Sunday, 29 November -0001 18:42

A Living Hope In Xeul

Written by Ken and Jackie Herfst
Xeul (pronounced Shay-ule) is a community that lies nestled at the bottom of a gorge some 40 kms. north of Cubulco. This community is notorious for its witch doctors and up until recently has been resistant to the gospel. Initially, I visited this area about 5 years ago. We donated a Bible to the community leader and invited people to come to a service at night. An elderly woman and her daughter joined us for a time of singing and meditation. Since that time, the woman moved on to another aldea. The general atmosphere remained hostile to the gospel and anti-gringo.

About a year and a half ago, Santos Sunun, the fellowship leader in Pichal suggested that we consider reaching out to this community once again. As we planned our strategy for the new year, it was decided that the local believers would spearhead the evangelistic effort here. Because of its remoteness, there is a strong suspicion about foreigners. The first efforts were difficult. Few people were interested. A number of people responded that "a gringo had come through the area a few years back with the same message." It quickly became apparent that the best way to reach the area was to go in as a team. The group would divide up into twos to visit homes and invite people to a service in the evening. Usually, a few sisters of the congregation would come along to help with food preparation. I vividly recall sharing two small cans of fish among 14 hungry people! Because of the remoteness of the area, food is scarce, stores are few and people were reluctant to sell us anything.

After a number of months, God's Word began taking effect. It was only after there were a number of seriously interested families that I appeared on the scene. By this time, our members had clarified their position with me and the suspicion was overcome. The first time I visited the area, we were invited to preach in the Roman Catholic chapel. We had a full house. By the next time, we were invited to have the services in people's homes. We were warmly received and food was generously supplied. As God continued working in the community, a number of families expressed faith in Christ. This meant a major break with the community--something that costs one dearly in these close knit communities. There were trials of other kinds as well. At one point, four entire families were sick in bed. That had never happened before, they assured me. One family lost a son. The leaders of the Roman Catholic group began a smear campaign and some new believers wavered. However, God's grace is powerful and He keeps His own.

At a community meeting, leaders from a strong Roman Catholic group in Chivaquito came to try to persuade the new believers to return to the fold. God gave grace and wisdom to these brothers as they made their defense of the gospel, and their opponents were unable to respond! Changing their tactics, opposing members of the community tried to cause division through gossiping about the new believers. We passed through some difficult moments, but again, God's grace brought healing and harmony.

This group is made up of mature members and they quickly expressed the desire to press on with baptism and other membership requirements. Pre-membership classed commenced and the obreros (lay pastors) visited them each week for instruction. I preached here once a month.

Plans for the construction of a formal place of worship began early this year. One brother donated a piece of land. Wood for the structure was cut in the mountains and brought down in readiness of the construction.

It was a matter of real rejoicing when, during the week of May 10 to 14, we could interview the families in the final step for baptism. Santiago and I left Cubulco on May 10 to stay in Pichal overnight. The following morning we arrived in Xeul about 10:30 a.m. and visited all those requesting baptism in the afternoon and evening.

The next morning two couples were married before God and His people. One couple already has grandchildren! It is customary to just live together in these areas. New believers are usually very eager to live as God wants them to and marriage is an important step for them.

In the evening it was my privilege to baptize 39 people (14 adults and 25 children). It is hard to express in words what this means. Here are people who until very recently knew nothing of Christ or His grace. Now they are in covenant with the triune God! One elderly sister is nearing 80 years of age. Yet her profession is wonderfully sincere. At the same time, we understand that this is the beginning. Much teaching still needs to be done.

Baptism--as important as it is--is the beginning. The group itself understands this and is hungry for teaching.

Thursday we were joined by members of our other mountain fellowships as well as some members from town. Jackie came as well, having overnighted in Pichal with the others. Much of the day was taken up with making tamales. In the evening we gathered in the new church building to dedicate it to God. The brothers agreed on the name: "Iglesia Reformada--Esperanza Viva" (Living Hope Reformed Church). 1 Peter 1:3 formed the basis for the message. It is truly amazing to see how God has His dispersed people--chosen by Him, sanctified by the Spirit and redeemed by the blood of Christ--even in a place like Xeul. How good it is to know that they have a living hope, an inheritance reserved in heaven by God Himself. Furthermore, it is God who promises to guard these new believers until they receive that inheritance when Christ returns. At the same time, I urged them to live in the light of that hope, to live holy lives (1 Pet.1:13ff) and to testify of the hope that God has given them (1 Pet.3:15). It is our prayer that the church building there will continue to be a monument to God's grace as well as a place where God's people can be taught and equipped to live as His people in their community.

After the message, members from the various fellowships as well as from Cubulco encouraged the new group with Scripture and songs of praise. Thankfulness was expressed to the Mission and the supporting North American churches for the new building and solar lighting.

Late in the evening tamales were handed out with coffee and at about 11:30 we stretched out on the floor of the church to sleep. By 4:00 a.m. we were up to begin our trek home. This time of the year is extremely warm and we wanted to avoid the heat. By 11:30 a.m. we were home in Cubulco. On the way we rejoiced to see the first signs of green leaves after months of dry dust. The rainy season is coming and with it all nature bursts into life. We trust that what is happening in nature is also part of God's plan for Xeul.

There are more than 150 people who live in this community and we trust that our new brothers and sisters are but the harbingers of a new time of life and growth in this community.

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