Sunday, 29 November -0001 19:00

Institution of Iglesia Reformada De Cubulco

Written by G. Bok and Rev. C.A. Schouls
The Lord hath done great things for us; whereof we are glad. These words of the returning exiles from Babylon (Ps.126:3) were often in our mind as we experienced the institution of the Reformed Church at Cubulco. This name was taken, rather than Free Reformed (Iglesia Reformada Libre) as it was feared that such a name may be interpreted as having strong political overtones; this is understandable in a land where revolutions, "reformations" and freedom fighters are often remembered in the names of streets, plazas and parks. One of the main streets of Guatemala City is "Avenida Reforma"--the Avenue of Reform.

The institution of this church took place on Sunday, October, 1, 1995. The undersigned attended this occasion: Elder George Bok representing the sending church of Vineland and Pastor Carl Schouls on behalf of the denominational Mission Committee. We want to pass on some impressions of this event and of our trip in general.

Although flying time is only about six hours, our trip down was made very long by a delay of more than six hours in Houston, Texas. We arrived in Guatemala City around 7:30 that evening. Rev. Herfst was there to meet us and to guide us through the outstretched arms of beggars and men trying to carry our suitcases for a few Quetzals (1 Q = $.20 US). After a refreshing fruit drink and some pastry enjoyed in the lunchroom of a good hotel, we retired for the night behind the secure walls of the only Protestant seminary in Latin America. This school, founded by dispensationalist Christians in the early part of this century, has had a great influence throughout Latin America. Some professors teach the Reformed view on the way of salvation.

Driving through Guatemala City the next morning and doing some business, we were struck by the great number of heavily armed guards everywhere: not only at banks, but at postal stations, grocery stores, malls. Some wore ornate uniforms and directed traffic with great flair and authority; others stood in sombre silence, dressed in jungle fatigues and fingering old (but deadly looking) M-14 rifles.

That afternoon we drove to Cubulco. It is amazing to think that on our way back we flew over Cubulco eight minutes after take-off (and saw "The Bridge" from more than 30,000 feet up). By land the trip normally takes five hours; this time it was six, in part due to the various rock and land slides which had blocked the highway--not uncommon during the rainy season. Having been welcomed by all (except the Ottens who were in the City for a seminar and did not return until Saturday), we sat down to a good Guatemalan dinner at the Herfst's place, in the company of Mary Overduin and the de Sterke's as well as the Herfst family.That evening an informal meeting was held in which we gave some pastoral advice regarding a case, advice which was carried out with good results. Tired, we tumbled into our beds in the house formerly occupied by the Herfst's.

At six o'clock the next morning (4:00 a.m. for us poor "easterners") we set off, as part of a party of thirty-two, on a long trek to the village of Pachijul. Readers will remember this is the place where an irrigation system has been built, supplying eight families with better crops. It was to be dedicated that day. Guatemalans love ceremonies of all kinds and good use is made of this as opportunities to preach the gospel. More than an hour by four-wheel drive, one and a-half hour on foot, then the same amount of time in a boat (all thirty-two of us in a 25 feet type of dory, "speeding" along, propelled by a 10 H.P. outboard). The boat had been given to the community by the archbishop some years ago, after a clandestine grave for some hundred locals had been uncovered. If only the archbishop knew who were in that boat now!

As we write this, you must not think that all this went smoothly; the boat was late and could not come up to the meeting-place where we waited because the water was jammed with logs, silt and sewage, due in part, to the heavy rains. As we waited, men called back and forth through the river valley: to us they were just sounds of men hollering but they were passing messages and this haunting sound will not soon be forgotten.

After the slow and uncomfortable boat ride, there followed another hour and a-half walking along mostly a creek bed. The current was fast and powerful. When we finally reached our destination, after we panted our way to the top of a high hill, we found a very primitive hut, made of sticks and clay roof tiles, dirt floor--no water of any kind of toilet facilities. Pigs, chickens and dogs had free rein of the place; this, together with the rain which fell that afternoon created a soggy, mucky mess, the sight, feel and smell of which is best left to your imagination. But you cannot imagine it. Suffice it to say that, after various washing, some of our clothes are still not clean.

We visited the irrigation system and were most impressed by the work which had gone into this and by the obvious results. May the Lord continue to bless this and use it to provide a further opening for the gospel.

That night, the "program" started at 6:30 (only five hours behind schedule). About 200 people were present, jamming the hut and peering in through the "Ôwindows" and "doors." Rev. Herfst preached from Psalm 104 and Romans 2:4, stressing that God's good gifts are to make us respond in repentance and faith. An unforgettable evening of singing and speeches, all by torch-light in this crowded hut. After the ceremony, a meal of tamales and mountain coffee was served. We had seen the tamales being made and if it is true that one should never look into the kitchen of a restaurant, the same principle applies here, but more so. We politely accepted one tamale each (ground corn meal, wrapped in banana leaves and boiled or steamed for hours--no taste to our palate, but they and the Herfsts ate them with delight), then wandered outside where they just happened to slip out of our hands in front of some dogs. Granola bars saved the day. Smoke from the torches, smoke from the open kitchen fire, dogs and fleas, babies being wiped, children crawling around on the dirt floor--had it not been for the fact that the men and boys were all dressed in (mainly second-hand) western clothing, you could have imagined yourself in New Guinea or in the Amazon rain forest. Yet, the light of the gospel shines also here. It was moving to watch people return to their homes late at night: little pin points of light slowly moving up the mountains sides--the light going into the darkness. What a picture of our mission work!

Although we tried to sleep there with at least fifty other people, one of us found it absolutely impossible (the dog bumping around under the bed did not help, neither did the lady sitting at the end of the bed), and we ended up in another hut nearby where Mr. Bok spent the night in a hammock (fitfully sleeping because he was sitting more than lying due to the shortness of the contraption) while the other intrepid adventurer "crashed" on the dirt floor, his head pillowed on his lumpy old army-surplus rucksack. He, who had not been able to sleep in the other place, now slept like a baby. Perhaps it was because the host and hostess were sleeping right next to him, with their children. It gave one a feeling of camaraderie not usually experienced in even the best of hotels!

The return trip was uneventful. We walked, climbed, waded, waited, boated, walked, climbed, waded and then found our vehicle with a flat tire! We did manage to stop at the bridge and walked across it. What a piece of work this is! At a length of 286 metres, it spans a river which otherwise cannot be crossed for miles in either direction. It has been a great help for the people and also allows some of them to come to town (and to church!). We arrived home in the middle of Friday, tired, unbelievably filthy and utterly exhausted.

Would we do it again? Yes! The sight of these people listening to the preaching of the gospel, the warm smiles received at our poor attempts to communicate with them, their gentleness and civility despite their extreme poverty, the beauty of the landscape and the sheer exhileration of doing something (in middle age!) which is strenuous and, to us at least, a little bit dangerous, and all this on the mission field where we are constantly reminded that God does gather His church from all nations and throughout all ages--it all combines into a joyful and beautfiul experience, the memories of which will last a lifetime.

But the best was still to come. Saturday was the beginning of our highlight. Early in the morning we drove out with Rev. Herfst to meet people from the far side of a mountain range who had already walked more than two hours. They normally would walk the entire length of six hours (distance is measured in hours, not in miles), but because they all wanted to be present for this great event, the children came along too, and this full walk would have taken too long. We drove out 32 kilometres to meet them. The trail was even narrower than the earlier one and the scenery just as beautiful. Lush greens, fertile fields, the smell of pine trees in the upper regions--parts of Guatemala are truly beautiful! Sixteen people awaited us at the end of the road and climbed into the back of the truck, among them a 13-year old girl who was going to Cubulco for the first time in her life.

At 5:00 p.m. the usual Saturday service started. (As you know, services are held on Saturday evening and Sunday morning for the people need time to walk home again.) Elder Bok presented the Communion set and Baptismal font which Vineland had sent along with them as a gift to the new sister church. Santiago (who was ordained as elder the next day and who helps Rev. Herfst so faithfully) thanked us and said, among other things, "We cannot repay you, but our Lord will recompense you." Pastor Herfst preached on Ephesians 2:1-10 (Mary Overduin translating for us); a most fitting passage. The Form for Baptism and the questions of Confession of Faith were read. What a moving sight to see six families come forward to be baptized and others to make Confession of their faith.

On Sunday morning we met at 8:00 a.m. The service was begun with singing and some announcements; the Form for the Installation of Elders and Deacons was read (this is a long form in English--imagine hearing it in Spanish and then having to listen to it being translated, phrase by phrase, into Achi). Santiago and Chemito (whose real name is Jose Maria) were installed as Elders; Froilan as Deacon. This was the actual moment of institution. When they quietly said "Si" in response to the questions, a shiver went up my spine. The sermon followed, based on 1 Peter 2:6-10. Pastor Schouls spoke some words of greeting and encouragement, referring to 2 Timothy 3:16 & 17. Then the Lord's Supper was administered for the first time. Because there is no room to sit around a table, all stood outside, on the covered back porch. Solemnly the elements were distributed. Not a sound was heard--even the little children who were watching seemed struck by the weight of the moment. After the conclusion of the administration of the sacrament, Rev. Herfst, for the first time, dismissed the congregation with the benediction.

To report on this in this rather factual manner cannot begin to convey the depth of feeling present with us. To see the evidences of the Lord's work in such a powerful way made us so small and so thankful. God does still work and the 70 to 80 members of this church are a testimony to this. May His blessing rest upon them, so that they will grow in knowledge and in numbers and in the fear of the Lord.

That evening we had a get-together with all the Free Reformed people. Pastor Schouls preached on the faith of the Syro-Phoenician woman (Matt.15). Monday morning early we headed back to Guatemala City. Gary and Martha DeSterke with their children and Mary drove us in the Suburban. The afternoon allowed us time for a quick visit to Antigua Guatemala, the old capital. A market ("Special price for you today, Amigo. How much you pay?"), a ruined convent, a restaurant in which we heard modern Dutch from the next table, a brooding, cloud-covered volcano looming over the small town--all these scenes tumble over you and stay with you. And all these scenes, interesting, compelling though they may be, will pass away.

The one scene that will stay is that pictured by those little torches carried off into that huge darkness. The light of God's Word cannot be extinguished!

We heartily commend this work to your prayerful and generous concern. May the Church of Jesus Christ at Cubulco be daily in all our prayers. But, let there then also be prayers of thanksgiving for what God has done. To Him alone be the glory!

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