August 19, 2004

Honduran Mennonite churches host Holy Spirit in Missions Conference 2004

SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras – In a large open-air pavilion, home of the Amor Viviente congregation, representatives from North and South America, Asia, and Africa gathered July 15-17 for the second Holy Spirit in Missions Conference.

On the opening night, at the same instant the group broke into joyful worship, a sudden shower of rain fell on the tin roof – electrifying the crowd. “Open the eyes of my heart, Lord,” we sang to the rain’s percussion. “I want to see you… Pour out your power and love as we sing holy, holy, holy…santo, santo, santo…” The audience swung freely between English and Spanish.

Travel weary feet couldn’t help but jump and kick to the lilting Latino music. Many flung arms heavenward, beckoning the Holy One.

Javier Soler of Amor Viviente co-moderated the event with Nathan Showalter, who has chaired the planning committee from China where he lives and works with his family. Showalter introduced the conference theme – “Word, signs, suffering” – and the first address on “The Spirit sustains in suffering” by Carlos Montoya.

Montoya, who pastors Amor Viviente La Ceiba, a church of more than 1,000 members, came to Christ through a youth ministry started by EMM missionaries Ed and Gloria King in 1974. Montoya said he was a street kid who didn’t even know his own father. As God transformed their lives, Montoya and his wife Suyapa began taking abused and abandoned children into their home – a ministry which has grown into Casa Feliz (Happy House), now home to 23 children.

After scattering to host families among Amor Viviente and Honduran Mennonite churches for the night, participants gathered for a day of prayer and fasting. “When we think of missions, we remember many mistakes,” moderator Showalter said. “We know we are people of ‘unclean lips.’”

Enos Martin, a Lancaster Mennonite Conference bishop, preached powerfully from Mark 16 on “The Spirit leads through repentance: handling snakes and drinking poison.” He urged the group, “Today if you hear God’s voice don’t harden your hearts. God wants to save, heal, reconcile, [and] evangelize, but it depends on our faith, our action.”

Too often, Martin said, people just accept things without asking God what he wants to do. “As a psychiatrist I tell people, ‘Accept grief, and get on with it,’ but we’re not talking about psychiatry here, we’re talking about the risen Christ and his power to destroy all the works of the evil one. The resurrected Lord is present and our old ways of responding are no longer appropriate.”

The group spent the rest of the day in sustained prayer and fasting for the nations – including requests and stories from around the world – sometimes in small clusters, sometimes as a group.

Melvin Fernandez, pastor of El Arca Mennonite Church in San Pedro Sula, preached a concluding sermon that day on “Prayer and the fire of God within you.” “Our gathering shakes the world of darkness,” he said. “Your life, your nation will be different because you are here. When you decide to touch the world, God decides to touch you.”

Fernandez went out into the audience where he found his wife and coaxed her to follow him up onto the platform. Leading her by the hand he said, “The Holy Spirit leads us gently and we go places we wouldn’t otherwise go. He shows his love for the church and is grateful for the children his church gives him.”

Then Fernandez shared about a trip he took to Morocco last summer. He felt such a burden for the country – but couldn’t talk to the people or share openly. As he prayed God gave him an idea. He went to a large park and handed out balloons stuffed with scripture texts. When the Muslim children asked who the balloons were from he said, “Jesus.” Soon the children were running around calling out, “Thank you, Jesus! Thank you, Jesus!”

In the evening communion service, Javier Soler said, “Those serving communion tonight are from all the continents. We are the fruit of the sufferings of Christ. Through his death we receive life. Together we celebrate the death of Jesus for all, and that he is alive and among us. From every continent we serve each other. It doesn’t matter if our continent is rich or poor. We all have something to give. We all have something to celebrate.”

On Saturday more local participants joined the conference, swelling the crowd to 500 by the time the evening service ended. Nathan Showalter opened the day with a sermon entitled, “The Spirit leads back to Jerusalem” in which he told of the “ridiculous and impossible” vision of Chinese Christians to send 100,000 missionaries “back to Jerusalem” in the next decade. Just as the gospel came from Jerusalem and spread primarily in a western direction, Chinese Christians today, from the underground churches, believe God is calling them to “complete the circle,” taking the gospel through unreached Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist lands "back to Jerusalem.”

“These leaders have touched God,” Showalter said. “Their hands are clasped in the wounded hands of Jesus. I’m just a soft, spoiled gringo. I may be a Harvard-trained mission historian – but in this mission I am a learner. I think God wants me to have a small part in taking the gospel ‘back to Jerusalem.’ Maybe I can follow the leadership of the Chinese, the Hondurans…”

As the message came to an end, dozens of persons fell on their faces weeping at the front of the pavilion. People cried out, “I’d rather die a martyr’s death than die healthy. Can I be counted worthy to suffer for his name? God says, ‘Take off what you have so I can use you.’”

As people continued to weep and wait before the Lord, Soler urged the group, “In God’s Spirit we have one path, one foundation – Jesus Christ. You Americans may feel guilty for your wealth and privilege. We Latins may feel ashamed of our poverty. But this isn’t about inferiority or superiority. Being together is good because we see there is only one way for all of us – the way of the cross.”

The day continued with stories of suffering, signs, and wonders from around the world. Kenna Dula from Ethiopia told of several mentally ill persons who had been restored to sanity and community life through the prayer ministry of the Meserete Kristos Church. Yesaya Abdi from Indonesia told of a young man from one of the churches planted by their mission agency, PIPKA, in north Sumatra. The man, a drug addict with a severely distended stomach, was miraculously healed after prayer. A Honduran woman testified to healing from a malignant brain tumor.

Henry Mulandi, a missions leader from the Christian Church International based in Thika, Kenya, closed the day with a powerful challenge to move in all the spiritual gifts God has given the church. “The mission of the church is missions,” he said. “The church that doesn’t do missions will die. The church that doesn’t train its members for mission will die. We’re here to be prepared for ministry. The church isn’t a refrigerator. The church is an incubator. We’re not here just to change diapers. If you come in crawling you should go out walking – even flying! Real churches grow and multiply.”

Mulandi told the story of a young man in a refugee camp. A team from their church led him to Christ and equipped him for ministry. He has since gone on to the Congo and planted a church there in spite of tremendous opposition and life-threatening harassment. “I wish you all knew your potential,” he said. “There’s so much you’re not seeing. God can do more than you think.”

El Arca, a Honduran Mennonite church pastored by Melvin Fernandez, hosted the final meeting of the conference Sunday morning. After children in colorful costumes performed worship dances and musical numbers, Francisco Calix, president of the Sula Region (Honduras) of the Mennonite church, thanked the Mennonites for sending missionaries to the region more than 50 years ago.

While thanking the children for their part in the worship service, Fernandez noted that in their church school they are teaching children English to prepare them for missionary service in places like India and North Africa. This year the 18 Mennonite churches of the Sula District gave a special gift of $600 to the International Missions Association (IMA), one of the sponsors of the Holy Spirit in Missions Conference, as their contribution to world missions beyond Honduras.

In the final sermon of the conference, Steve Shank, the EMM representative to Latin America, called the group of over 1,000 persons to move beyond mere “information” to “revelation.” “We are not natural people seeking after a spiritual experience,” he said, “but spiritual people living in a natural world. When the Holy Spirit came, the disciples began to walk at the revelation level. We need the power of the Holy Spirit. We need to walk in revelation.”

As the conference closed people broke out into spontaneous dancing and celebration. Mauricio Pedroza from the Way of Holiness Mennonite Church called all pastors and spouses to the front declaring that this was the start of a Honduran Mennonite mission agency. They would designate the last Sunday in August as a special missions day.

Shank and Richard Showalter, president of EMM, prayed for the group – inviting God to send a flood of witnesses from Honduras into the world where they are most needed.