See below for a report on the missionary teaching trip of John and Jan Oakes July 21-Aug 1, 2011
Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador, Colombia
July 22-Aug 1, 2011
Mexico City July 22-24
For Jan and me a visit to Mexico City is a chance to catch up with many of our best friends. We have visited DF Mexico quite a bit more than any other city. We had our honeymoon here in this great city, were here for the first service of the Mexico City Church of Christ in 1987 and brought our entire family here for three weeks in 2002. Since then, I have been back at least six times. We are met at the airport by Arturo Elizarraras, Alex Nava, and two special security guys. This was quite a surprise for us, as we are not used to having special security.
Mexico City is one of the great cities of the world, with a population somewhere around 25 million and some of the most amazing archaeological and historical sites in the world. It is a very crowded city. Getting around without the metro is tough. The driving here is chaotic and it is very easy to get lost, even for a native. People are generally very friendly. Almost anyone will stop his or her busy schedule to give a helping hand. This city is quite modern, despite having archaeological remains from the time of the Aztecs and their city of Tenochtictlan, as well as Spanish buildings from the 1500s. Mexico has had a terrible security crisis for the past several years, with open battles between narcotrafficers and the government. Surprisingly, Mexico City is one of the safest cities in the entire country because it is very difficult for the bad guys to work here with impunity.
The church we are visiting has about 4000 members. This is a big church! They are going through significant changes, with a lot of input coming from a number of elders who came here recently from Boston and Los Angeles. There is a great need here for mature shepherds and for comprehensive Bible teaching, and we are glad to be of some help in this area.
We had a class on Acts and Church History for the campus and teen group. There are a bit over 100 in attendance. There was a torrential downpour just before the class, which kept some away from the meeting, but the crowd was very enthusiastic.
Saturday we had a class for Proyecto Esdras. This is a Bible school which has been functioning for several years under the capable leadership of Arturo and Ana Rosa Elizarraras. I teach on Science and Skepticism. The subject is how to think about questions relating to the paranormal. The theme of the class is that we need to use a balance of reason, experience/evidence and biblical statements with regard to subjects such as demon possession, ghosts, witchcraft and so forth, with emphasis, of course, on biblical statements. This is a topic which is of particular importance in Mexico and Central America because most people believe in a wide variety of supernatural effects such as witchcraft, ghosts and demon possession. There is much confusion and unreasonable thinking about such things. There were about 50 in the room, but the class was broadcast live to 25 locations from Canada, the US and Mexico, to almost every country in Central and Spanish-speaking South America. This school has a very broad reach.
After this we had a wonderful lunch with the directors of the Bible school, including Arturo, Ana Rosa, Alex Nava, and Alberto and Tania Machuca. We visited a wonderful part of the city known as Coyoacan to visit a church built in the 1500s and the quaint plaza and very old buildings in this, one of the oldest parts of Mexico City. We have a great talk about the teaching ministry and the situation in Mexico and Central America surrounding the changes to be brought about by the visit of the elders from LA and Boston. There is change in the air-good change-but Arturo and Ana Rosa are concerned about the future of their teaching ministry.
Sunday included a conference for the men in the South superregion. The title is "Los Milagros de Jesus." This is an evangelistic event designed to help the faith of the Christians and the guests. The hotel conference room is packed, with about 750 in attendance, with at least three hundred visitors. This is a great victory for the church here. They really are trying to impact this great city for God. Monday morning we have a flight to San Pedro Sula, Honduras.
San Pedro Sula, Honduras July 25-26
The flight to San Pedro Sula takes about two and one half hours. We arrive in San Pedro Sula and are met by Hector Cruz, Omar Zamboni and David Fernandez. This is a tropical city, quite hot and humid. There are one million people in San Pedro. This is not the largest city in Honduras. The largest city is Tegucigalpa (1.5 million). Tegucigalpa (known as Tegus here) is the educational and government center, but San Pedro Sula is the chief port and the main place for industry and business. It is where the jobs are. The Spanish here is very clear and easily understood, which helps me as my Spanish is still weak.
The church we are visiting has about 450 members. They are led by Hector and Dulce Cruz. We formed a great friendship with them while we were here. Omar and Sadi Zamboni are their right hand couple. Omar works for the church, leading one of the two regions. The church here has a very nice facility, but it is not large enough for the entire church, so they have two services. San Pedro is small enough that this is a practical plan. Last week, 65 came on a medical mission to San Pedro Sula from San Diego, Los Angeles and Boston. This was a huge boost to the church here. They have had many outside visitors lately, including elders and teachers, which is helping the church to mature. They do not feel isolated any more.
On Monday evening I spoke on the Miracles of Jesus. My translator is Hector Cardona. He is a fantastic translator. There were well over three hundred in attendance, with a lot of visitors. This church has really been reaching out to the community, and we can tell from the response.
I spent some time with Carlos Mendieta who is hoping to become a teacher for the churches in Central America. We ran up the mountain at the edge of the city, up to and past the Coca Cola sign. This was quite a run, up into lush jungle, with a wonderful view of the city and the mountains surrounding it.
We spent the rest of the morning with the staff of the church in San Pedro Sula. They have decided to include a few non-paid leaders in the staff, which seems like a very wise plan. We were privileged to meet Wilfredo and Diana Coello. They lead the church in Tegucigalpa, with about 100 members. They have come down for these meetings. I presented a lesson on The Kingdom of God for the staff which seems to have been a great inspiration to all. I was translated by Marcia McCabe. After the class, those present shared their heart about the kingdom. Many tears were shed.
After this, we spent the afternoon with Hector and Sandra Maradiaga, doing a little shopping and visiting a museum. Just last week, they decided to accept the opportunity to lead the church in Panama City, Panama, with about 100 members. They will be training here and in San Salvador for another month, then they are off on their adventure. We are so inspired by their servant heart and their willingness to go anywhere to serve the church.
In the evening, I taught for the church again. This time the topic was God and Science. There were about 160 for the second lesson, with a high percentage of guests. After the lesson, we go out to a wonderful restaurant of parillada. Many from the church were there and we had a great time. Wednesday AM we were up at 4:00 AM for a flight to San Salvador. We were greatly encouraged because a great crew came out to say good-bye at the airport, including Hector and Dulce, Omar and Sadi, Marcia and others. We have formed unusually deep friendships in a very short time here.
San Salvador, El Salvador July 27-28
We are met at the airport in San Salvador by Josue Ortega and Marcelo. San Salvador is a couple of thousand feet above sea level, in the mountains. Like SP Sula it is hot, but at least it cools off a bit at night. This is a city of two million, in a country of only five million. Like Honduras, there is a lot of poverty and crime here. It is normal to see guards with machine guns in front of hotels and restaurants. This is not a particularly safe city, but, of course, we feel very safe with the Christians.
The church we are visiting is led by Josue and Veronica Ortega (children; Aldo 10 yrs. and Monserrat 8 yrs). They moved here from Los Angeles two years ago. They are helped by Marcelo and Maria Gema who work with the singles, campus and youth. The campus group here is just getting started. Marcelo and his wife came here from Managua, Nicaragua where they were leading the group there. The church in San Salvador has 140 members. When the Ortegas came there were 85 in the group. Clearly there has been good growth here. The church is composed largely of couples. There are many professionals here and it seems that there is potentially a strong base of leaders to help the church here.
In the evening was a lesson on the question of pain and suffering for the church. There were about 110 at the midweek meeting, including a lot of new guests.
We began Thursday with a visit to a school near the small city of Suchitoto; a little over an hour from San Salvador. The school has been supported for several years by the church here. One of the sisters, named Merci, has been working as a teacher in this school. The church has donated equipment, built a soccer field and bathrooms and helped the children at this school in many practical ways. Jan and I are particularly connected with the school because we have been sending Gifts of Hope shoe boxes to the children here for four years. The visit is very emotional and we have a great time visiting the children. The road to the school is very rough. The car can barely get through. There are many sights in this thoroughly rural setting which are very unusual to us. The poverty is almost overwhelming, yet the people seem happy and we are proud to be a small part of helping this community. We brought a suitcase full of gifts from San Diego for the children and school supplies for the school.
After this, Josue and Marcelo took us to the extremely charming little city of Suchitoto for lunch and some time looking around the city. This is the real El Salvador. It is hard to describe the situation in this rustic little city. From there we returned quickly in order to have a lesson on Acts and Church History for the church. This is an extra meeting, held on fairly short notice, so there are only about 40 at the class, but a lot of them are guests. We are really encouraged by the faith of the church here and their desire to understand the Bible more deeply.
Bogota, Colombia July 29-31
The flight to Bogota is about two hours and thirty minutes. We fly over the Pacific, over Costa Rica and Panama, then over the Carribean, and finally over the countryside of Colombia into the mountains to land in Bogota. This city is quite high in the mountains, at about 2600 meters (over 8000 feet). Despite being just four degrees north of the equator, the temperature here is very cool. The three days we were here, the average high temperature was about 65 degrees. It is quite rainy here and colder in July than San Diego in the winter. I only have short sleeved shirts and need to borrow a coat to get by.
Bogota is in a beautiful location, tucked up against a mountain range. It is a city of eight million in a country of 45 million. This is an old city, having been established by the Spaniards in the 1500s. The old city is fairly big, but the city itself has a quite modern feel. Of course there is a lot of poverty here, but the places we visited felt fairly safe. The reputation of Colombia as a lawless haunt of drug dealers is not deserved as far as we can tell. It is probably the safest place we visited on this tour. We are here during the time of the youth world cup, which is happening in Colombia. We are able to watch a game between Colombia and France on TV. The people here are quite fanatical about their soccer.
The church we are visiting in Bogota is fairly large. There are about 750 members, in three regions. The leaders are Flavio and Rene Uribe. Rene is a missionary from the US, while Flavio is from Mexico. They just finished a two month sojourn visiting churches in Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Argentina and Argentina with their two children. They traveled by jet, bus, train, car, bicycle and boat. Quite an adventure! We were met at the airport by Alberto and Marta Nava (leaders of the north region). We are staying at their home. They are a fairly mature couple with three adult children. They work for the church. We spent quite a bit of time as well with Alejandro and Claudia Diaz (central region). While Flavio and Renee were out of town, the group was led principally by Luis Enrique Hoyos (south region).
On Saturday we met with the church staff for a class on the Kingdom of God and a wide variety of questions and answers. Flavio was my interpreter for the entire weekend. After this class and a wonderful lunch of traditional soup, we had a class on deepening our personal Bible study for the regional and other leaders. From there, Jan traveled to do a conference for the women titled "Faithful to the End." There were 150 women in this class. At the same time, I taught a class at the Universidad Tecnologico Gran Columbian on the existence of God. There were many visitors at this meeting, with perhaps 120 total in attendance. We spent some time watching Colombia compete in the under-20 world cup. They played France here in Bogota and won by a surprising score of 4 to 1. Colombia is a very happy country today.
Sunday AM we traveled to the city center with Alberto to teach a class on Freedom in Christ and Using Our Gifts for the Bible group leaders. It was quite impressive to see 40 students come so early, especially after the big victory and because of the crazy traffic issue with the half-marathon in the city this morning. The church is meeting in a very nice auditorium which is owned by a group of Catholic nuns. The sermon I teach for the church is on the Kingdom of God. There are about 600 in attendance. The church is very animated. It seems that they give their hearts in a very emotional way in their worship. The worship is very encouraging. One thing which strikes me is that the church here in Bogota has a relatively unusual number of mature men and women-mature both in years and in the faith. There is a strong base for the church to grow here as well as to help the other Colombian churches. They have not yet appointed elders, but I believe there are several good candidates. The other churches in Colombia are in Cali (35 members) and in Medellin (48 members).