Sunday, 29 November -0001 19:00

Culbulco Says Goodbye to the Herfsts

Written by Garry Postma
This was our last trip to Cubulco, Guatemala for the purpose of visiting Rev. Ken Herfst and his family. For ten years we made regular trips to Cubulco for consultation and planning purposes. This trip, however, was to be a little different. Our mandate from the Mission Board was to simply be there for the Herfst family and for the Achi people as they take leave of one another. In addition, we were also to help usher in a new missionary and implement a new field administration.

As Rev. VanderMeyden and I arrived in Guatemala City on the evening of May 9th to be greeted by Rev. Herfst, we had already acquainted ourselves with several books on the transition of missionaries from the mission field back to home life. We were made aware that this is a very difficult time, and in a certain sense, not unlike a time of bereavement. As we witnessed the parting of Rev. Herfst and his family from Cubulco and especially from the Achi, we saw that this was indeed true.

Often our thoughts would go back to how things were when we first visited Cubulco. We had just become involved in the hospital with AMG and Word and Deed. Looking back, we can now see that the Lord used the call of the hospital to open our eyes and hearts to the spiritual needs of the Achi in Cubulco and the surrounding area. But at the time, as we uncertainly moved ahead in establishing a mission post in Cubulco, we must admit to a degree of apprehension. Both Rev. Herfst and the Mission Board were new to the area and new to the work of missions in general. We really were strangers and greenhorns in a Spanish/Indian town, whose inhabitants were tightly bound to a hybrid religion of Mayan superstition and Roman Catholicism. We recalled watching a religious parade of intoxicated Achi dancers in full costume, and we sensed a strange and evil darkness, even though it was day time. In his recent remarks to Synod 2002 and more recently at a farewell evening with the Vineland congregation (June 23), Rev. Herfst shared with us how this dark spectacle filled him with despair and he wondered how and where he would ever begin to bring the gospel. The Lord graciously led him to the words of Ephesians 2:4 ÐÒÔBut GodÉÓ These words would strengthen him time and again in the face of many obstacles, disappointments and uncertainties.

When we look back over these 10 years, how often must we admit to small faith and small thinking. How often we have acted as if it was our work in the first place and not GodÕs. We recall times when we would sit down around a table and work out short-term and long-term plans. We would get up from our chairs, tired, but feeling satisfied that now we finally have things in order, only to see the Lord intervene, closing our doors and opening other doors. And He opened so many doors! At times we could hardly keep up. Ten years ago names of men such as Santiago, Chemas, Alejandro, Froilian, and Santos were unknown to us. Now we know them and love them as brothers in Christ--godly leaders in the church. Ten years ago, mountain towns (aldeas) such as Chirramos, Patuy, Pichal, Los Pajales were insignificant and unpronounceable names on a map. Now we know and treasure them as living congregations. Ten years ago there was basically no Reformed witness in the Cubulco area. Now there is a Reformed church for worshipping in Achi and Spanish, preaching stations/congregations in several Aldeas, the Alpha and Omega Translation Centre for the translation of the Old Testament into Achi, a Bible Institute for leadership training of church leaders, a radio program for evangelism and discipling, a Reformed bookstore, Achi adult Sunday school classes, young people classes, womenÕs Bible classes and a Vacation Bible School. And there is so much more that could be done.

When we reflect on all this, we can only say with the poet of Psalm 115, ÒNot unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto thy name give glory, for thy mercy and for they truthÕs sakeÓ.

We arrived in Cubulco on Friday evening. Plans were to meet with Rev. Herfst, Rev. Everts and Nico Kattenberg on Saturday to review the various aspects of the work to date and ask Rev. Herfst what he ÔenvisionedÕ for the future (by GodÕs grace). Where should the work go from here? Where should our emphasis be? As the Herfsts were to leave early Monday morning, we felt it was important to get a summary and perspective from Rev. Herfst as part of the debriefing process. After our Saturday ÔbusinessÕ meeting was behind us, Rev. Herfst could devote himself fully to taking leave of the people he has ministered to during the past 10 years. This included the Saturday evening service in Spanish, the Sunday morning Achi Sunday school, the Sunday morning Achi service and the final farewell service of Sunday evening. Following the departure of the Herfsts, we would have ample time to meet with all the other workers individually and the departments and consistory collectively and ask the same questions of them as asked of Rev. Herfst, and also visit an aldea.

Because of the language barrier, one is somewhat at a disadvantage in fully capturing all that was said on Saturday night and the following Sunday. But non-verbal communication sometimes can tell you more than verbal communication. It was very obvious to us that there is a strong bond of love between the Herfsts and the people. This came across very clearly in the services, in the streets and in the homes. As Rev. Herfst mentioned at Synod, the farewell visits at his home finally stopped on Monday morning at 3 a.m. This was profoundly moving to him. The Sunday farewell service, however, said it all.

The Iglesia Reformada in Cubulco was Ôfilled to the raftersÕ Sunday evening. Chairs and benches had to be borrowed from other churches to accommodate the people. Rev. VanderMeyden and I took independent head counts and more or less agreed on approximately 450 people in attendance, plus a couple of dogs (maybe they were saying good bye too).

Rev. Herfst preached from Luke 12:32, ÒFear not, little flock: for it is your FatherÕs pleasure to give you the kingdom.Ó Though it was evident that many in the congregation were filled with a measure of apprehension about the future, the Word of Christ directs them to His Father. ÒFear not,Ó He says. This flock may be small and have little in the way of resources, wisdom or strength, yet being blessed does not depend on size or strength but on the love that the Father has for His sheep. Noting that it is the FatherÕs desire to give nothing less than the kingdom, Rev. Herfst sought to encourage the congregation. It is His flock and He will look after His flock as the good Shepherd. This is already evidenced in the fact that He has given them a new pastor in Rev. Everts.

There were many other speakers and song presentations. Included were representatives from the mountain aldea churches, local Cubulco churches such as the Nazarene Church, the translation center (Alpha and Omega), Compromac and Conalfa (community literacy organizations), the hospital and the local radio station. It was also good to listen to representatives from several community groups recognizing Rev. Herfst for helping them in various community-related projects. The suspension ÔswingÕ bridge which some of us were ÔprivilegedÕ to cross, is a good example of this.

What was especially moving to me was the singing. The Spanish songs are wonderful and were well sung, but it is the Achi songs that really connect with the people. So many of the Achi are illiterate, especially the women and small children, and they know little if any Spanish. But they know the Achi songs from memory. It has always been a highlight for me to see and hear these quiet people, who speak so softly, sing songs so enthusiastically in their native tongue to the praise of God. Once again we are reminded of the importance of Achi services, an Achi Old Testament and literacy programs for the Achi. Our missionÕs aim is to bring the Word of God to the Achi in their language and in their environment.

Rev. Herfst has truly been enabled by the Lord as His instrument to do that. As one Achi man said that evening: Òhe came to us, he visited us in our villages--and if he had not, I do not know that I would be a Christian today.Ó For those of us who have had the privilege to go along with our brother on his treks, we can certainly appreciate that, humanly speaking, bringing the gospel to the Achi in their village homes is no small thing. One needs physical stamina for the strenuous treks. An iron stomach helps too. Yet these are small things compared to the joy of worshipping in a simple village church with fellow Achi Christians who were all brought out of darkness by the power of the spoken Word during the past 10 years into the glorious light of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

It is not hard to understand that it was so difficult for the Herfst family to leave. This was their lifeÕs work. By GodÕs grace they gave it all they had. They were persistent and untiring in their work. Their Christian home was always open for the Achi. They were keenly sensitive to local cultures and customs. So much had to be learned and experienced by trial and error. Together as Missionary and Mission Board we had to learn about the realities and details of mission work. Often we were confronted with situations for which we together had to search for answers. With sadness we acknowledge mistakes, disappointments, regrets and even sin, but we may thank God for all that He has done through our brother and sister and their family. Ken and Jackie, may the Lord who has so blessed your labours in Guatemala, bless your labours in Vancouver Island as richly.

The Lord has chosen a people for Himself among the Achi. It is truly a humbling thought that we as a denomination, and Rev. Herfst in particular, have been commissioned to bring His Word to these people. This commission has not been cancelled with the departures of the Herfsts. For Rev. Herfst the commission remains--to bring the same message of the same Master to a people who too are as needy as the Achi (as we all are). Only the geography has changed. For the Free Reformed Churches (via the Mission Board), the commission remains to bring the same message of the same Master to the needy Achi of Cubulco and the surrounding aldeas. May the Lord strengthen us all to do this, whether we are mission personnel or mission supporters. May the Lord graciously bless His work to His glory.

(In the next issue I hope to provide some information regarding future plans D.V.)

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