Holy Week in Antigua typically draws more than a half million participants to the annual Semana Santa celebration. But this predominantly Roman Catholic event in the former capital city of Guatemala includes some unorthodox worshipers.
While religious life in Guatemala has been dominated by Roman Catholicism for hundreds of years, adherents—especially in remote, mountainous regions of this Central American country—have blended their faith with Mayan and other native beliefs. In 2009, one Catholic publication reported a numerical decline over the previous two decades, characterized as a migration to evangelical churches rather than an exodus from Catholicism.
The term “evangelical” is often applied broadly to include not only churches that feature solid biblical preaching, but also man-centered ministries that promise wealth and happiness. In Guatemala, there is a great need for evangelical pastors to be equipped to combat the deceptive influence of prosperity preachers.
Tyrone Moorehead is the administrative pastor of First Baptist Church of Upper Marlboro, Maryland (FBCUM), and coordinates the congregation’s mission efforts. Over several years he has led five trips to Guatemala. In his work with local pastors there, Moorehead has observed a mix of Catholic nominalism and other religious practices. “People dabble in a cafeteria-style, ‘build-your-own’ religion,” he said.
In 2010, Moorehead’s congregation prayed about working with a least-reached people group in Guatemala. Through International Mission Board–Americas they connected with pastor Herberto Aguirre, missions director for IMB’s Guatemala Convention in Jalapa, a mountainous region east of Guatemala City.
Since FBCUM already had a missions presence in Jalapa, their teams began offering training conferences as part of a long-range plan to build up pastors so they could reach the unreached. But it didn’t take long for Moorehead to realize they needed more effective tools for equipping remote church leaders to preach and shepherd biblically.
‘These Are Yours’
Before hosting a conference in Jalapa in March of 2016, Moorehead secured TGC International Outreach (TGC IO) Packing Hope resources to distribute to participants. At the end of the weekend event, his team gathered the attending pastors to present them with books.
Tears flowed freely after the men were told, “These are yours.” They leafed through the pages of their very own Spanish Pastors Book Set (III), which includes What Is the Gospel? by Greg Gilbert, God’s Big Picture by Vaughan Roberts, Church Discipline by Jonathan Leeman, Expository Ministry from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Grace Upon Grace by Juan Sanchez, and Sound Doctrine by Bobby Jamieson.
“Even [buying] one of these books would have required a significant sacrifice for them, perhaps a month’s salary,” Moorehead said. The book sets have provided a larger library than most of the pastors had ever seen in their villages. Access to books and other goods is limited because of seasonal rains and weather-ravaged roads.
As one recipient explained, “For us, it’s books or eat.”
Learning to Rely on God’s Word
In another remote mountainous region, access to markets is not the chief problem for pastors. In the small town north of Guatemala City, cultural obstacles to the gospel outweigh the difficulty of bad roads. For the Achi (native Mayan) people here, oral tradition is valued above education, especially among the older population, since few resources have been available in their indigenous language. Churches in this region must also counter animistic religion, which is resurging due to curiosity from outsiders.
Clint Moore, executive pastor at Christ Church in Albuquerque, New Mexico, says most Achi pastors possess little more than an 8th-grade-equivalent education. These men acknowledge their poor reading habits but have discovered that a better understanding of a Scripture passage will result in spiritual growth. Desert Springs hosts semi-annual workshops in San Miguel Chicaj to teach area pastors expository preaching. Those who attend are “itching to pass on what they’ve learned to others as well,” Moore said.
To help Achi pastors build a deep reliance on God’s Word in their sermon preparation, Moore’s team supplied participants with Packing Hope resources specifically chosen to highlight the workshops’ themes. Recent distributions have included Now, That’s a Good Question! by R. C. Sproul, The Gospel-Centered Life by Robert H. Thune and Will Walker, The Priority of Preaching by Christopher Ash, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church by Mark Dever, and The Trellis and the Vine by Colin Marshall and Tony Payne.
On the Right Track
Achi pastors struggled to abandon habits of entertaining their congregations—preaching sermons about themselves and what they can get from God. In an interview filmed for Desert Springs Church, the pastor of a Nazarene church in Aldea Guachipilin said his congregation, used to hearing anecdotes and personal testimonies, was at first uncomfortable with penetrating expositional preaching.
As the Holy Spirit has encouraged them in their efforts to preach an entire passage in context, Achi pastors report that God has also changed hearts. Church members now desire to be challenged by Scripture instead of placated by promises of prosperity. Receiving positive feedback convinces these pastors they are on the right track.
Though Moore’s church works in San Miguel Chicaj and Moorehead’s serves the Jalapa region, there is no shortage of Guatemalan areas in need of well-equipped church leaders.
Moorehead said TGC IO resources makes equipping easier: “Anyone can help pastors in remote regions where least-reached people groups live.”