QA 4: The OVERreached People Group

Candace writes, "How well do the people of Honduras accept Christianity (Baptists)? Is it a shame for them to come to church/accept Christ?" Another reader, Mike, refers to the strong Roman Catholic tradition in Central America, "How are you able to get past traditions and get Catholics to engage in Gospel discussions without seeing everything through a Catholic lens?

Most church-going people have heard quite a bit about "unreached people groups" around the world. There are millions who do not have a copy of the Bible in their language and have never heard Jesus' name. Honduras does not fall into this category. What we have here could be referred to as an overreached people group.

Before arriving on the field, we heard statistics from various sources calculating Roman Catholicism to be the religion of somewhere between 97-99% of the Honduran population. We soon discovered that there are two very different kinds of Roman Catholics: those who adhere to the teachings of the Catholic church, attend mass, and pray to Mary; and those who simply claim to be Catholic because their parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents were. I was surprised by the large percentage of non-practicing Catholics. Once on visitation when I asked a young man if he attended church anywhere, his quick reply was, "Oh no, I don't go to church--I'm Catholic."

Then we found that this group of non-practicing Catholics has been largely proselytized by other religions. The Jehovah's Witnesses flood our city with door-to-door evangelists. We have counted 16 Mormon churches in the city limits of El Progreso (population: 100,000). There is a "Four-Square Gospel" church that teaches a works-based salvation to its followers. We've also seen a Christian Science headquarters, Seventh-Day Adventists temples, and Pentecostal churches. Without a doubt, there is no shortage of religion in Honduras. They've been reached by nearly everything but the truth.

What this "overreached people group" is missing is a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. We've found that even the most skeptical Roman Catholics who attend our services are drawn to the "warmth," the "excitement," the "genuineness." Most can immediately see what they've been missing. One such man was Orlando Rice.

As I hurried to sweep the porch and set up for the Men’s Meeting in January, I was surprised to see a stranger approach the gate. “Is this Iglesia Bautista El Faro?” he inquired.

“Sure is. Are you here for the Men’s Meeting?” Since we wouldn’t start for another hour, I got him some iced tea and we chatted while I finished setting up.

His name was Orlando, and he was the brother of one of our ushers, Roberto. Having seen the changes in his brother’s life, he wanted to find out more about our church. I asked him about his background, and he replied, "Well, I'm Honduran, so I'm Catholic! We all are!"

He attended a few services and asked to meet with Robbie at our house. They talked for several hours; Robbie showed him from Scripture the differences in what he had been taught all his life and Biblical truth. Orlando realized that he was ineffectually relying in his good works to save him, adhering to the restrictions of an empty religion. What he needed was a relationship with Christ.

Praise the Lord, Orlando left our house a changed man that day! He trusted Christ as his Savior and been growing ever since. We are excited to see how God uses his life.

Orlando prepares to follow the Lord in baptism.

I haven't found a formula or strategy to win a Roman Catholic to Christ. Many are deeply entrenched in their faith and are very difficult to talk to. But if they are honestly, open-mindedly seeking the truth through careful examination of the Scripture, they eventually do realize the futility of empty rules and regulations. We have seen them turn from their idol worship and rituals. Some trust Christ within a few weeks, others after many months of searching. The key is the Word of God.

There is alienation, to some extent, of those who convert from Catholicism. They feel conflicted about attending family funerals, weddings, and other events that involve going to a Catholic mass. Many times their stand for Christ cuts them off from family and traditions.

Although there are hardships, the other side of this decision is freedom. Miriam, a lady I am discipling, was recently telling me of the joy she has found in her relationship in Christ. "Christine, I used to follow a procession on foot for miles and miles every January to pray to the Statue of the Black Jesus. Once, my mother crawled the last mile on her knees, aching and bleeding just to be guaranteed an answer to prayer. But now I know I can simply pray and God will hear my prayer."

Robbie once explained to a man in discipleship the history of the true church. He drew a diagram on a board to show that we did not split from the Catholic church. Rather, we can trace our lineage back to the New Testament church. Pilo studied the diagram thoughtfully, then turned to Robbie: "Yes, I understand that we are the true church and our doctrine is biblically sound. I know what you are saying is true. But...what took you so long to get here?"

It's a haunting question. If we have the truth, why are we the last ones to arrive to El Progreso? It's a question for all of us. What are we doing with the truth that we have?

Roberto and Suyapa, who were devout Catholics, trusted Christ. Several family members have followed their example.

Sandy and Cinthia (middle and right) both have Catholic backgrounds. After many months of hearing the Word of God, they both trusted Christ as their Savior.

Josselyn (right) came from a Catholic family; she is now a teacher assistant.

For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. -II Corinthians 4:6

QA 3: My Weird Little MK

Charlene writes: “What is [the mission field] like for Claire? For example: What does she think of America? Does she miss it when you go back to Honduras? How is it for her not seeing her grandparents? Does she ever feel like she is out of place with that blonde hair?”

What great questions! In fact, one of the biggest question marks in my mind, once I surrendered to the mission field, was how this decision would impact my future children. I often joked with my college roommate, “My kids will inevitably be weird and socially awkward…you know how MK’s are!” One happy day, she burst into our dorm room with, “Christine, I met an MK today in chemistry… and she was normal!” I considered conducting a study to understand this fascinating anomaly!

A year before our Claire was born, my dear missionary friend Julie gave me some valuable advice that I’ve considered often since becoming a parent. She told me about a conversation she overheard between her own children and the young daughter of a missionary couple headed to the field. Learning the little girl had just celebrated a birthday, the kids inquired, “What did you get for your birthday?” The girl lamented, “Jesus took away all my birthday presents, because we are going to the mission field.”

Julie went on to say, “Christine, help your kids have the right perspective of God and the mission field. I try to constantly point out to my kids the fun, amazing things we get to do—just because we are missionaries! For example, when we bounce along in the car on the way to a visit, I tell them, ‘Those poor kids that live in the States don’t have cool, bumpy dirt roads like this! They have to wear seatbelts all the time and ride on boring old paved roads!’ My kids are so glad we are missionaries!”

She was exactly right! If my heart is discontent and my spirit negative, Claire will adopt a “poor-me” attitude about our life in Honduras. She’ll go to the US on furlough and see fancy toys, libraries, kids’ museums, fun parks, candy stores; if my response is, “Well, we don’t have things like that, because we’re missionaries (insert mournful sigh),” my daughter will grow up bitter and eventually rebellious. She will resent both God and us for dragging her here and depriving her of a wonderful childhood in the magical land called the United States.

I try to follow Julie’s example and constantly point out to Claire, “Look at that monkey! You know, I never saw a monkey like that till I came here!” or “Let’s go pick some mangoes! Aren’t we lucky to have fruit trees right in our backyard?” She thinks it’s the greatest thing in the world when there’s no running water and she gets to take a bucket bath. And when the electricity goes out, she excitedly grabs her own little flashlight. It’s all about attitude!

She does love going to the States, especially to see family. It’s important for parents who live far away from Grandpa and Grandma to make extra effort to connect their children to family back home. Claire has a “Special People Book,” a small picture album I made when she was little. There are pictures of her being held by Papa, Grandma, Nini, and Papaw, plus aunts and uncles, close family friends, etc. I kept it in the diaper bag when she was younger and often pulled it out while waiting somewhere, “Who is this, Claire? Yes, that’s Aunt Kathleen! Remember when you went to her house and slept in the blue bed? She’s so much fun, isn’t she?” (Look for an article in April: “Ideas for Long-distance Grandchildren” with more practical suggestions for staying in touch.)

As much Claire enjoys her visits to the States, she loves coming home to Honduras. In some ways, she’ll never totally fit in; her blonde hair and pale skin make her the constant subject of cell phone photos wherever we go. But somehow, we have become accustomed to the constant stares. The last time our partners, the Goinses, went on furlough, they told us they walked through the New Orleans airport in wonder: No one is staring at us! No one is trying to pick up our kids! They aren’t even looking at us! We’re normal!

But Honduras is home, and our kids are very happy here. In fact, we all are! Whenever someone pats my shoulder and says in a pitying voice, “I don’t know how you do what you do…” I feel a little guilty. Honestly, I’m not a martyr! I’m having the time of my life! Even with all its hardships, the will of God is the greatest adventure I’ll ever have. I’m so glad my daughter is an MK—what a lucky girl!

OBSERVATION GAME: Can you spot the MK's in the picture below?
Okay, I didn't say it was a hard game!

EXTRA: Time Change Weekend

As I read reminders posted by our friends in the States to turn back their clocks for Daylight Savings, I can't help but laugh and think back...

Our first year on the field, we found out that Honduras did not "spring forward" and "fall back" as we were accustomed. But in 2006, Honduran Congress had passed a law to institute Daylights Savings Time for the very first time. Since the sun comes up here around 5:15, we were very much in favor of the decision; others, however, felt quite differently.

We soon found that many Hondurans simply didn't understand this foreign concept. A woman on the news complained that "the children will have to get up an hour earlier for school every day! They'll be so tired!" Others were upset that they would "now being going to work at 5AM instead of 6AM!" Demonstrations were held to oppose the new law.

We made more visits than usual that Saturday before the time change. If people in the States miss church because of time change, what would happen here? We were afraid our small Bible study would be deserted. We spent almost an hour at one woman's house, who told us she would not be coming the next day because of the time change. "I have to get up at 3AM and change all the clocks! I'll be so tired!"

"No, no," we tried to explain. "Just change them when you go to bed!"

"But the newspaper said you have to change them at 3AM! That's when the time change is!"

After arguing back and forth for quite awhile, we realized we were getting nowhere.

Time Change Sunday did finally happen, but many simply refused to comply. Now we were forced to distinguish "New time or old time?" for every appointment. There were large-scale protests all over the country. It was all very confusing. We were scheduled to host a Medical Brigade the next month, and the school administrator lamented, "Well, this changes everything! Now the clinic will be from 7-3 instead of 8-4!" We tried once again in vain to explain that the time did not actually change every day, but our explanations fell on deaf ears.

Thankfully, Congress repealed the law to institute Daylight Savings, and we are back to waking up with the birds at 5:15. Trust me, I'm not complaining!

QA 2: In It for the Long Haul

This week's question is from Dennis: "When you were called to the mission field did you feel it was a lifetime calling and that you would make Honduras your home or just a "season?" I ask because many missionaries are called then spend several years on deputation only to return to the States after a few years of mission work."

After graduating from college in 2001, I returned to Raleigh, NC, to teach in my alma mater. I spent my days immersed in classic literature, diagrams, and compositions. I absolutely loved it. Robbie taught third grade, so I enjoyed little opportunities to sneak down the hall and wink at him from his window. Then after school, we quickly changed, grabbed our whistles, and hustled to the gym to coach our middle school girls' basketball team. On Friday nights, we'd get together with another couple for a movie. Saturday morning was bus route-we'd pile into the car with some of my students/basketball team members and make our visits for Sunday morning. Then on Saturday night, we'd meet my parents at Milano's, a little pizzeria where we were usually the only customers. It was a good life--comfortable, safe. But the whole time we knew: it wasn't ours.

God had something completely different in mind for us, and that vision was growing in our hearts. We wanted to plant a church in Central America. And then another, and another. And wouldn't it be great to have a children's home? And a Christian school? And we'd need a Bible Institute to train nationals...

When we were on deputation, I met a few people in different churches who were actually from Honduras. They all asked the same questions, "Have you been to Honduras? And you really want to live there?" I think they were having a hard time picturing Americans happily living in a land of dirt roads and dengue fever. It really didn't make much sense.

But here we are, five years later, right at home in Honduras. This is our life, strange and unpredictable as it may be. We are here for the long haul. Unless God leads otherwise, this is the path for us. And we can't wait to see where it leads us.

I can't speak for other families, and I know there are a plethora of reasons why missionaries return from the field. Sometimes they leave prematurely; sometimes their work is considered complete, and they move on to a new task. Each missionary has a different story, and each ministry is unique.

But I do know that in our case, the mission field wasn't just "a good option" or "a nice idea" or even "something we want to try out for awhile." This is our calling, our life's work. And truly, there is no greater joy than to know and do the will of God, wherever that may lead you.

QA 1: Plowing Through the Language Barrier

March is "Question and Answer Month" and I'm excited to reply to the questions that have been emailed to me so far. Today's blog is in reply to a question sent by Lee, who asks, "I am praying about being a missionary. What are some things that my wife and I could expect to encounter as we leave our country and family behind and move to the foreign field? (any advice on adapting culturally, difficulties you have faced, language, etc.)"

Some of my other Real Missions, Real Life readers are prayerfully considering the mission field; others are on deputation or in language school; still others are plodding through high school Spanish. This week’s blog is especially for them. One of the most daunting obstacles to getting to the foreign mission field is learning a second language. Here’s a bit of advice to get you started or keep you going.

1. Invest for a later return. Learning a new language is a slow, arduous task at first, and most days I felt like I was drowning in vocabulary lists and verb conjugations. But then I started using what I had learned, little by little. I began breaking that communication barrier and realized it was all worthwhile. One day a word popped out without much thought, and I realized with exhilaration that it was right! It’s kind of like financing a house. You are paying a lot at the beginning and not seeing a lot of equity; it will come. You have to invest in order to see that return.

2. Be a grammar nerd. Okay, maybe you don’t have to love English like I do; but the better you understand how your own language works, the better you will be able to maneuver in a foreign language. Knowing the parts of speech, the names of tenses, etc. will help a foreign language student see patterns in the new language more easily. It’s hard to understand that in Spanish direct objects come before the verb, if you aren’t sure what a direct object is and that it comes after the verb in English.

3. Pretend you’re a parrot. Or maybe a stand-up comedian. If you are one of those people who can impersonate others, you’ve got a head start. Part of learning a new language is listening carefully to how others pronounce and arrange their words and simply imitating them. To be honest, I felt a little silly at first, like I wasn’t using my own voice. But if I spoke Spanish the same way I do English, I wouldn’t be doing it right. In fact, I would sound less intelligent. I had to learn to use new muscles and make sounds I’d never made. I watched people’s mouths and tried to imitate exactly what they said. This is a proven way to learn a language. After all, how do you think you learned English?

4. Search for opportunities to use the language. People who master a second language are those who use it on a regular basis. I got out of my comfort zone and signed up to be an assistant Sunday School teacher in a Spanish children’s class. I talked to immigrants in the grocery store. I taught an adult ESL class on Tuesday evenings. One summer, I took a missions trip all by myself. In order to retain all that book learning, I had to get out there and use it.

5. Never stop learning. Though I began learning Spanish as a teenager, though I dream in the language, though I can communicate very easily now, I’ve realized that the more I learn, the more I realize I know very little. Learning a language is something I can never “check off the list.” It’s a lifetime of commitment. I must never let up, never be content with my mastery of the language. Language is a living, growing thing; in order to keep up, I must keep a teachable spirit.

6. Be able to laugh at yourself. This is perhaps the most important piece of advice I can give you. If you aren’t willing to put yourself out there, you will never learn. You can’t wait until you think you’ve got a handle on a language to start speaking it; you’ve got to start from day one! Yes, you’ll say all kinds of silly, embarrassing things. Just laugh along with everyone else and say it right the next time! Any missionary can tell you countless stories of goofy things he’s said, even at times he meant to be very serious. There is nothing to do but enjoy the joke and go on!

I’ll never forget the time as a teenager when I announced very confidently to a large group of Hispanics “Tengo hombre!” [I have a man] instead of “Tengo hambre!” [I am hungry]. Amidst their chuckles, I realized my mistake and quickly blurted, “Estoy embarazada!” thinking I was telling them how embarrassed I was. Unfortunately, embarazada does not mean embarrassed; it means pregnant. Live and learn, right in the middle of howling laughter.

Then there was the time I was teaching a salvation lesson to a group of Mexican children on a teen mission trip. In describing sin, I meant to ask if they ever fought with their brothers and sisters. But I omitted a vowel and ended up asking if they ever skinned their brothers and sisters. Between their horrified faces and the snickering MKs in the back of the room, I knew something was up…

I studied harder, and my mistakes were not so frequent. But one night at a get-together with both Americans and Latin Americans, I was asked to explain a popular party game to the Latino crowd: Spoons. I went into great detail, telling them there would be a big pile of spoons in the middle of the floor, and when one person got the right hand of cards, he could grab a spoon. "As soon as that happens," I went on, "we all have to grab the spoons. If you don't have a spoon, you lose! So fight hard and grab a spoon any way you can!" The Americans listened patiently for me to finish; but I saw that the more I explained, the larger the Latinos' eyes grew. Then it hit me. I was saying cuchillo instead of cuchara. Knife instead of spoon. The looks on their faces said it all: These gringos are crazy!

Ten years later, I’m still goofing up and laughing it off! Yes, it’s been a long, hard journey. But let me tell you, there’s nothing like knocking on a door when we are back in the States on furlough and meeting a sweet immigrant lady. She’ll glance at my white face, shake her head in resignation, and start to close the door with an apologetic smile. That is, until she hears, “¡Buenos días! Me llamo Cristina…” Her face lights up with wonder: She speaks Spanish!

I won’t lie to you. Learning a second language is one of the hardest things you’ll ever attempt. It’s slow, frustrating, and even humiliating at times. But it is one of the most rewarding things you’ll ever do. Hang in there. It’s worth it.

Congratulations to Dennis Pustinger, the winner of the drawing for a Honduran coffee assortment! Be sure to check back each week for more answers to your questions about life on the mission field!
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