Sunday, 29 November -0001 18:42

From Pastor Herfst

Written by Ken Herfst
Pastor Herfst and his wife Jackie are our representatives in bringing the Gospel to the Achi people in Guatemala. Both are Òhome-grownÓÑraised in Free Reformed homes. They are known by many, but many others would like to get to know him and his family better. When Rev. Herfst was asked to provide a profile, he reluctantly consented to this request, provided it would be mentioned that it was definitely not at his initiative.
The location was Los Pajales, a community nestled in the mountains some 40-km from Cubulco. A medium sized group of interested people was sitting before us in the semidarkness. The topic was "how God reveals Himself to us" and we were dealing with creation. Suddenly, one of the men piped up and said, "I always thought that the sun was Qajaaw (ÒKa-howÓ is the Ach’ word for God; there is another neutral word for sun--iij ), and would kneel before him every morning asking for life É until now."

This, in a nutshell, is our reason for being here and despite all the challenges the work presents us there is nothing so exhilarating as seeing someone coming out of the darkness into the light. Coming to this point has been a long journey, and we'd like to take you on it.

Both Jackie and I come from the Dundas area. God used various ministers to work His grace in our hearts. During our years as young adults we were part of a Bible Study formed under the kind supervision of Rev. Den Butter, and later Rev. Baars. The close study of the Word was blessed to our hearts. Some time before we were to be married our world was turned upside down as God called me to the ministry by impressing the words of Paul--"Woe is unto me if I preach not the gospel"--with undeniable force. It was something I struggled with as I had (and to some extent still have) a speech impediment.

Apart from that, the sheer responsibility of bringing God's Word overwhelmed me. However, God consistently gave encouragement and after undergraduate studies at McMaster University and later theological studies at the Theological College of the Canadian Reformed Churches in Hamilton, Ontario, Synod accepted me as a candidate in 1991. Over the years, that call became increasingly mission focused and in confirmation of our desires, the Vineland FRC sent us out as missionaries on September 1991. As there was no room for us in the Spanish Language Institute in San JosŽ, Costa Rica, we were privileged to serve the Toronto FRC for a number of months.

Our family arrived in Guatemala at the end of July in 1992. The first few months were spent getting adjusted to the new location in Cubulco. We made exploratory journeys into the surrounding mountains, initially visiting existing groups of believers. From there we proceeded to make contacts in more remote areas where there was no evangelical witness (in Guatemala ÒevangelicalÓ means Protestant). Members of the church today vividly recall how we walked through the mountains with Bibles on our backs, or with pack mule in those early years.

Another means of contact came through the book table that we had most Saturday afternoons in front of the market. We received an invitation to visit some of the communities north of Cubulco. This area was profoundly affected with the building of the hydroelectric dam. Many families were forced to leave their homes, while others became even more isolated. As described in an earlier issue of Mission News, we gained an entrance to the community through the construction of a hammock bridge, and God graciously gave us an entrance into the hearts of the people.

Today there are five church buildings in this area, as well as another preaching station in Chivaquito, the largest community in the area. Additionally, we were blessed to the point where a building in Cubulco itself was constructed. It serves as a "Central Church" and curiously enough has a number of daughters with more members than she has. In recent months, however, we are seeing an increase in attendance and trust that God will continue the work He has begun here.

Family Life
It should be stressed that our work here has been very much a family affair right from the beginning. During the first years, part or the entire family accompanied me on various treks. With the addition of Jerusha in 1997, this changed somewhat. However, we've all enjoyed getting to know brothers and sisters from the different communities. At present Jackie teaches the women a weekly class using New Tribe Mission's Firm Foundations; a chronological study of the Word of God. Jackie's role as a Missionary's wife is quite demanding: visitors from the mountains, the VBS team from Guatemala City, linguists, professors and others all find a place at our table. It would, quite frankly, be impossible to handle the workload I do without her consistent and cheerful support.

Our children have grown into the work as well. Kathryn (17) teaches Sunday school, helps with the weekly radio program and is one of the main participants in the Youth outreach. Justin (14) assists with music in the worship services and is part of a folkloric music group. Both Esther (12) and Jolene Otten are Lia Kattenberg's music students and now the notes of flutes join those of guitars and piano as we praise God. Kathryn, Justin and Esther occasionally translate for visiting surgeons at the hospital here in Cubulco.

Not only does this teach them the importance of serving others, it provides them with unique opportunities. For example, they have watched cataract surgery--something impossible in North America. Esther has thoroughly enjoyed herself as a bilingual Òdental assistant.Ó John Otten, the administrator of the hospital, has taken Justin under his wing and Justin regularly accompanies him on his weekly flights to Guatemala City. On some of the more recent flights, Justin pretty much took over the controls--except for takeoff and landing. Nigel (11) and Jerusha (3) may not be officially involved in the work, but their friendliness make them good will ÒambassadorsÓ in their own ways. Nigel is definitely more Guatemalan than Canadian.

Cubulco is very small town and local education is inadequate. Consequently, Jackie has been in charge of the education of our children. We use a variety of materials and enjoy video school for the older ones in some of the subjects. Home schooling on the Mission field presents unique challenges: there is no local library to research materials, resources are limited and we've learned that interruptions are a regular part of life! On the other hand, the educational experiences of daily life in another culture are very rewarding. How many North American children have seen volcanoes, plowed with oxen, learned another language fluently, eaten homegrown bananas or have had their value systems challenged by the living conditions in a third world country?

Current Activities
The work has changed considerably over the years. Although still involved in some evangelism, my focus has shifted to training local church leaders and nurturing the young congregations. We work as a team and it is encouraging to see the local leaders taking the initiative in new mountain communities. Apart from regular weekly preaching in Cubulco, once a month I still visit the mountain churches. Previously we would try to visit all the mountain churches for one service during each trek. This year we spend a week each month in just one community visiting the families, holding workshops for the church leaders, problem solving, etc. Either Nico Kattenberg or one of the other lay pastors accompanies me.

In an effort to both evangelize the unconverted and to strengthen the churches, we currently have a weekly radio broadcast in Spanish and Ach’. Alejandro Ort’z produces this. However, this year we are in the process of soliciting our own frequency and it is our desire to set up RADIO K'ASLEMAAL (Radio ÒLifeÓ) with the help of HCJB of Quito, Ecuador.

One of the key components of our work is the Bible Institute. During one week each month about 15 men come from the various communities to study. This year we have two classes and teaching is shared with a professor of the Presbyterian Seminary located in San Felipe. It is an intense week of study, meetings, etc. However, it is extremely rewarding. At the moment, for example, Prof. Benjamin Yac is teaching Old Testament Introduction to the 1st year students and Contemporary Latin American Theology to the 2nd year students. I am teaching Theology 1 (Westminster Confession of Faith) to the 1st year students and Introduction to the Prophets to the 2nd year students. Most brothers have very little understanding of the Prophets; some had not even read them. Despite the intense heat of this time of the year, no one slept as we studied Hosea and Joel! Themes such as marital faithfulness, genuine heart worship, the covenant with its requirements and gracious provisions, repentance, social justice, judgment and salvation are presented in graphic, unforgettable ways. God's Word is always relevant and unpacking it for these dear brothers affords a privilege that is difficult to express adequately in words.

Another important area of work is the supervision of the translation team. As most readers will know, Wycliffe translators provided the Ach’ with a New Testament. Our mandate is to translate the Old Testament. Each month I meet with the translators and a group of lay pastors and church leaders to revise the ongoing translation. Through workshops and with the help of visiting linguists we continue training the translators. Another brother is working on literacy material. One of the evangelists, an elder in our church, is currently overseeing the "Faith Comes by Hearing" Program in which churches and interested groups come together to listen to the Ach’ New Testament on cassettes.

Plans for the Future
As the churches are aware, we hope to return to North America in 2002, D.V.--primarily to help our children face post-secondary education. At this point we are unable to say what the future holds for us. We are looking at a number of options that involve ministry among Hispanics. In the long run, should it be God's will, we would love to return to work among the people of Cubulco once again. There is still so much to do and change comes slowly. We dream of a vocational school to break the vicious circle of poverty and family breakdown. Then there are new leaders to be trained, more material to translate and develop in Ach’ É the list goes on!

Looking back over these past nine years, we stand amazed at what God has done. It has never been easy; we are painfully aware of weakness, sin and shortcomings, but God's grace has been abundant in His provision. We thank God for was He has enabled us to, and with confidence in Him look forward to the future, assured that He will show the way ahead.

We are also deeply aware of the fact that it will only be on the Last Day that the extent to which the many prayers of our supporters have been heard will finally be known. Ultimately, God is at work here and as churches, local evangelists and missionaries, we share the privilege of collaborating with Him in things eternal. Thank you for your support, love and prayers.

Yours in the fellowship of the gospel,
Ken Herfst (of behalf of the family)

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