We entered Honduras under heavy storm clouds and lightening, arriving in Tegucigalpa over two hours late. We were greeted by Juan Guerrero, his wife Alexandra and their son, Jeremias. Juan, church superintendent, and Alexandra are missionaries from Columbia. The young Methodist church in Honduras is a mission connectionally related to the United Methodist church. The church office building in an upper scale area of the capital has spacious accommodations for work teams, pastors from the outer departments and visitors (including us and then UMCOR representatives later in the week). We arrived late on Friday, September 21 and left the next day for a rural area in the neighborhood of Danli. Saturday night we visited a vibrant young congregation in the village of Obraje. This church grew out of a family who had been involved in worship in another denomination, but felt called to begin a Methodist congregation. The church building has been built largely by community donations and in kind labor, a fact of which they are very proud. Services were first held here in March. The service began with songs of praise and thanksgiving, accompanied by guitar, drums, keyboard and much clapping and dance. This congregation expresses its faith in fervent expressions of joy and emotion, and pastor Alejandro made a quasi-apology/explanation for the exhuberance, acknowledging that if the people did not sing praises, the very rocks would. We spent the night outside of Danli, falling asleep to the same music of crickets singing with the rocks and people in worship earlier that night. Morning we attended a very different service in Danli Central. This church is more tradition and staid (at least compared to Obraje), but the people were as welcoming and friendly in their greetings. Later that afternoon we returned to Tegucigalpa where we experienced a third and still different church service. This one was held in an area known as Fuertes Unidos, an area high above the city in an especially poor and somewhat dangerous section with a million dollar view. The church was filled with children and we later learned they offered a strong feeding and education program for these the youngest.
This exercise in listening and discernment that has accompanied our travel has involved constant re-evaluation and thought in how the Institute for Wesley Studies can best serve and work with the people of Latin America. At times we have questioned the wisdom of naming it in such a scholarly fashion, when the mutuality of exchange will benefit from a grassroots wisdom. These Central American churches clearly are interested in, indeed recognize a need for, theological education and well trained pastors. That need has been made known in every country, in every church. But at the same time we realize over and over again that the spirit is very strong and present in these churches and while we may have much to offer them, they have much to offer us. The presence of the spirit in these people is humbling. Their generosity and love shine in their smiles and embraces and in their appreciation of having been recognized. See me. Hear me. The meeting of a people face-to-face, one-to-one becomes an expression of mutual recognition and value for what is offered, what is received, and even more, what is shared. Are we willing to surrender our own perceptions when they are not tangential with those we touch, those who touch us? What is our mission? What is our vision?
Mark and Beth left September 5th to begin travels throughout Central America and Peru on behalf of the Wesley Heritage Foundation and Instituto Estudios de Wesleyanos-Latin America. We arrived in Antigua Guatemala, a beautiful colonial town offering language study and a welcoming point of re-entry into the Latin American culture. The country of Guatemala has been in full celebration mode in anticipation of Independence Day, September 15. A wave of patriotism sweeps the country, a contagious unifying force with a heartfelt authenticity unrecognized by these North Americans. In the midst of Mid-Eastern anti-American sentiment and volatility, we find a country and people who are welcoming of our presence. This past week we will have visited with people respresenting four different churches: the Wesleyans, two branches of the Primitive Methodist church and the Nazarenes. All have been most hospitable and excited about talking with us, listening with us and educating us on their particular backgrounds. Our vision for this journey centers on active listening and discernment; an exercise in learning through a geography and culture of grace* where and how we can best interact and work with our Latin American brothers and sisters. (*Reading the book “Geography of Grace by Kris Rocke and Joel Van Dyke has provided thoughtful complement to our processing of experiences). Discoveries thus far have centered on common needs for pastoral education, resources and assistance with solidifying a Wesleyan identity. We have distributed the CD version of “Obras de Wesley”, a gift gladly received. We are surprised to find a separation and division of churches with such similiar backgrounds and doctrine, although not in an antagonistic way. With all suffering from minimal financial support and resources, we have to wonder what could be accomplished with joint efforts. Both Primitive Methodist churches (one identified as “National” and the other as “Association”) offer strong schools with the John Wesley name and Methodist foundation in the same locale in the rural Mayan community of Quiche’. Leadership of these churches have expressed willingness and interest in working together in the exchange of ideas and sharing of resources and welcome the opportunity to dialogue about challenges, visions and dreams. Conversations have been open and dynamic and all have expressed appreciation for the visit. As always we find the people of Guatemala to be extremely hospitable and gracious.
The Wesley Heritage Foundation welcomes you! Please visit us often!
The Wesley Heritage Foundation was chartered in 1990 as a means of producing a Spanish edition of the major writings of John Wesley. The result— Obras de Wesley— is now complete and today serves as an instrument of the Holy Spirit for renewal and unity of the Body of Christ. The design, first developed by a team of Latino and Anglo Wesleyan scholars and church officials, has now been executed by the Wesley Heritage Foundation as a scholarly ministry and offering to the Hispanic world.