Sunday, 29 November -0001 18:42

Iglesia Reformada Ð ÒJesœs es el CaminoÓ Caserio Pichal

Written by Rev. Ken Herfst
The words of the apostle Paul, Òif anyone love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be anathema, MaranthaÓ are words that impacted me in so many ways. They formed the text for my ordination sermon some 9 years ago. The exclusiveness of the Gospel is a theme that has provided a stimulus throughout my ministry. There is but one way to God and that way is found in the Person of GodÕs Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Given all that Christ has done, given all that He is, it is inconceivable that anyone should experience blessedness that comes from God apart from loving His Son Jesus Christ. But if one is to know and love Christ, one needs to hear this message, a message that is as glorious as it is exclusive. There is a Saviour! These truths give the gospel an urgency, especially if we understand that Paul places this penetrating statement in the light of the Second Coming of Christ.

How does this translate into practice on the field? I recall being overwhelmed by these truths as I made one of my first exploratory surveys into the area north of the Chixoy River. Walking through the community of Pichal I was gripped by the truth that unless the people that live in this community know and love the Lord Jesus Christ, they will be eternally cursed. You watch children play, you see women walking with baskets on their heads, you see men stop and wave as they work in their plots of land É and you realize that there is nothing theoretical about the gospel and its claims and promises.

It was therefore with a sense of profound gratitude that we were privileged to see the Word of God take hold in this community. Today there is a small building in which members of the congregation living in this area meet every week and give testimony to the truth that ÒJesus is the Way.Ó

Early History Ð Pachijul
Shortly after our arrival in Cubulco, a woman journalist from Alaska was covering Holy Week celebrations in San Cristobal, Alta Verapaz--the neighbouring state. In the bustle of a procession, one of the local women couldnÕt find her child and began screaming that the journalist had kidnapped her child. Many came running and began beating the American. The child was later found; it had simply wandered off. In the meantime, the woman was taken to Cob‡n and later airlifted to Guatemala City for medical treatment. These kinds of suspicions run deep in indigenous people and we felt the fear even in Cubulco. Mothers would take their children and cross to the other side of the street if they saw us coming. Obviously, we needed to do something to gain their trust.

The opportunity came as we came into contact with the community leaders who lived in the Chixoy River area. In the early 80Õs a hydro-electric dam was built by harnessing the Chixoy River. The river itself rose considerably as it formed a reservoir. This proved to be a major disruption in these peopleÕs lives. Those living along the river bank were forced to leave their homes and move to a new community built by the government just outside of Cubulco. For those living in the surrounding mountains, crossing the river at traditional crossing points was impossible at certain times of the year; rushing water during the beginning of the rainy season and mud flats left by the receding water necesitated detours that would take people a few hours upstream to find a more suitable crossing. Emergency crossings at night were impossible. School age children living on the far side of the river in Chi Tomax couldnÕt attend school during a number of months. For quite some time, the community leaders had tried to find some way to build a suspension bridge at the key crossing point. Their efforts had proven fruitless. Various organizations had promised help, only to go back on their promises. They approached me as well on the matter. I wasnÕt overly hopeful, but promised to look into the possibility.

During the following furlough a brother from our Chilliwack church responded to the appeal and together with a group of Christian builders provided the necessary funding. We entered a tri-party contract with the local government, the communities and our Mission. The government and Mission provided the materials and contractor, while the communities provided the manual labour. There was plenty of that. The bridge was built nine kilometers from the nearest road and all materials had to be brought in on the backs of the men: over 1,000 bags of cement, 7 cables 280 m long, etc. Regular visits were made to the area and I worked alongside the local men. In the evenings we often held Bible studies with a group of interested people in Pachijul, one of the communities affected by the river. A number of engineers provided technical help and after about a year of setbacks and advances, we participated in the opening ceremonies. John 14:6 was the text from which I preached an exclusive, yet glorious gospel: ÒJesus said, ÔI am the Way, the Truth and the Life; No one comes to the Father, except by Me.ÕÓ

In the meantime, our contact with the group in Pachijul continued and we began a preaching station there. Periodically, people from the neighbouring community of Pichal would attend the services there. The group remained small, however, until the conversion of Santos Sunœn Ju‡rez.

Developments in Pichal
I met Santos on one of my excursions with the local literacy supervisor. He showed a real interest in the gospel and responded to my suggestion to attend a Bible Course using TEE (Theological Education by Extension) materials with other local men in Chivaquito, the largest community in the area and the location of a relatively large Roman Catholic group. Initially, the interest was high. However, a visit by Pope John Paul II to Guatemala, revived the local commitment to the Roman Catholic church and I was no longer welcome to give the classes in Chivaquito. Santos, on the other hand, had heard enough of the course to realize that his life was not what it should be. Although he was a leader in the Roman Catholic group, he had a second Ôwife,Õ and mistreated his official wife regularly. Added to this was his drinking problem. Often he would go to Cubulco to purchase necessary items for the family, only to waste his money on alcohol. Many times he returned home empty handed.

Santos asked me to continue visiting his home and after a number of weeks it was evident that God was working a real change in his life. It was not long afterward that he began talking to everyone about Christ. I will never forget the day when Lucia, SantosÕ wife came to me with tears in her eyes thanking me for being instrumental in SantosÕ change. The way he treated his wife was completely different. What was more: he regularly came to her asking for forgiveness for his behaviour and treatment of her in the past years--something that only grace could accomplish.

One of his young sons, Miguel, would regularly ÔsmuggleÕ a Bible to the outhouse and spend time reading! Neighbours began attending the services as well and we discussed the need to build a church building to serve the communities of Pachijul and Pichal. Even though we had worked in Pachijul for a number of years, the results were pretty slim. Pichal, on the other hand, is a larger community and we felt it would be better from a strategic perspective to build the church building there. A group of young people from the West helped with the construction of the simple adobe (sun-baked mud brick) structure. Unfortunately, heavy rains have damaged the structure and we will need to rebuild the church next year. Adobe is not the ideal building material in this area due to the quality of the earth, and we will probably go for a wooden structure.

Since the establishing of the church here, it has been an uphill battle. An extreme Pentecostal group came in shortly after we established a foothold in this strongly Roman Catholic area and convinced many of the people attending our services that their version of the gospel was more appealing. As a result of their efforts, there is now a small Pentecostal church building up the hill from our church in the same community.

One of the key men from Pachijul, Ram—n, a Ladino (Guatemalan of Spanish descent) tends to discriminate against the leadership that Santos provides, because Santos is Ach’. Attempts to deal with the inter-personal conflict proved fruitless. However, as it turned out, Ram—n too had another woman in his life. He since has confessed this and appears to be repentant, but he still finds it hard to be a part of the congregation. Because of his position of influence in Pachijul, his attitude hinders others from real commitment to the congregation.

On the other hand, the congregation is growing slowly with people coming from other neighbouring communities: Xinicati II and Chivaquito. Not only this, but the members from Pichal were instrumental in evangelizing Xeœl where today there is another Reformed Church. Santos continues to be very involved in the new group of Los Pajales as well, where in late October we dedicated another church building and where there is a growing group of believers. Furthermore, the interest in Chivaquito has really increased to the point where the congregation holds services there once a week. With the current situation, it is very likely that Chivaquito itself will have enough members to construct a church building in the new year.

This is a poor area and most families supplement their income by trips to the coastal farms to either pick coffee or men go to work on the sugar plantations for months at a time. There are times when this affects attendance considerably.

Still, as we look back over the years, we are confident that in GodÕs purposes, He will continue to work in these communites. Like all of our congregations, Pichal is a young church. There are reasons for joy É and reasons for concern. Yet, there are those here who truly love the Lord Jesus Christ--and this is what it is all about.

Prayer points:

  • For Santos Sunœn and his family. Visiting the families that attend the services as well as supporting the new works in Xeœl and Los Pajales is a challenge because of the distances involved. Pray for him.
  • Unity in the congregation. Guatemala has a history of discrimmination against indigenous peoples. Although we regularly preach against this, some attitudes are deeply woven into the fabric of society. Pray that our churches might truly have a ministry of reconciliation.
  • Pray that God would raise up a godly leadership. Two members of the church attend the Bible Institute.
  • Praise God for the fact that there are Christians here who are making a difference in these communities where only a few years ago, there were no Christians at all.
  • Pray for the witness of the congregation. There are still others in the surrounding communities who have resisted the Word and neither know nor love our Lord Jesus Christ.
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