– 2003 –
Important resources for Latin America hot off the press!
Our goals for 2003 included the printing of two important books translated into Spanish – John Calvin: his roots and fruits, by C.Gregg Singer. This book shows Calvin’s continuity with the early Church Fathers in theology, and reviews the Reformer’s contributions in the area of economics, politics, education and family. An important resource for our churches! The second book is Federal husband, by Douglas Wilson, and has been modified to include study questions. Also an important resource for reflection on the family and especially the husband’s role.
Year end trip to Nicaragua
Our Tepeyac school has sought to encouraged and support the two Christian schools administrated by Rev. Isaac and Lilliam Vargas in Managua, Nicaragua. During this school year (ending in November) clothes and school materials were collected, and seven of us (3 teachers from the school) travelled to Managua for a weekend visit and to leave the materials. I (Bill) gave a conference on ‘Violence and the Church’s response’ on Saturday, and we joined the church for services on Sunday. We were received warmly, as always, and could encourage one another in our mutual task of giving Christian, Christ-centered education. I also had the opportunity to show the Costa Ricans a bit of Nicaragua, including a volcano, Lake Nicaragua and beautiful downtown Managua.
The Managua school has been building little by little, and they hope to build another three classrooms above their present 3 rooms (see photos).
Roads were extremely poor in some places, and the violent bouncing of my bus caused the main battery cable to break off at the starter. Fortunately the place we broke down was right in from of the Vargas’s church! So we could make repairs without further difficulty. We thank God for this opportunity to share with God’s people and for safety in travel.
Important book printed by the CLIR
The Reformers of the 16th century realized the importance of the printed word for the transformation of church and society. We believe that sound literature is just as important for Latin America today. The CLIR is committed to providing resources in areas where a Reformed witness is not available. We have just finished such a book – a translation of Gregg Singer’s “John Calvin: his roots and fruits.” This book gives an overview of Calvin’s influence in areas such as theology, politics, economics and family. Any missionary task which stops short of pursuing the transformation of society as a whole is deficient. Calvin recognized this, and so must we.
Thanksgiving – a way of life
It is evident that Paul and the other apostle’s cultivated an attitude of thanksgiving for everything. How different from so many who can only see problems, errors in others, and the negative things of life. The Gospel is truly “Good News!” A life filled with thanksgiving truly is the fruit of knowing God’s grace, in contrast with our own unworthiness. As a family, we wish to give God the thanks and honor for all His mercy, especially in calling unworthy vessels to serve in the cause of missions.
New church plant – cause for thanksgiving!
We are excited about a recent step forward in our ministry – we have begun a new Reformed church in Costa Rica. In April of this year we proposed this project to the Tepeyac church, and communicated our desires to our calling church – Bethany. Both churches have given us their support for this endeavor. While the work load will be more, we feel that it is time to push forward once more in planting Reformed churches in Costa Rica. Aletha will remain active in the school, and I continue to teach in Los Cuadros and at our Seminary. We have been meeting for one month, and are ‘back at the beginning!’ But this time I have musicians (my sons), and a vocalist (Michelle) – the whole family is thoroughly involved. One family from Tepeyac will be helping us out. A Christian brother is renting us space at his private school for Sunday services at a very reasonable rate. Give thanks to God for this opportunity, and we ask for your prayers on behalf of the “Covenant of Grace Reformed Church!”
Looking forward – money matters $$$
From the time of our assignment to the CLIR and Costa Rica in 1997 until now God has allowed us to expand our ministry in tremendous ways. The Reformed churches of Latin America have come together as never before, giving support to one another, sharing resources, encouraging one another. Through the CLIR we have been able to provide resources not available before, as well as sponsor important conferences for the strengthening of church leaders and the defense of the faith. We give thanks to God for this progress – it has been exciting to be a part of this.
We feel we need to communicate our financial situation at present, however, for giving has dropped considerably. Our overall budget for this year (including salary and working expenses) is approximately $140,000. As of September, we have taken in only $46,187, and we have spent $56,153 (using up a small surplus we had from 2002).
Our immediate expenses will be the finishing of our theological journal “Reforma Siglo 21” which is now printed and in the binding process. Total costs for printing, binding and shipping runs approximately $4,000. We have also planned for the printing of books on a Reformed perspective of the family, and the importance of John Calvin’s theology for today. These projects will be dependent upon available funding. And we also have a conference for Guatemala planned for December.
Lester needed full time!
As my duties with the CLIR, our Seminary, the Tepeyac school and our new church have increased, Lester Martínez, a young man from the Tepeyac church, has been a tremendous asset in fulfilling many tasks – from printing to attending correspondence. Lester is involved as both student and administrator of our Seminary, and has a wonderful testimony as a Christian, as an honest worker, and a good steward of God’s resources. I would like to hire Lester full time to help me. Please consider this opportunity in your giving to the CLIR.
São Paulo, Brasil
With over 20 million people who make up the greater metropolitan area, São Paulo has moved up to the status of the second largest city in the world. This is the city that never sleeps, and is the meeting place of people and cultures from all over the world – as is Brazil itself.
The CLIR together with the Presbyterian Church of Brasil, sponsored Dr. Peter Jones to speak on the threat of neo-paganism in 3 major cities. Brasil is the home of many religions, and they have lived together for many years. The “Espirita” religion – a mixture of African religions and white or black magic – has been growing over the years, with more than 4 million people who practice it. The protestant church makes up around 14% of the population, with approximately 22 million people.
A more militant agenda today
But, while syncretism and paganism has been present in Brazil for centuries, the New Paganism, influenced by currents from the US, has made inroads into Brazilian society. I saw the evidence on many newscasts and TV programs. In it’s desire to destroy Christianity, paganism is aggressively seeking to ridicule and rid the world of a biblical world-view. Huge marches of homosexuals were taking place. Transvestites got full coverage on TV, as well as “help” from the state health department in helping them be accepted into society. This new paganism is no longer content to meet secretly around it’s crystal ball. It has come into Main Street with the goal of radically changing the way people look at the world, society, themselves and God. This is a real threat. Dr. Peter Jones carefully but passionately calls Christians to wake up. Paganism is effectively gaining ground. The evidence is all around us. Their program is well planned, well organized, and aimed at success. And if successful, their goal is to obliterate Christianity. What a great moment in history to clearly proclaim the only Lord of the universe! Will we do it?
Chile and the Gospel
As I disembarked from the airplane at 3:00 AM, the change in hemispheres became immediately obvious – Chile was just entering winter! The morning would reveal the gorgeous, snow covered Andean mountains that surround Santiago, the capital city. This would be our place of action for a week. I was looking forward to sharing with Verne Marshal the job of translating conferences on the New Age and a Gospel response for Dr. Peter Jones, as well as giving my own series on “Integral growth for the church.” Little did I know that my expectations were far short of what the Lord had in store for us!
Battle lines drawn
As the first group came together on Monday night, I noticed that some were from the middle and upper class of Chile. The “New Spirituality” of yoga, transcendental meditation and eastern religions has invaded Santiago – and especially the professional class – just as in many other cities of Latin America. Peter Jones’ theme appeared attractive to many: “A spirituality for the Third Millenium.” Each night we had gatherings of people from many parts of the city numbering between 150 and 200 people. At the end of Jones’ conference, there was time for questions, of which there were many. It was very apparent that Jones’ was touching a topic that had great importance for many: “What is true spirituality? Where can I find true spiritual meaning?”
The sword of the Spirit strikes
After the last conference was over, we met with pastors the next morning. Two pastors from the south of Chile had stayed with one of the ladies, named Maya, who was deeply involved in eastern religions, and who had attended each night. They were anxious to share what had happened the night before. Their host was visibly moved by Peter’s final call to seek freedom from guilt and inadequacy only in the God of the bible and Jesus Christ. Weeping, she confessed that all the techniques that she had sought – yoga, meditation, etc., – had not given her this freedom. She confessed her rebellion, and asked Jesus to be her Savior. She said that during the conference she had been arguing with herself and with God inside her head. At one point, in desperation with herself, she had said to God: “If spiritual power cannot be found within me, if I don’t have the power to find meaning and freedom, then why did you create me?” Just then Peter Jones said, “God created us for His glory, to worship and serve Him!” That was God’s answer, and Maya was irresistible drawn to her Creator. We later were able to speak with her, and she confirmed what the pastors had told us. Her face was radiant as she says she can now rest in the arms of the One who Created her, redeemed her, and washed her guilt away in Jesus, God’s Son.
Our conferences with pastors during the day were no less exciting. In the first place, this was the first time that members of three presbyterian denominations have gathered for CLIR. Dissension and doctrinal battles have racked the presbyterian churches in Chile for years, leaving many scars. But God has been purifying His church, and all three groups met with the goal of seeking God’s glory by honoring the Scriptures in their practice. This CLIR itself was a tremendous blessing to all, and the organizers of the event are to be commended for providing an atmosphere that welcomed all. The fact that there was no charge for the conferences, that meals and even lodging was provided for those who needed it, allowed those pastors with little income to participate. One pastor who came every day has to cover three congregations due to a severe shortage of leaders in his denomination. But between all three congregations they are not able to support him, so he must drive taxi as well. The poor fellow fell asleep on more than one occasion, but he made a valiant effort to attend our sessions. May God bless Sergio and reward his commitment.
Dr. Jones went into more depth with the pastors during the day. Again, many expressed their appreciation for the clear way in which Jones helps them understand a sometimes confusing religion. Many questions were asked, and good discussions were had. Praise the Lord for this opportunity to serve Him and His Church!
CONFERENCE FOR ELDERS
The “Gulf of Mexico Presbytery” of the National Presbyterian Church of Mexico has sponsored leadership conferences for all elders of the presbytery for 3 years in a row. I have participated in conferences of the last 2 years. This is a large presbytery, made up of some 30 organized congregations, each congregation having between 5 and 15 daughter churches. This presbytery, along with adjacent ones, has a tremendous record of growth in the past 30 years, and their system of organization, elder participation and lay involvement is admirable. These folks know how to plant churches! Last year we had a maximum of 500 people present, this year the attendance was down, a maximum of 120 elders, pastors and deacons were present.
The presbytery leadership at present has a strong vision for the continued training of elders, and a sincere desire to strengthen biblical and confessional awareness. Last year we touched on some issues which had to do with Reformed liturgy, confessions, etc, and the presbytery invited me this year to address specifically the issue of a Reformed liturgy. Since I am very aware of the different pressures being put upon our churches in Latin America, I was able to develop a presentation that avoided the superficialities of trying to address music or styles in the abstract, and we went to the heart of the matter. My presentation was titled: “A vision of God”, and we reviewed different theological aspects such as “A vision of God’s glory, power, grace, beauty.” We saw that true worship is born from the heart, and the attitude of the worshiper is crucial. The place of God’s Word for personal and congregational renewal was presented as critical for any sort of renewal in worship. I feel that I was used to call the churches to a renewed commitment to the power of the preached Word, and at the same time we were able to talk about many practical issues. The schedule was a full one, as I spoke morning, afternoon and evening on Thursday and Friday, and in the morning on Saturday. Then I preached twice on Sunday in two different churches. The brothers in Tabasco received me very warmly, their affection and sincerity were the only refreshment in the 95+ temperatures! I was able to offer two suitcases full of our literature, all of which promotes a confessional Reformed perspective. I am encouraged by the interest shown by the leaders to truly pursue a vigorous, Reformed practice for their churches. The presbytery has been purchasing 100 copies of our theological journal “Reforma Siglo 21” for two years now. Some of the brethren have expressed interest in trying to get other presbyteries more connected to our CLIR. The brothers have already spoken of inviting me again, or of trying to promote similar activities in other parts of Mexico.
My experience in Tabasco has confirmed once again not only the need for the work our CLIR is doing, but the real possibility of making an impact in important areas of theology in churches like the National Presbyterian Church of Mexico. If we can harness the personal resources of this immense church for missions in Latin America, it would be tremendous. This church has proved itself incomparably in the area of church planting. As I mentioned earlier (see below on “General Assembly”), our CLIR is promoting a vision for a church plant in Panamá. While in Tabasco I presented the need, asked for their prayers, and encouraged them to think about participation in this project. I could see more than one brother ready to go right then – the desire these folks have to see the gospel preached and churches planted is really something to experience! I trust that from all these contacts, God in His providence will grant us latin missionaries soon to open the work in Panamá.
Please give thanks with me for the wonderful experience in Tabasco, for the communion we shared, for the encouragement I was able to bring, and for these dear brethren filled with Christ’s love for the lost. Please pray for continued growth in both numbers and spirituality, and pray for the many elders who are not able to obtain formal training and who are in charge of new mission outposts. Also pray for missionaries for Panamá. May God use us all in the advancement of His kingdom! See fotos at: Tabasco03
CHRISTIAN HIGH SCHOOL CONSTRUCTION
GETS A BOOST!
As the new year commenced, friends of the Tepeyac Christian High School construction project began arriving. Work teams from Grand Rapids Michigan, Escondido California, DeMotte Indiana and Ontario Canada have joined Walter and the Costaricans to give a BIG boost. John Emelander is back from a short visit with family, and everyone is scrambling. See recent developments at the bottom of Construction.
CENTRAL AMERICA CELEBRATES
Over 30 pastors, elders and church members travelled in January from Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Honduras to the conference center on a cold mountaintop called “The Crucero”, in Nicaragua. This is the fourth yearly conference we have held, all with good attendance. Our speakers were: Dr. Alonzo Ramírez from Perú, who spoke on “The covenant husband”, Rev. César Rodríguez from Venezuela who spoke on “Christian ethics: the place of the law” and Dr. Jim Adams who spoke on “The Holy Spirit and Revelation”. All present relished sound teaching accompanied by stimulating delivery, and once again commitments to faithful ministry were made. Another blessing was the Christian CLIR, since this is the only opportunity that many have for communion with Reformed believers outside their country. One highlight of the conference was the presence of baptist and pentecostal pastors and leaders who have become convinced of God’s sovereignty in salvation, and wish to grow in their understanding of the doctrines of grace. See photos at: Central America 2003.