by Robert L. Niklaus
Reports from around the world.
GUATEMALA: THEIR FAITH UNSHAKEN
Pastor Julio Guevera and his family managed to dig their way out of the adobe rubble that had been their home in San Juan, Guatemala, until 3:03 A.M., February 4. At first they heard nothing as the city lay in shocked silence. Then, as if the Death Angel were once again winging over the land, a wail began to rise and swell with intensity in the predawn darkness as survivors clawed the ruins in search of loved ones.
The death wail could be heard throughout Guatemala while the earth convulsed and heaved over 500 times in the next few days. By mid-February the death toll rose to over 22,000; one in six people throughout the nation was left homeless.
Other Christians in Guatemala were not as fortunate as Pastor Guevera and his family. An estimated 10 percent of Guatemala’s 5,540,000 citizens are Protestant. Hundreds of these believers died, the homes and churches of thousands were destroyed. Many of the 300-plus North American missionaries serving the thirty-six missions also suffered loss, but there were no fatalities.
One mission, typical of the others, reported that its national church affiliate suffered the loss of, or severe damage to, two-thirds of its church buildings.
The town of Tecpan, population 30,000, was typical of the losses suffered by the Christians and the population in general. Within the first twenty-four hours the survivors buried 700 of their dead, while 1,300 more bodies lay waiting for burial. Among the fatalities were four of Tecpan’s six evangelical pastors and hundreds of believers. One church alone lost forty members. Four of the forty were children of an elder in the church. When others came to comfort him, he replied, "They are with the Lord; they are much better where they are now. "
Relief agencies and missions in North America responded with swiftness and generosity. One group, in fact, had stockpiled relief supplies in Guatemala just three days before disaster struck. Playing an equally important role, national church leaders and local congregations organized a distribution network and won praise from the government for their honesty and painstaking handling of supplies.
By now, missions are generally in agreement that though they provide the finances and supplies, it is the nationals who must assume the responsibility for relief efforts in the disaster area. This wise policy has long-term benefits. Sooner or later the flow of relief supplies ceases and the relief committees disband, but the churches continue to play an important role in the aftermath of disaster. Honduras and Nicaragua, both earthquake victims in recent years, demonstrated that the suffering precipitated spiritual openness that continues to the present (see next item).
El Progreso, Honduras, is one example of what can be accomplished when Christians move into a disaster area with both a message of salvation and tangible expressions of love. El Progreso was once a center of prostitution with all the accompanying vices. The small town was nearly wiped out by Hurricane Fifi in 1974.
Pastor Julio Marriaga of a nearby church affiliated with the Central American Mission (CAM) led a relief effort. On the Sunday following the disaster he told his congregation, "This is no time to sit here and sing hymns. We’ve done enough of that. This morning we’re all going to get shovels and go help dig out our brethren whose houses are flooded. "
The shovels were joined by food and clothing, building materials and four weeks of evangelistic campaigns. The budget of $43,000 was supplied by CAM and administered by Pastor Marriaga and his committee.
Initial results included more than one hundred conversions, an increase of attendance at church from 75 to 160, and a new sanctuary seating 800 people.
CAM missionary Malin Collins concluded: "We believe that social concern can result in the effective communication of the gospel and the growth of the Church of Jesus Christ. Hurricane Fifi is simply another evidence of how God turned disaster into blessing."
Disaster into blessing. God can do the same in Guatemala.
In the Guatemalan town of Tecpan, for example, a pastor noticed a man standing deep in thought near some ruins. In conversing with him the pastor learned that the rubble was all that remained of his bakery.
"In a time like this, " the pastor said, "the most important thing is to know Jesus Christ. "
"Do you know Him?" the man asked. "Can you lead me to Him?" Together they prayed on that street corner near the debris of his livelihood and hopes.
It is not inconceivable that some day many Guatemalans, like the baker, will thank God for the February earthquake because through it they came to know Him.
NICARAGUA: INNOVATIVE ENVANGELISM
The devastating earthquake that leveled Managua in 1972 shook the city out of spiritual indifference and time-bound religious traditions. This new interest in spiritual things encouraged evangelist Luis Palau of Overseas Crusades to conduct an evangelistic campaign in the city, capital of Nicaragua.
"Continente 75" was conducted in November, 1975, for twenty-two nights. Attendance in the partly destroyed baseball stadium averaged 7,000, with 20,000 and 23,000 coming out for the first and last Sundays. More than 6,000 publicly confessed their faith in Christ.
But "Continente 75" was more than just another citywide campaign. Innovative measures expanded the effort to national and international significance.
Local radio stations and one nation-wide network broadcast the meetings live each of the twenty-two nights. One pastor in the interior hooked his radio to the church PA system and conducted his own campaign by broadcasting Palau’s message direct from the stadium in Managua. Many were converted as a result.
The Palau team went even further in the use of radio. Through a complicated communication network developed by radio station HCJB in Quito, Ecuador, and a communications specialist from ,Costa Rica,, "Continente 75" was broadcast live each night to every Spanish-speaking country in Latin America. The one-hour program was transmitted to the communication satellite in orbit over Spain, sent back to the studios of HCJB and then beamed to fifty-six radio stations in twenty countries. Mr. Ed Murphy of Overseas Crusades labeled the project, "The first continent-wide live Christian radio broadcast ever attempted in the history of Christianity. "
Mr. Murphy stood in the doorway of the radio shack in the Managua stadium and experienced an eerie sensation: "Before the echo of Palau’s voice which had traveled 300 feet from the end of the stadium and back, reached my right ear, his voice had already reached my left ear, having traveled by radio wave from Managua to the satellite over Spain, to Ecuador and back to Managua again, a distance of 10, 000 miles. "
Television, was another innovative measure of the Palau team. During the last three nights of the crusade, prefilmed Palau TV programs were shown on 100 TV stations in the same twenty Latin American countries. Within Managua itself, one station video-taped eight special halfhour sessions of "Luis Palau Responds." After these passed government censorship they were televised during the campaign in the city where even in the poorest section television sets are in almost every home.
Did this extensive use of the media pay off?
Within a few weeks thousands of letters telling of conversions arrived at the various crusade satellite offices from thirty key Latin American cities. The Argentine office reported over 6,000 letters in two weeks. Converts in one small town started their own church. Some 5,000 people wrote to request a free Palau booklet offered by radio during "Continente 75. " The staff estimated that by the end of January the total of requests would pass 10,000. The Overseas Crusades office in San Salvador, capital of El Salvador, reported over 600 conversions through radio broadcasts only halfway through the crusade.
The response both locally and internationally to "Continente 75" should leave little doubt that Latin America is ripe for harvest – for those willing to work hard.
PUBLISHING: CLOSING WORLD
The world is becoming a closed world to the religious press. This is the gist of a preliminary report by A. P. E. Wall, president of the International Federation of Catholic Press Agencies. He based his report on information supplied by thirty-seven journalists, mostly Catholic, in thirty-two countries.
Mr. Wall’s survey brought to light some disturbing trends in publishing, especially in the Third World. Interference comes primarily from governments. In some cases, however, officials are more motivated by personal religious, social or racial points of view.
Reports come out of Africa that the Soviet Union and its agents make available funds and talents to influence the cinema as well as periodicals and newspapers. Respondents in Africa expressed concern "that the Soviet influence will grow because it is better financed than religious journalism and because it is supported, at least indirectly, by economic, military and other enticements that may be offered by a major power seeking to broaden its influence."
The survey also indicated that Chinese and North Korean representatives offer the free services of communications specialists who carry on "professionally appealing but ideologically deceptive seminars. "
One African respondent noted that some Christian periodicals try to avoid problems by promoting the government line and thereby lose the support of intellectuals and others disenchanted with their government. Another noted that some editors imagine things in the area of censorship and submit to a subtle form of selfcensorship beyond anything the government might require.
These trends reported by religious journalists are substantiated by observations from the commercial press. Writing in The New York Times, Henry Kamm observed that "the foreign correspondent is increasingly becoming a casualty of the self-assertion of the third world toward the West. Demonstrating suspicion toward correspondents and reducing their access to sources of news, much of the third world is gradually joining the Communist nations in closing itself off from critical inquiry. "
The shrinking perimeters of religious freedom in publishing should spur even greater efforts to train nationals in communication skills and to publish while it is still day.
CIA: NO MISSIONARIES
The furor stirred by disclosures of CIA manipulation of missions (see January 1976 issue, page 5) refused to die down. When church and mission executives realized the practice was a matter of official policy, they set about to change that policy.
CIA Director William E. Colby wrote to Senator Mark 0. Hatfield, who was sponsoring legislation to put missions off-limits to intelligence agents. He denied that there has been extensive contacts between his organization and religious personnel. "In fact, CIA has very few such contacts," he wrote.
But in another letter to Senator Hatfield, Philip W. Buchen, White House Counsel, wrote that "many clergymen" had been engaged in intelligence work and that "the President does not feel it would be wise at present to prohibit the CIA from having any connection with the clergy. "
This conflicting but unyielding position moved religious leaders to formulate strict internal policy forbidding cooperation between missionaries and intelligence agencies. They also urged pressure by local churches on the government to change its policy of recruiting religious workers to gather intelligence.
In addition to internal measures, mission boards and agencies of such differing compositions as the Mennonites, Presbyterians and Southern Baptists, appealed to the government to change its policy.
On February 11 the CIA threw in the towel. In the first public action of George Bush, the new CIA director, and the first time the agency has publicly barred a particular intelligence gathering method, the agency announced it would no longer seek to recruit agents among American newspaper reporters or clergy and missionaries. The official statement noted, "CIA has no secret paid or contractual relationship with any American clergyman or missionary."
John Marks, whose book helped expose CIA attempts to recruit missionaries, said cooperation has become harder to get "because missionaries tend to have a greater social conscience and are not the kind of people who can be easily approached."
The intelligence controversy has "put the whole missionary movement under a cloud," says Dr. David Stowe, head of the United Church of Christ’s world ministries. Even so, the transparent sincerity and selfless dedication which have long characterized missionaries should be enough eventually to dispel this cloud and its threat to the missionary enterprise.
ICOWE: SPIRIT ON THE MOVE
The spirit of the International Congress on World Evangelism at Lausanne in 1974 is still on the move. Meeting at Atlanta in January, the fortyeight member Continuation Committee in its second meeting since Lausanne reaffirmed its role as a "stimulus and catalyst" to promote evangelism.
The emphasis on evangelism on a regional basis was expressed in various ways. Members were urged to set up regional groupings and employ regional coordinators. A budget was adopted which included some help with initial expenses in setting up the areas. The full committee voted to meet every two years instead of yearly in order to encourage regional cooperation.
The smaller, twelve-member executive committee will meet annually. Leighton Ford, a Canadian-born evangelist with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, was elected as chairman with a two-year term. Akira Hatori, a Japanese evangelist, and Nilson Fanini, a Brazilian pastor, are the vice-chairmen. Gordon Landreth, of the United Kingdom, was elected recording secretary. Anglican Bishop A. Jack Dain, the committee’s first chairman, was among the other eight members chosen to serve on the executive committee.
Encouraging intercessory prayer was listed as a major responsibility of the Continuation Committee. In this connection, the members approved a call to prayer for persecuted Christians, "especially (in) the Soviet Union, the People’s Republic of China and other totalitarian countries. "
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