'Hero' of the Faith in Honduras
Chris Meehan news and media manager for the Christian Reformed Church recently visited various ministries connected to the CRC in Honduras. For all stories in this series, see "Justice and Mercy in Honduras".
February 3, 2011 — The voice of Rev. Juan Boonstra, preaching the gospel message via radio, is credited with reaching the hearts of millions of people throughout Latin America and helping to spur the formation of the first Christian Reformed Church in Honduras in the 1960s.
Spanish ministry leader for Back to God Ministries International from 1961 to 1991, Boonstra was host and preacher on the program La Hora de la Reforma. He grew up in Argentina and graduated from Calvin College and Calvin Theological Seminary.
Gilbert Espinoza started listening to the richly Reformed message presented over the airwaves by Boonstra, probably in the mid-1960s.
Living in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, Espinoza and other leaders of a small evangelical house church wanted to become affiliated with and learn from a denomination whose roots and doctrine were thoroughly Reformed.
After listening to Boonstra, they decided to write what was then The Back to God Hour in Chicago, asking for assistance and for a missionary to come down to help them build their Reformed faith.
Eventually, the CRC in North America complied with the request, stationing a series of Christian Reformed Missions missionaries and workers in Honduras, helping to form an indigenous ministry, and ultimately a new denomination was born.
Sponsored by Back to God Ministries International and CRWM, Boonstra also visited and in 1979 helped conduct a media blitz and a series of revivals in a stadium in Tegucigalpa. The revivals were very successful, drawing even more people to the Reformed faith.
"Juan Boonstra was a hero of the faith in our country. He was the catalyst for starting churches in Honduras and the Dominican Republic," says Espinoza in an interview after dinner at the house of Honduran Christian Reformed World Missions missionary Caspar Geisterfer and his wife, Leanne, who is Latin America Director for the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee.
Working with the Churches
Meanwhile, there always has been a close relationship between the CRC in North America and the CRC in Honduras. As CRC missionaries branched out, they kept Honduran church members abreast and aware of the work they were doing across the country. Back to God Ministries International continues to broadcast by radio and television in Honduras under the leadership of Rev. Guillermo Serrano.
Caspar Geisterfer, the Christian Reformed Church in North America missionary stationed in Honduras now, helps to oversee theological education of church leaders, as well as the overall ministry of the CRC in Honduras.
Practically, this means preaching, counseling, and advocating for the churches in a variety of ways – at the same time that he is learning the history of the CRC in Honduras.
He has done quite a bit of traveling over bumpy Honduran roads to meet with CRC pastors and members of their congregations. He also meets with representatives of the six CRC Honduran classes.
"I'm kind of a church consultant for World Missions," he said. "I work with churches, and give them ideas of how to be innovative in their ministries." He also uses World Missions’ funds to help underwrite some initiatives.
A big focus of his work, he said, is to develop and support projects that help at-risk youth. "I especially want to train CRC youth to be mentors to at-risk young people."
Geisterfer says, even after a time in Honduras, he is still learning the sometimes complex nature of the history of the CRC congregations. Each has a story to tell.
"There is a lot of history and a lot of different missionaries who came here. They taught us a great deal… We established our first national synod in 1994," says Espinoza, who is a member of the consistory of the first CRC in Honduras congregation. "The church has been active here. The teachings of John Calvin and the other reformers are important to us."
Also important, he said, has been to learn how to follow the CRC church order as a way of conducting the business of the church. "We liked the fact that CRC worship services were ordered and we followed their form of worship," says Dinorah Espinoza, the wife of Gilbert.
Some church members especially appreciate the doctrine of infant baptism. They say it may help put the child on the path to God from the very start of his or her life.
Cecilia Velasquez, wife of a CRC pastor, says she knows of instances of young people who were baptized as infants, and something about the administration of that sacrament played a role in their later lives, helping them to steer clear of sinful situations.
"Even though some of them have come into contact with satanic influences, they still have a positive presence in them from being baptized as infants," says Velasquez.
Today, the Christian Reformed Church in Honduras, with more than 70 churches and 5,000 members, has its struggles, as churches from different regions may do things a bit differently than other churches.
A financial scandal several years ago also caused some strife in the church – strife that is slowly being healed, especially as young people from the churches have come together for joint evangelistic and church-building events.
Spread across the country of seven million people on a landmass about the size of Louisiana, the churches have had to work to establish cohesiveness and unity among themselves. Some are very rural with few members, while others are larger, more prosperous, and established in such cities as Tegucigalpa, the country’s capital.
While the far-flung churches don’t always see eye to eye on some matters, they do agree on one thing: October 31 is one of the most important days of the year.
Reformation Day, the day that celebrates the founding of the Reformed faith by leaders such as John Calvin, is probably bigger than most holidays for CRC in Honduras members. They love and take the doctrine of their Reformed faith very seriously, says Caspar Geisterfer.
Honduran Pastors Face Challenges
Many of the pastors in the CRC in Honduras have been trained in seminary classes organized by their classis, their regional government body.
"They have been ordained to preach the word, administer the sacraments, and care for their sheep." But, says Geisterfer, because of the poverty of church members, the pastors must normally maintain other employment in order to survive.
"All of them work hard at what God has called them to do… All wrestle with being meaningful in an ever-changing world," says Geisterfer.
One such pastor is Livil Antonio Cruz, who serves the church in El Potrero in the central part of Honduras. Even though his horse kicked him and broke his leg, he still made it to the area classis meeting to deal with matters of the church.
He is pastor to about 50 people, but is also a rancher and father of four children. Last year, he convinced some of his church members to get married because the government had temporarily dropped the license fee.
Another is Pastor Ramon Velasquez, a former mason who serves the church in Nueva Suyapa, a poor community on the outskirts of Tegucigalpa. He learned much of what he now uses in his ministry a few years ago by accompanying a CRC missionary on his Saturday evangelistic rounds throughout the area. The missionary was able to "convince people to accept Jesus Christ, and I was really taken by this," he says.
He has served the 36-year-old church of about 75 members for a few years. The work can be difficult, given that the Nueva Suyapa neighborhood was for a time riddled with gang violence, including the murder of some 15 young people by a vigilante group.
As well as he can, he attends to the needs of his church. "We need to have our eyes wide open and don’t always understand what it is that we should be doing next," he says.
Overall, he says, he "tries to deal (and move forward) with what evangelism has brought to Central America. Sometimes it is difficult when the government imposes itself and makes restrictions on the church."
—Chris Meehan, CRC Communications