Thursday, February 28, 2008

A Different Kind of Rain

I wanted to write a follow-up post about our most recent trip to Guatemala. This was the first time that a group had gone from our church on a church-to-church partnership as a part of the larger convention-to-convention partnership between the BGCM and Guatemalan Baptist Conventions. As I shared in the previous post, the Lord's blessings upon us were abundant and very evident each step of the way. From the miraculous provision of translators to the wonderful response of the children and the churches to the VBS activities, the time in the public schools, and the evening training conferences, all in all the week was a mountaintop experience--both literally and spiritually.

The two churches that we conducted the VBS sessions in were on mountaintops on the opposite sides of a valley where the main highway runs through the town. Unlike previous trips to the area when the skies had been mostly clear each day, we had overcast skies most days. In fact, we were in the midst of the clouds on several occasions as they rolled in over the mountains and surrounded us. Despite that, there was no rainfall until after our work in Cantel had finished and we were returning toward Guatemala City. That day it did rain considerably, a rather unusual occurence as this isn't their rainy season.

The title of this post though suggests a different kind of rain and that's what I wanted to share about in this follow-up post. I received an email on Monday or Tuesday of this week from Carol, our partnership liaison in Guatemala, who was an invaluable aid to us in the children's activities this past week. Her heart is in children's ministry and she directs that aspect of the convention's work there in addition to facilitating partnership activities. She had received a phone call from the pastor of the Joshua 1:9 Baptist church in Cantel, the first church where we worshipped on Sunday evening and where we held the first 2 days of VBS. He told her that it was "raining children" in their church. They had experienced a tremendous influx of new children as a result of the week's activities and had already had to name some new Sunday school teachers to respond to the need. I'm overjoyed to hear such an exciting report from this church.

I also failed to mention in the previous post that the pastor of the other church where we held VBS on the third day and conducted the evening training conferences has taken to heart many of the concepts shared in our previous pastoral training workshops--especially in the area of strategic planning. He had worked up a detailed plan for follow-up of the activity in the public school where we went on Tuesday (with 562 kids enrolled) and presented it to the school's director while we were there that day. It was well received by the director and a lady who functions as a coordinator for community relationships. The church hopes to offer after-school activities for children that would include tutoring and marketable skills as well as conferences for parents. It is exciting to see these churches respond to the challenge of impacting their community in positive ways with the gospel--living missionally.

This Sunday evening our team will have the entire worship service to share a report about our experiences in Guatemala this past week. I'm thrilled to be able to share with the church body what God is doing there.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Quick update from Guatemala

This is the first time I´ve had more than a couple of minutes to sit at a computer that had internet access since we arrived here last Saturday, and we´re being picked up in 30 mins. for a trip to Antigua for a little tourism on our last day here in Guatemala so this will be brief.

Just a word or two about the numbers of kids we worked with and the response we had in the various activities. We had a great worship service on Sunday evening out in Cantel in one of the 3 churches that we worked with this week. I found out on Saturday that I was preaching, so had the evening to put together a message. We taught Bible stories in 3 different public schools on Mon., Tues. and Weds. The enrollments for the schools were as follows: 305, 562, and 250. Our team of 5 had its hands full getting around to all of the classes between 9 and 12 or so in the mornings, but we had some assistance from some of the local church members in passing out cookies, crowd control, etc. The Lord also miraculously supplied some translators to help us when those who were scheduled to do so had conflicts. We had stopped in at a photocopy shop that we just randomly stopped at on Monday morning on the way to the first school and there found two twin brothers who had lived in New Jersey and were bilingual. They were Christians and agreed to help us for the 3 days of working in the schools and the afternoon VBS times. Our third translator was a girl probably in her early 20s who is a medical student and studies in Cuba. She was home for a break and was lined up by one of the local pastors to help.

I translated most days for Janis Mansker, our children´s minister, and we took the older children´s classes--5th and 6th graders. Janis would share some of her personal testimony, followed by a Bible story, and then gave the children an opportunity to receive Christ. We had a good response in each classroom, with only a few indicating they had no interest or had further questions. The majority either indicated on a response card we had them do that they had either prayed to receive Christ that day or that they were already previously Christians.

We conducted the afternoon VBS from 3 til 5 each of those same days in 2 of the 3 churches--2 in the church where we had services on Sunday night, and then 1 in the church where we had evening leadership training conferences for children´s workers. We had about 150 each of the first 2 days in VBS and then about 130 the third day in the other church.

About 70 people or so attended the 3 nights of training classes for children´s workers and Janis and 2 of our children´s SS teachers led out in the conferences and all did an outstanding job. There was good interaction and questions from the participants.

Well, my time is about done so I´m going to have to wrap this up for now. I´ve got some other things I´d like to share about meeting to encourage some pastors in some other areas near Cantel where we were, as well as some of the impressions of the week and the time spent with the beautiful children here, but those will have to wait until later. Thanks to all who have been praying for our trip. The Lord has really blessed our time and kept us safe and healthy as well.

I´ll post a follow-up to this one when I get back to Missouri.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Hinkle is non-Political?

In the most recent edition of The Pathway, the state paper published by the Missouri Baptist Convention, editor Don Hinkle makes the rather astounding claim that neither he nor the Pathway should be counted among those as involved in denominational politics. His exact words are these: “I expect to be criticized and I understand that people will not always agree with my position – that is the nature of being a state newspaper editor. All I ask is that as we debate difficult issues, we do so void of personal attacks. I understand that many are involved now in convention politics (I, nor this newspaper, should be counted among them), but it seems too many are falling to the temptation of using politics of personal destruction. How does such behavior bring honor and glory to God?”

I’ll freely confess to being one who has been critical of Hinkle in the past, and no doubt I’ll find occasion to criticize him in the future. I do concur wholeheartedly with his call that debate about denominational issues be free from personal attacks. I sincerely hope and trust that in the future that editor Hinkle will abide by his own words.

As to the rather preposterous claim that neither he nor the Pathway are involved in convention politics, one need merely peruse practically any back issue of the paper to find abundant evidence to the contrary. In his first column of the year, Hinkle extols Al Mohler as the right man at the right time for the presidency of the SBC. He even claims to have spoken with Mohler last June, urging him to pray and seek God’s will about the timing of allowing his named to be placed in nomination. Hinkle’s column goes on to urge Missouri Baptists to attend the convention in Indianapolis and vote for Mohler. (Baptist Press reported today that Mohler has withdrawn his name from consideration due to health issues that include surgery in the near future for a pre-cancerous tumor in his colon).

In addition to the blatantly political nature of the above-mentioned editorial, the Pathway’s coverage of the ongoing legal battles between the five “renegade” institutions (to use Hinkle’s terminology) and the MBC has been nothing short of a classic demonstration of denominational politics at its worst. The attempt to vilify those associated with these institutions and their ministries is purely yellow journalism and politicking. Added to that are the constant attacks on CBF and the BGCM with ungrounded and unsubstantiated accusations of these groups being theologically liberal.

No, I’m afraid that Hinkle’s expectations to be criticized will certainly not be in vain. When one actively engages in denominational politics and then denies such activity, criticism is both justifiable and inevitable.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Further Reflections on Guatemala

I had mentioned the idea of following up my previous post about the most recent trip to Guatemala with some additional reflections. I apologize that I’m just now getting around to doing so. I wanted to explain a bit about why the Baptist General Convention of Missouri has focused on leadership training in the western part of the country for our partnership efforts. When we first entered into the partnership with the Guatemalan Baptist Convention, we asked them to assess their own needs as a convention and suggest some areas in which we might be of assistance to them. I may be a little bit “old school” in this regard, but it’s my conviction (based upon some fairly extensive reading in the field of missiology as well as first-hand experience in Latin America for some 16 years) that cross-cultural missionaries can make one of their most meaningful and long-lasting contributions to the task of reaching a nation or people group for Christ and equipping believers in that setting to reproduce themselves when those efforts are done in cooperation with national believers.

I’m fully aware that this begs the question somewhat of what to do with there are no (or perhaps just a handful) of national Christians living in the culture. But when such believers do exist and have developed their own leadership structures—be that a convention-like entity or a similar body—to ignore these recognized leaders and fail to take their counsel under advisement in planning and executing mission strategy seems to be both counterproductive and a demonstration of an attitude of superiority or paternalism. Our focus on leadership training in western Guatemala is the direct result of the Guatemala Baptist Convention leadership having identified with us this area as being one of strategic importance in their work. We were informed when we were exploring with them about partnership possibilities that this part of the country had received very little in outside assistance, unlike some other areas that had experienced ongoing partnerships with some Baptist state conventions from the U.S.

While we haven’t had the degree of involvement I would desire from pastors and churches affiliated with our convention in the partnership, we’ve been able to meet our commitment to offer a training course each six months, beginning in January 2007. We’ve already tentatively set the dates for the next session for July 14-18 of this year. The response to our efforts has been overwhelmingly positive. The number of pastors and leaders participating has increased with each training conference, maxing out this past time at the number of 70 that we had established as an upper limit to keep the event financially feasible for our convention. The affirmation we’ve received both from the convention leaders and the conference participants has certainly served to confirm that what we’re doing is meeting needs.

We’re just a week away from the first of what I hope will be several church-to-church trips in this partnership. Our team met yesterday afternoon and were joined by one of the ladies from St. Louis who will be accompanying us this time. It turns out that I knew her daughter from the time she served as a journeyman in Argentina. As the Disney song goes, “It’s a small world after all.” We still have a few loose ends to wrap up, but it seems that the trip is coming together. The church is having a special commissioning time and prayer for us at the beginning of the service this Sunday. Well, I need to wrap this up and move on to some other things. Thanks for reading and for praying for our upcoming trip.