The Challenge of Gradual Religious Transition
Thirty years have come and gone since our arrival in Costa Rica in March of 1973 as the first “Assembly” missionaries. We found a small assembly of three couples, product of the labors of a Salvadorean brother and his wife, (having been transferred here by the Standard Fruit Company following the war between El Salvador and Honduras), in the city of Gupiles on the Caribbean coastal plain. We settled in, however, on the more populous Central plateau, in Ciudad Coln. Five years later we were joined by the David Booths of Arnstein, Ontario, (1978-1994) and the Edwin Presleys of Dawson Creek, British Columbia, (1978-1983). Through a few Gospel series and many cottage meetings in different areas over the years, the Lord gave encouragement in salvation and six additional assemblies were formed.
The beginnings of the work testified to a field claiming 95.8% faithful Roman Catholics, the second most Catholic country in the Western Hemisphere; the Traditional churches were filled to the doors. The control and pressures of the priests were everywhere felt and as well the very strong influence of parents, even in their married children. Nevertheless, the people manifested certain characteristics which made them accessible to the gospel: a basic fear of God, a consciousness of sin and dread of death and judgment, a respect for the Word of God, a practise of speaking to God in prayer, and a desire after security.
Yet, with the passage of time, the traditional church is changing. No longer do most priests hold to the existence of flaming judgment in hell, discarding therefore the necessity of being saved from wrath to come. Accusations of immorality and even criminality amongst the priesthood have produced doubts in the minds of many, with the result that some who were devout are now nominal; some who were nominal are now indifferent, and others have become seeking souls; some finding the truth of God, and others drifting into the confusion of erroneous systems.
Typical of the sincere Catholic was Dayana, pressured by her very religiously involved mother, and by the local priest; yet when exposed to the clear preaching of the gospel, she replied, “Every message seemed to be coming directly at me. I entered meeting tonight with a heavy burden, but now that I know Im saved, my burden is gone.”
Franklin was the disenchanted type who, after four years in training for the priesthood, left the Seminary on account of sin and abusiveness witnessed there. Through cottage meetings held next door, first he was reached, then his wife; then their family were raised in the Sunday School; today father, mother, three sons and a daughter are all in the assembly in Ciudad Coln.
Illustrating change in traditional doctrine: when, years ago, Flor told her former spiritual guide, “Now I know that Im saved,” he replied, “But thats impossible! Ive been a priest for thirty years, and I still cant say that Im saved.” But now their most influential preacher in Latin America tells the Catholics, “We’re all saved. God wants all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” Saved from what? “Because you are in the Catholic church, you are “saved” from the possibility of error. Therefore, why look for salvation elsewhere?”
Then there are those who have drifted into systems of error, but are still searching souls! Alejandro went from Catholicism to years in the Bah’ faith. However, when they finally asked him to accept Bahu Allh as his savior, he rightly reasoned, ‘The only person I can trust as my Savior is the One who triumphed over death by His resurrection, Jesus Christ’. He was invited by one of the brethren to hear the gospel and one afternoon, after hours of questions and answers, finally trusted Christ.
David and Lilian had turned to Mormonism, but found no solid basis for their faith. Invited to cottage meetings they told us after professing faith in Christ, “What impressed us most here was constant reference to the Scriptures as the basis for everything. In our church the Bible was always on display, but all reading and preaching was from the Book of Mormon”. Faith had come by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God. They are in the assembly in San Ramn today.
Another seeker was Ana, who had moved out to the Adventists. The attracting feature here to the truth of God was the love of Christ reflected in the manifest love of the brethren, which eventually led Ana to find in the assembly a spiritual “home.” Soon afterward she was diagnosed with terminal cancer, but the saints took care of her for over a year till the Father called her to her home above. At the funeral one of her brothers remarked, “The priest may really give my ear a twist for this, but you would never see this love in the Catholic church.” It was a good testimony.
Such cases illustrate the Lords promise to the honest seeker after God, “Seek and ye shall find”. Yet, to us, each one of these represents a challenge to a wider approach and wisdom to be able to reach such on their own ground amid a pitiable confusion encountered in their search for the truth of God.
Another interesting feature to surface in the last few years here has been the work in the Indigenous Reservation of Quitirris amongst the native Indians of the Pacacua Tribe. This work is spearheaded by our young brethren Henry Mena of Ciudad Coln and David Gonzlez of Grecia, with help from Ciudad Coln, Grecia and San Ramn. Though started as a childrens work it has expanded its outreach to young people and adults; a busload of older natives came to the gospel meeting in Ciudad Coln on two successive Sunday evenings to see a more established work. There were interesting conversations at a tea following each meeting.
All this gives emphasis to the desperate need of full-time workers here. We trust the Lord may shortly give us the joy of seeing one or more national workers commended; but the smallness of the work is financially limiting. The Lord direct in this need. The laborers are few.