The Fields Are White: Are You Ready?
Central America is a little string of needy nations linking North and South America. Seven countries: Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama, stand in line between Mexico and Colombia, their souls churning with spiritual need; thirsty for living water.
Meet the Hungry
Belize, a nation of less than 300,000 people, lies along the Caribbean Sea. Eighty percent of Belizeans speak English, the country’s official language. Most also speak a form of English Creole. In the west and north of Belize, Spanish is predominant. There is also a German-Mennonite community making up about 5% of the population.
Missionary work during the second half of the last century saw a few assemblies planted in Belize. However, there are no full-time evangelists commended by North American assemblies breaking new ground in this needy country.
Guatemala, Central America’s largest economy, is home to about 15 million people. The Mayan minority of Guatemala has held on to their languages and customs, where in other Central American countries the indigenous have been absorbed into Latin-American culture. Twenty three indigenous languages are officially recognized in Guatemala. Spanish, however, is the language of government and of the majority.
Assembly missionaries arrived in Guatemala over 100 years ago. The Lord blessed their labors, and over 200 assemblies continue today. Indigenous languages are spoken in several of these assemblies.
El Salvador, infamous for its gangs and the second highest murder rate in the world, is packed with seven million people. Central America’s smallest country geographically is industrialized and westernized, but the majority still live in poverty. Crime, violence, and tragedy have become routine rather than the exception.
During 36 years of assembly missionary work, the Lord has planted 18 assemblies in El Salvador. However, the harvesting has only touched a few small patches in this vast field of needy people.
Honduras is a little larger than Guatemala, but with half the population and an economy still struggling to lift itself out of Hurricane Mitch’s devastation in 1998. With 30% unemployment, Hondurans have the hardest time finding work among Central Americans.
Assembly work, however, is strongest in Honduras when compared to the other six nations. Close to 300 assemblies have been planted over the last century, and many Honduran workers have been commended to full-time service, reaching their own people and spreading the gospel into other Central American countries.
Nicaragua is the region’s largest country—and the poorest. In the western hemisphere, only Haitians live on less per day. Nicaragua is also the most politically unstable country in Central America. Between corruption and looming communism, Nicaraguans are left wondering who can be trusted. The Lord has recently sent more assembly missionaries with the message of the trustworthy One to this searching people. New works have begun and the Lord is setting up lampstands to shine in testimony to Him.
Costa Rica has been called the “Switzerland of Central America.” With no military, a stable government, thriving tourism, and a low crime rate, Costa Rica is what the rest of Central America would like to be. Over four million people make this nation their home.
Assembly missionaries arrived in Costa Rica over 30 years ago. Two remain today, carrying the burden of the work along with the country’s six assemblies.
Panama, a long strip of land tying Central and South America together, is home to three million people. The Panama Canal, at the center of the country geographically, economically, and in foreign relations, allows ships to cross between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.
While the profit-driven have paid Panama much attention over the last century, it has been mostly untouched by assembly workers. That is changing. As I write, two brethren are visiting Panama to begin gospel work, and a young couple is learning Spanish with a view to laboring there full time.
Unmask the Enemy
Satan’s wardrobe is full. He has an outfit to impress every Latin American—young or old, religious or self-indulgent. Here are some of the challenges confronted in spreading the gospel in Central America.
The Catholic Cape covers most of Latin America. Over three-quarter of Central Americans claim allegiance to the Catholic Church. Many are devout, and those who are not remain entangled in its traditions and superstitions. A patient love for the people deceived by this system is necessary. Their fear of God, consciousness of sin, and reverence for the Bible form an excellent basis for presenting the truth.
The Charismatic Costume looks trendy and comes in many colors and sizes. It is being worn in the fast-growing “evangelical churches” popping up across Central America. They offer a mix of miracles, music, and “salvation” without eternal security. Their productions appeal to the crowds, usually leaving the people on an emotional high and a false foundation. Reaching “evangelicals” with the gospel is a growing part of the work and can prove to be the most challenging.
The Cult Coat is a common sight on the streets of Central America. In El Salvador alone, the largest cult’s visiting missionaries number in the hundreds. As soon as their two-year assignment is done, others arrive to replace them. They are young and eager to cover their territory door-to-door, again and again. And they get results. They are building and filling buildings the size of city blocks. There is an urgent need for equally eager, spiritually-exercised messengers of the truth.
The Coyote Cap is embroidered with any well-recognized American logo. “Coyotes” are smugglers who arrange to get you into the United States illegally. Much of Central America’s youth is heading north for $6000, one way. Among them are many of those who have professed faith in Christ; the hopefuls for the future of the assemblies. This poses a real challenge for stable, consistent gospel testimony.
Seize the Opportunity
The enemy is active, but the Lord of the harvest is greater. The fields remain white. There are opportunities to preach the gospel, distribute literature, and visit home-to-home. Hospitals want help. There are workers needed in schools, orphanages, and with street people. “How shall they believe in Him of Whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?” (Romans 10:14).
From top to tail, Central America is waiting for the called and exercised. Large cities grow, untouched by the gospel. Miles and miles of road wind through mountain villages and coastal communities with no testimony to God’s saving grace. And heaven’s question remains, “Who will go for us?” Maybe someone will answer in God’s presence, “Here am I; send me” (Isaiah 6:8).