“Jesus gave them this answer: ‘Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does’” (John 5:19 NIV).
This is my first visit to Guatemala. Since this is the third year our church has sent a team here, I thought it was finally time to see for myself what the Lord was doing. We have been partnering with Caroline’s Promise, based in Kernersville, North Carolina, and Iglesia Adonai, a church in Guatemala City to make these trips possible.
Whether in our hometown of Wilson, North Carolina or in other parts of the world, it has been our desire to look for where God is already working and to join Him there. We don’t go out as those who claim to have all the resources and answers to the world’s problems, but humbly, as those who only want to join the Father in His work. With this philosophy in mind, we look for local believers that we can partner with for the sake of the gospel.
I pray that we have found such a partnership in Guatemala. Pastor Carlos and Delmi lead the church as well as the Casita Adonai Christian school. I sense an alignment of vision between us. We both want to fulfill Christ’s command to make disciples of all nations and to follow His strategy of reaching “Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). A mission this huge requires partnerships!
It is not our desire to send out short-term mission teams to do “Christian tourism.” We don’t want them to just to see the sights, give away some food and clothing, do some construction work, and then go home feeling better about themselves. No. We want to invest in local churches and help encourage and equip them to do the work themselves. They live there. They know the language and culture. We don’t.
And we don’t seek one-way relationships. We pray for partnerships that result in win-win relationships. How can we learn from each other? How can the international churches that we partner with form long-term relationships that cause both to prosper in doing God’s will? These are the kinds of questions we ask ourselves as we answer God’s call to go and make disciples of all nations.
Before coming to Guatemala, I asked if there were pastors here in need of training. Pastor Carlos advised that this was sorely needed. So we planned to bring pastors together for a leadership conference on this year’s trip. Because I didn’t want to just assume what teaching was needed, I asked if I could visit the pastors in their own settings before the conference. I wanted to see their churches, their towns and interview them about their challenges before leading the conference. I came to see and hear what the Father was already doing before asking Him what He wanted me to teach.
Six members of our nineteen member mission team came down two days early to help accomplish our respective tasks. Four members of our team bought supplies and prepared for the arrival of the rest of our members while Nixa Rose and I traveled to see the pastors. Nixa went along as my Spanish translator as we joined Pastor Carlos and his son-in-law, Julio, on a four-hour trip out of the city to the countryside surrounding Lake Atitlan to visit the churches.
After only about three hours sleep, we left Guatemala City at 4:00 A.M. We left early to avoid a transportation workers demonstration that threatened to close the city’s streets. Poor Nixa said, “I was hoping for a little rest on the drive, but Pastor Gary and Pastor Carlos talked the whole way. And I had to translate every word both of them said!”
It was an intense trip. Our first stop was to see Pastor Diego. He is very sick and unable to care for his family and his church. His home was very humble. I felt a great sense of inadequacy as we prayed for his health, his family and his church. I’m glad we can call on Jesus for help. Otherwise this first visit of the day would have left me in despair.
We visited pastors in the mountains surrounding Lake Atitlan all day. We sat in their churches and talked with them about their families and the challenges they faced as pastors.
“How long have you been a pastor? Tell me about your church. What are the greatest challenges that you and your church face?” I would ask and Nixa would faithfully translate.
Nearly all of the pastors responded, “Our people are very poor and uneducated. We need training in how to lead our churches, about financial stewardship and how to overcome the discouragement that we often feel.”
This was exactly the kind of information I needed. I knew I had to take some time to pray and rethink the kind of training that I had already prepared. But before I could even begin to reevaluate, one of the pastors, Pastor Jose-Maria, asked if I would preach at his church that night.
“Is it possible?” I asked Pastor Carlos, making sure our schedule allowed for it.
“Si. We still have three more churches to visit, but we can do it.” He replied through Nixa’s translation.
We visited churches until 5:00 P.M. before checking into a small hotel in San Juan La Laguna. I fell onto my bed knowing we were leaving in one hour for a quick meal before preaching at 7:00 P.M. I asked the Lord to give me something to preach and to please let me have it quickly. With the challenges I had heard all day from the pastors, I felt called to preach from Joshua 1:1-9, “How to Be Strong and Courageous.” And fortunately, the hotel had internet so I could use Google Translate to plan my sermon points in Spanish!
That night, both Pastor Carlos and Pastor Jose-Maria expressed their thanks for the sermon. Pastor Carlos asked, “What are you preaching at my church this Sunday? Because I think you should preach that same sermon again.” But then after a few minutes he changed his mind, saying with a smile, “No. Don’t preach it again. Because I’m going to preach it to my church when you leave. And I’m not going to tell them I heard it from you!” Pastor Carlos was always making jokes.
This is how the whole time went. We humbly tried to watch and listen to see where God was already at work in Guatemala. When the rest of our team arrived, they worked long days digging footers, making concrete forms out of rebar, and shoveling dirt. They joined the work at Casita Adonai to enlarge the school’s capacity. As concrete blocks were laid, our team put pieces of paper with Scriptures written on them inside the blocks. When we told Pastor Carlos about this, he said, “I will always remind my church about La Palabra de Dios that the gringos put in our walls. I will never let them forget this.”
Today, as I write this, the pastor’s conference is finished and our team is wrapping up their construction work at the school. As the pastors left this morning, each of them had to hug me and thank me for bringing them the leadership teachings based on the Word of God. We agreed to pray for one another that our churches would be healthy and fulfill the mission that Christ has given us.
There are still a few more days left for our team here in Guatemala. I am sure that there is much more for us to experience. But I am already sure of this: God is at work in Guatemala. And I am glad that our team could be here to join His work!