April, 15, 2009 Dear friends,
This has been a very full spring so far. I am involved in my two half-time ministry positions (Director of the JARON Bible Institute and Associate Pastor at Campus Bible Church of Fresno, California). Beyond these responsiblities I will have taught five college and university courses by the time June 1 rolls around. So you can see that it was a nice break (and a very fulfilling experience) to interrupt the schedule and travel to Texas and northern Mexico to engage in a week of intensive ministry (March 6-15) with my cousin, Roger Tomlinson of Dayspring Outreach.
One of the personal benefits of this trip is the chance to take an extra couple of days and visit my brother, Marty Bogart and his family in south Texas. Marty, Roger and I usually spend time catching up and reminiscing about our childhood days in the 60s. For us, at least, it is a lot of fun.
On Sunday, Roger and his wife Carolyn and I drove across the border into Mexico, crossing a narrow arm of the state of Tamaulipas and pushing on into Nuevo Leon. Our destination is the village of La Haciendita, about ten miles outside Cadereyta, which in turn is 20 miles or so from the third-largest city in the country: Monterrey.
With all of the news about drug-related killings along the Mexican border, we were extra-watchful on our journey. The only signs of tension we saw during this week were beefed-up checkpoints of the Mexican Army along the route. This time about half of the soldiers were wearing ski masks to hide their identities against possible reprisals by the bad guys. It was a bit sobering, but as far as we were concerned, perfectly routine.
The week of teaching began on Monday with classes in apologetics for the mixed class of about 15 Mexicans and Americans. Apologetics is the reasoned defense and explanation of the Christian faith in response to various questions and attacks. I had to brush a bit of dust off my notes from the last time I taught this course at JARON BIble Institute and then reformat them in the weeks before the trip. It was a pleasure to review this information and interact with the students –all of whom are very bright and eager to learn. I became friends with nearly all of them.
The Americans come mostly from widely-scattered parts of the Midwest. Likewise, the Mexicans are from several different regions of that country. Though they come from diverse backgrounds, they all share the passion for ministry in the unchurched cities, villages and rural areas of Mexico. It was my privilege to take part in their training.
Dayspring Outreach has several facilities in the country–two in Nuevo Leon, one in Oaxaca and one in Vera Cruz— and there may also be others I am unaware of (For more informatiuon on Dayspring, check out the link on the homepage of this website). I was very impressed by the work Roger has been doing these past twenty years or so. He is obviously very committed to the spread of the gospel in Mexico and shows a high degree of innovative ability and persistence to accomplish what he has.
After the return to yet another Dayspring base, this time in south Texas, my brother Marty scheduled a venue at his office for me to present a basic seminar on the background, teachings and goals of Islam. I developed this workshop out of my 17 years of teaching courses in world religion as an adjunct professor in various colleges and universities in central California. I have enjoyed presenting it dozens of times in a variety of formats and venues–sometimes presenting the basic facts of the subject and other times contrasting it with Christian faith.
This gathering turned out to be rather small–only a few of us around a conference table in my brother’s accounting office, but I found the more informal setting very refreshing. The next day, Marty dropped my off at the local airport and I flew home through Dallas to resume my spring schedule.
Let me describe one incident that really stuck out during that week of ministry. Imagine wanting to call your family from a rural area in a foreign country a couple of thousand miles away from home. So, after dinner, one evening I borrow one of Roger’s cell phones and take a stroll . It is dark and chilly and the rain is coming down in a fine mist. With flashlight in hand, I climb to the unfinished top floor of a small apartment block being built in the Dayspring compound for the permanent staff. No roof or walls have gone up yet on this upper storey, so I stand there savoring the damp darkness in this far-away corner of the world. I dial the access code for the US and then my home number. The call goes through and I am talking to Melinda as clearly as if I were next door. Then the signal is lost for a moment, so I dial again, this time standing in a different corner of the roof-top where the signal is stronger. The conversation continues, this time with no interruptions. After checking in and sharing about my day, I sign off, climb down and head for my room to prepare for the next day’s classes.
I know that in the Twenty-first Century, calling someone long distance sounds pretty normal. At home, I use a cell phone regularly to call all sorts of people. Yet it struck me, standing in the rain on that dark roof in rural Mexico, how interconnected the world has become and how relatively convenient it is to do business or missions work almost anywhere on the face of the globe. It is truly a pleasure to serve Jesus Christ and his coming kingdom in these very interesting times of ours.
Thanks for listening,
Mission to the Americas Honduras Ministry Survey, January 16-22, 2001
Travel Itinerary: Lemoore to Fresno, California (car). Flights to Los Angeles, Mexico City, Guatemala City, San Salvador, Tegucigalpa (Honduras), San Pedro Sula, La Ceiba
I arrived in La Ceiba in late evening after a very long flight on Taca Airlines. I noticed some earthquake damage in the airport in El Salvador, and encountered my first “transit fee” ($20.00) as I walked from one part of the airport in Tegucigalpa to another. My role on this trip is to assess the ministry of Mission to the Americas in Honduras and other countries in Central America as a member of the Board of Directors.
The country of Honduras is very “third world”, with the second-poorest per capita income in the Western Hemisphere (followed by Haiti). Only 13% of the country’s roads are paved. Honduras is one of the great banana producing countries in the world and the inspiration for the term “banana republic”.
The following three days were spent meeting in session with the rest of the board and administrative staff. With breaks for meals, we met from 8:00 am to 9:00 pm. Some of the highlights included opening two new countries as fields of ministry for MTA (Nicaragua and Panama) and the appointing of Luis Matute as the first MTA missionary to Panama. We were encouraged to learn that among the ministries of MTA, a new church is formed on the average every 11 days in Central America and Southern Mexico. The methodology is called TEE (Theological Education by Extension), and was developed in the 1960s by pioneer missionary George Patterson.
Wednesday through Friday the Board visited ministry sites in various parts of the Northern coastal area of the country:
Wednesday: we traveled by bus to Songaguera, where mission funds had helped rebuild homes as well as a church and school after the devastations of the recent hurricane. The people greeted us warmly and thanked us for the mission’s assistance. We brought greetings from the churches in the U.S. At a lull in the service a little boy of about 6 looked directly at me and said in Spanish, “Hey Gringo!” (Everyone laughed.) The ice was definitely broken.
Thursday evening we attended an evening church celebration of the ethnicities of Honduras. Featured were churches from the coast and from the mountain areas. Meskita Indians, blacks of the Garifuna language people (from near Belize) and English speaking black people from Roatan Island were represented and presented their worship music. More than 200 people were packed into an upper floor about 20’ by 50’ with walls open at the top for air circulation for a two-hour service. The Directors of Honduras Extension Bible Institute, Hector and Carmen del Arca were honored for their contribution to training Christian leaders.
Friday we traveled by bus to the coastal settlement of Belfate, where MTA has sent medical personnel to staff a hospital serving that area of the country. Part of the way there I sat beside a Garifuna pastor who, as a young man, had lost both thumbs in the fishing trade. His despair at losing his livelihood had been the catalyst to bring him to Christian faith and then, through the TEE program, to Christian leadership. It was a very inspiring conversation.
Saturday and Sunday the Board split up into teams to visit various fields in Central America. I was assigned to travel with a small group to the mountain areas of Honduras. Missionary Patrick O’Connor picked us up and drove us by car to the town of Gracias, where we met Pastor Victor Almendarez and his wife Virgilia. This couple has started 15 churches in the area over the past five years, focusing on the remote towns and villages. I was able to present them with some non-English specific Sunday School materials from my church, Grace Baptist of Lemoore, California.
On Saturday evening, we drove over very rugged and stream-filled roads to the mountain village of Zarzal for a “youth service” in a newly established church. On the road to Zarzal, our jeep’s headlights revealed many small groups of people (there were dozens of them) walking in the pitch dark with machetes. I asked what they were doing out in the darkness and was told they were walking to church. The machetes were for protection against snakes and other dangerous creatures.
The service was led by youth, but really everyone comes to these things. The building was maybe a year or two old and was approximately 20’ by 40’. The sound system and instruments were powered by two truck batteries. The room was lit by kerosene lantern. Nearly 50 people were packed on benches, singing hymns and reciting verses of scripture. I greeted the mainly indigenous believers on behalf of their American brothers.
On Sunday, we traveled to Copan on the border with Guatemala, where the O’Connors work among the Chorti-Mayan people. We visited a village of some very poor folks, bought some items at their little store and prayed with a small group of the people there. We managed to visit the ruins of the Mayan city of Copan later that day. What an amazing archeological site! I estimate that only about half of the ruins are excavated.
Monday, Patrick drove me the couple of hours to the airport in San Pedro Sula, where I flew home via Houston.
Items of cultural interest:
Delicious black beans and incredible fried plantains (little sliced bananas). Very strong coffee and sweet bread. I had a conch for dinner one evening in La Ceiba (it tasted like a huge clam). The most colorful parrots I have ever seen in were at the Copan Ruins. The ugliest birds in the world have got to be the vultures you see periodically along the roadsides. Overall the people were very friendly.
My heart was energized for cross-cultural ministry. I would love to return with a team from my home church to assist these people in what they are doing!
USA Christians make a real difference
Teams of Christian volunteers of different denominations – many of them young people – are making a meaningful difference to the South African rural communities they are working in, under the auspices of Jaron Ministries International of Fresno, California.
JARON Ministries, International of the United States sends four such teams a year and The Vessel was fortunate to be able to conduct an interview with a group of eight of these visitors when they passed through Pretoria on their way to Giyani in the Northern Province. Another 20 of their group were to have arrived a couple of days later from the USA.
They spent about a week networking with various projects in and around Pretoria, including the Wolmer Community Project and a project at Soshanguve and were hosted during that time by the energetic André Bronkhorst, a well-known organiser of Christian youth camps for Eksderde.
Pastor Michael Bogart, Director of the Jaron Bible Institute, explained that a Shangaan Tribal Chief had donated 30 hectares of land at Giyani for the development of a youth camp some five years ago and that it was to this on-going project to which his group was headed.
He noted that Jaron was also involved in another youth camp development at Cape Town.
“We are not only here to contribute our assistance, we are also here to learn and to see first-hand what is happening in South Africa. It was a real eye-opener to visit Soshanguve, where we never felt threatened at any time, despite warnings to the contrary,” he explained.
Pastor Bogart added that it was nice to see Afrikaans people working hand-in-hand with their Black Christian counterparts, which, for the group, had shattered many myths about Afrikaners which had been fed to them over many years by the USA media.
During his visit here he would also be involved in the training of pastors.
Dr Bruce Van Benschoten, a General Surgeon attached to the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, stated that he had come along to determine the medical needs of the visited communities and what sort of assistance could be extended.
Another one of the group, the vibrant Christi Orr, a student, said that she was looking forward to helping to establish a food garden at the Giyani project, which would help supplement the nutritional needs of that rural community.
She said that they would be visiting schools to encourage the youth to complete their high school education and to be diligent in their studies. She was also expecting to help fence off the property and generally share her love of Jesus Christ with people.
“It is very encouraging to meet other believers who are so like me. We are all brothers and sisters in Christ,” was her spontaneous response in concluding the interview.
The group of USA visits with André Bronkhorst of Eksderde (seated, far left) and The Vessel Editor, Ciska de Beer (standing, far right).