Guatemala often makes the news for stories of violence and death. Yet, Baptists in the Central American nation remain hopeful as they seek to bring both spiritual and physical life to their neighbors.
Otto Echeverria, president of the Convención de Iglesias Bautista de Guatemala (Convention of Baptist Churches in Guatemala), told EthicsDaily.com that people in his country are “very open to hear the gospel.”
“People are very friendly,” added Echeverria, who also pastors a Baptist church in Coatepeque (in the southwestern part of Guatemala). “We don’t have such opposition that we had in the past. Right now, the gospel is welcomed by many people.”
Although Guatemala has been a predominately Catholic nation since the Spanish conquest, Protestants have grown in recent decades.
Among those gaining have been both evangelical churches (like Baptists) as well as Pentecostal and charismatic churches.
As Baptists minister within this religious landscape, Echeverria says that “the gospel has gained many, many people for Christ.”
However, Echeverria still sees the need for more work, especially in training to help with “the preparation of our leaders” so they can plan “better work in our communities.”
Echeverria’s comments came following a training conference for pastors and other church leaders in the western part of Guatemala.
Led by Churchnet (also known as the Baptist General Convention of Missouri), the conference on Jan. 13-14 brought about 85 Guatemalan Baptists together in Quetzaltenango (which is also known as Xela).
Gary Snowden, Churchnet’s missions mobilization team leader, travels to Guatemala twice a year to lead training sessions and translate for other session leaders. The training conferences started in January 2007.
The most recent training conference included sessions on sermon delivery, using social media and sharing one’s faith with Catholic friends.
Snowden told EthicsDaily.com that the region around Xela was chosen “as an area much in need of leadership training as very few area pastors had any formal theological training.”
In addition to training sessions, pastors and church leaders who attended also received theological books at each conference.
“A direct byproduct of the training has been the formation of a pastors’ association in the region where none previously existed,” he said. “Attendance has grown through the years from an initial group of 60 to as many as 90 in recent gatherings, representing a growing number of churches and new missions.”
Echeverria praised the conferences for helping pastors learn more about theology, church history and ministry strategies. He added that it also provides “a great moment for communion, for fellowship” for the Baptist leaders.
Although some Guatemalan Baptist leaders worry about reaching younger generations in their churches, there are also signs of hope as many conference participants are young pastors and music leaders.
“The biggest challenge we have is to reach the youth and the children,” Echeverria explained. “We are working on it very, very hard now because we know that’s the future of our churches and the future of our country.”
There are 385 churches in the Convención de Iglesias Bautista de Guatemala, representing more than 46,000 believers, according to statistics from the Baptist World Alliance.
Despite challenges, Guatemalan Baptists remain hopeful they can bring spiritual life to their land. Their pride in their nation keeps them committed to serving their people.
Carol Bercian, Churchnet’s liaison in Guatemala and one of the organizers behind the training conferences, spoke at the end of the recent conference of her love for Guatemala and her wish to remain in her beloved country. Her sentiments were repeated by others.
With love for their country, Guatemalan Baptists are preparing for more effective ministry and building their organizational relationships. In a country known for fertile land, Baptists hope to see the gospel continue to grow.
Editor’s note: For the second article in this two-part report on Guatemala and Baptists, check out Guatemalan Ministry Brings Life and Hope. A photo news story from Kaylor’s trip to Guatemala is available here.
Brian Kaylor is editor and president of Word&Way, associate director of Churchnet, and a contributing editor for EthicsDaily.com.