our church planting efforts as I have. It is easier when the children are younger. When they are older their own spiritual needs are often unmet in small church planting efforts. Christian worship with their peers becomes important. As a result, if older children are to be part of the church planting activities of their parents, the parents must make certain their need for church family is met.
9. What did you learn from your church planting experience?
Consider the previous answers.
10. What was/is your favorite part about your church planting experience?
Changed lives. Coming back to find them healthy.
11. What resources or books were the most helpful to you in the process?
Storying training and materials
12. What words of advice would you give to prospective church planters?
The fact is, each church plant is a new start and deserves careful consideration on its own merit. There are no simple answers. There are methods that will tend to work better in one place and not in others. A church planter must be able to think on his toes, know his Bible and love the people he is called to serve.
April 17, 2011 § Leave a comment
A HISTORY OF MISSIONS IN GUATEMALA
As we embark on this study on the history of missions in the country of Guatemala, it is important to understand a general truth: converts to a given religious practice—whether catholic, protestant or other—are left to choose from a menu of possibly disconnected or contradictory techniques in practical adaptation and application to immediate and long-term societal changes and dilemmas that surround their past, present and future lives. I suppose this is true of all humans as we adopt and adapt religion. However, the goal must be a true worship of the one and only God of the universe; Jesus Christ cannot be merely an answer to a societal change, civil war, or a current dilemma—this type of adoption and adaptation of belief systems is momentary and will inevitably fade with time. True conversion, one might say, deals with the acceptance of God and Christ on His terms and involves us coming as we are. In my experience it has been difficult at best for Guatemalans to take on Christ and Him alone; there is an extreme tendency to choose Him along with a few side items and create an entirely new religion and belief, altogether different from the Christianity presented. However, this reality causes the missionary to reflect upon her own religion and belief system(s) and come to evaluate just how pure her Christianity really is.1 The truth is that each culture will express a different Christianity and this must be what God intended all along. The challenge for the missionary on the field then is to search herself out and seek to present only the gospel…only scripture…not Christmas stories and Easter bunnies and superstitions or traditions that have no root, rhyme or reason in the person and work of Jesus Christ. There’s the rub! This is nearly impossible; however, we must strive for this and allow the culture in which we are working to express Christianity on its very own terms—guided of course by scripture and the presence of the Holy Spirit.
An understanding of the history of subject, people or place informs the learner not only of the past but also produces an appreciation for the present and future of a given entity. A history of missions in Guatemala then is a worthy undertaking as it equips the learner—future or present missionary—and gives him an understanding that he would not have otherwise. Missiologically, we need to know the people to whom God is sending us. One might recall Paul’s instruction to Timothy: “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. 2 Timothy 2:15” A brief understanding of the country’s evangelical and general missions history is a great foundation and a prelude to a better understanding of our target people.
April 13, 2011 § Leave a comment
The general purpose of this series of studies—conducted in the areas of Mam, Achi, Cakchiquel, and Pokomchi of Guatemala—has been to facilitate on both a specific and general level, our understanding of the worldview of Mayans, with the overall goal to know how to best reach these people with the gospel. Here I must define ‘reach them with the gospel’. This means not only allowing them to observe or hear of the gospel in a western format in Spanish; much to the opposite, inquisition has revealed that most Mayans or persons of Mayan descent think in a way that is most definitely not western, and many understand little to no Spanish. This means that to ‘reach them’, we must effectively: a: present the message in a holistic manner in which their minds can grasp and process, and, b: do so in their heart language.
The major queries and quandaries include the following: What exactly is the worldview of the Mayan person; what are the variations on such a generic in given areas? (i.e. How do the people live and act socially? What are general family, social, and religious structure of the varying groups? What does communication look like?) How do we reach the young indigenous person? What do cultural shift and the dynamic nature of culture mean to us as missionaries today, determined to reach a people that run a gamut in means of language, beliefs, and overall worldview? How do we handle bilingualism among Mayans; this involves the issue of those who are, by heritage, Mayans who may or may not converse in their native language(s),…those who are bilingual to some capacity in Spanish and a given dialect, and those who are completely monolingual with possible small knowledge of Spanish. How do we accommodate for such a diverse language pool? What universals and generalities can we make when speaking of the generic Mayan person? What generalities should we be careful not to make? And the ultimate concern is this: how can we effectively introduce and present the gospel in a way that the Mayan people of Guatemala can understand it and thus, have opportunity to accept it and come to know Christ? This is the crux of the matter at hand.
The process of collecting and sorting through such questions as posed above has been a tedious one. Field research was conducted from 2003-2004 in the areas of the western Pokomchi, Todos Santos Mam, Rabinal Achί, and various Cakchiquel areas. General cultural observation and participant-observation were employed as well as various informal interviews. Other methods include mere conversation with locals, interviews with other learned missionaries, and time spent living among the peoples.