Indians look to guerrillas, many Ladinos to government.

The correspondent who filed this report, based on on-the-spot interviews with the people affected, does not live in Guatemala, but travels extensively in South and Central America.

Violence is no respecter of churches. In Guatemala, evangelical churches are being drawn inexorably into the escalating violence. Protestant missionaries, as well as Catholic clergymen, have been threatened out of disputed areas. Leftist guerrillas deliver 48-hour ultimatums to those they believe to be government collaborators. A spokesman for the right observed, “We do not deliver ultimatums. We exterminate our suspects.”

Since the beginning of this year, at least two Indian pastors have been killed and others have been threatened by rightist death squads. One pastor was related to the churches of a well-known fundamentalist faith mission, another was a Pentecostal. Apparently they were singled out simply because they are natural leaders in villages that are sympathetic to the guerrilla movement.

In the early years of Protestantism in Guatemala, evangélicos were persecuted by Roman Catholics for carrying Bibles. Today, in some regions of Guatemala, peasants—Catholic or Protestant—who carry Bibles become objects of suspicion. In the Catholic grassroots communities (comunidades de base), the Bible, and not Das Kapital, is the motivating force behind the popular resistance to government repression.

Explosive Indian Growth

The Presbyterian Church of Guatemala was recently forced to reactivate a long dormant Commission for the Defense of Presbyterian Interests, because of the growing number of violations of the civil rights of their membership. Until the 1950s (next year the Presbyterian Church will celebrate the centenary of the beginning of Protestant work in Guatemala), this commission worked to defend freedom of worship and speech. But unlike the sporadic persecutions of earlier years, which were religiously motivated, the present troubles have socioeconomic and racial overtones.

The Presbyterian church—a conservative evangelical body that has fraternal relations with the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A.—has 44,000 adult members and some 420 local congregations. In a nation where 60 percent of the population are Indian and approximately the same percentage are illiterate, three-quarters of the Presbyter ian membership belong to various tribal groups who worship and witness in their own languages. Few of these indigenous peoples are conversant in Spanish, the official language of Guatemala. A large number of these Indian Christians were converted in “people movements” during the past decade.

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But the growth of the Presbyterian church, and that of several Pentecostal churches as well, has coincided with the explosive growth of the Indian population. Indian lands are no longer adequate for Indian needs. Consequently, large numbers of them have found it necessary to move out of their cool ancestral highlands into more inhospitable virgin lowlands that no one seemed to want. Recently, however, the discovery of lucrative minerals in some of the Indian territories, or the fact that the land has been newly cleared and made potentially profitable by the hard-working Indians, has awakened the cupidity of ladino (mixed Spanish and Indian) entrepreneurs.

In one recent incident, a village of 86 Indian families (600 inhabitants) is being ordered off once unproductive land they began to till 16 years ago. During about half that time, the hamlet was visited periodically by a series of reputed “owners.” They were either unable or unwilling to enforce their title upon the actual residents who thought they were living on common lands. The most recent owner, a big city lawyer, has both the documents and the muscle to enforce his claim. He has brought increasing psychological pressure upon the acknowledged leader of the community.

That leader is a pastor, and 95 percent of the community are evangélicos who belong to three Protestant churches. Only one other person in the village besides the pastor (deliberately unidentified) can communicate in Spanish. Despite his lack of legal expertise, he has single-handedly outmaneuvered an astute lawyer and braved increasingly explicit threats against his life from the local police commissioner. The alternatives are clear: the 86 Indian families must somehow cough up $200,000 to buy their property, move out, or face the consequences. In a good year, each family will make perhaps $100.

The pastor and the Presbyterian Defense Commission are negotiating with the lawyer. Looking him in the eye, the young Indian told him his community’s decision: “If you do not accept our offer, we are prepared to barricade ourselves in our homes and suffer the consequences. May God help us. We have nowhere else to go!” The lawyer’s reply: “You’re a troublemaker! Why can’t you Indians act nice like you used to?”

The plight of this pastor and his community is repeated many times over in countless villages and fincas (plantations) throughout Guatemala. It is the plight not only of evangelicals, but of the entire peasant Indian population.

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The Luxury Of Flight

Anyone who takes up the cause of the poor can become a target, no matter how “apolitical” his activities may be. Development agencies working in Guatemala are walking on eggs. The lives of two respected conservative evangelical missionaries were threatened recently. They and their families were forced to leave the country—a luxury that the Guatemalan Indians cannot afford. Reliable inside sources have confirmed that those responsible were connected with the government.

When an army colonel, recently converted to Christ in a large, charismatically oriented Protestant church, began to question the abuses of the armed forces, he was found dead. Discreet inquiries turned up incontrovertible proof that the officer had been done in by his own colleagues.

The guerrilla war, which until recently has been confined to the hinterlands, threatens to rival, if not surpass, the current conflict in El Salvador. The issues are more clear-cut. Whereas many Salvadorian peasants are divided in their allegiance, increasingly the sympathies of the Indians of Guatemala are with the guerrillas, whom they see as either their protectors from government-approved exploitation, or as the lesser of two evils. While many ladino evangelicals support the government, others feel caught “between the devil and the deep blue sea.”

The guerrilla strife is not the cause of the Guatemalan troubles. Feeding on socioeconomic and racially motivated frustration, it exacerbates the polarization. The roots of the problem are as old as the Spanish conquistadores.

The problem, fundamentally, is racial. The Guatemalan violence is only the most obvious example of a continent-wide assertion by long-oppressed Indian peoples of their right to be treated as divinely created human beings and not as lucrative objects of tourist curiosity, or as serfs in their own lands. Christians in Guatemala can no longer remain comfortably “neutral” about the plight of the Indians.

Methodist Pentecostals
Chile’S Junta Courts The Once-Spurned Protestants

After being persecuted for generations, the Protestant church in Chile now finds itself courted by the Pinochet government. The new situation is more pleasant than the old, but also more perplexing. Vinson Synon reports on the government’s overtures to the largest Protestant denomination and its response.

The services in the huge church on Alameda Avenue in downtown Santiago are simply overwhelming. They are jammed with some 15,000 worshipers.

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The service begins with hymns sung by the massive congregation. On one side is a balcony, which holds the coro of some 2,000 persons. Half play instruments—mainly guitars, violins, and mandolins; half sing. On the opposite side is the coro polifonico, made up of 150 trained singers who render the more formal hymns of the church. The pastor, Javier Vásquez, mounts the pulpit and, to the shouts of the joyful crowd, delivers a simple message about salvation and the fullness of life in the Holy Spirit.

At the conclusion of the message, prayers for salvation and healing are offered for the thousands who indicate their needs by kneeling at their bench-like pews. There is no invitation for seekers to come forward since there is no space for a traditional altar call. As the singing and rejoicing continue after the prayer, many begin to shout their praises to God or to “dance in the Spirit” as the congregation fervently sings the closing hymns.

Such is a typical service at the Jotabeche Methodist Pentecostal Church. It is in every respect a superchurch. Pastor Vásquez estimates that his flock numbers around 80,000, counting only those aged 12 and over as full members. Some outsiders estimate the total community served by the church at more than 100,000.

On a typical Sunday evening, only one-fourth of the congregation attends the templo matriz (mother church). The others await their turn to attend once a month. Otherwise, they attend one of the many “classes” connected with the church. The smallest class numbers over 800, with the largest—Valledor Sur—numbering some 3,000. Each class in turn has many “annexos” in its area of the city. Since 1964, 15 templos have been built for the classes by the mother church. Leaders of the classes are assistants to Vásquez and carry the title predicador (preacher).

The congregation was founded by Manuel Umaña a few years after the Methodist Pentecostal Church (MPC) was begun in the port city of Valparaíso in 1909 by American Methodist missionary William C. Hoover. In 1918, a small prayer group led by Umaña rented a storefront building on Jotabeche Street and used this location as a center for street preaching. The movement swept Santiago despite persecution from the police and the Roman Catholic church.

In 1925 a large sanctuary able to hold 5,000 persons was built on the same block. Since this building soon overflowed, the system of classes and annexes was instituted to provide pastoral care for the burgeoning congregation. From his base in Santiago, Umaña was elected bishop of the entire MPC, which, at the time of his death in 1964, claimed over one-third of all evangelicals in Chile. Other Pentecostal groups split off from Jotabeche in the years after 1918. By 1980, Pentecostals comprised about 90 percent of the claimed 2 million evangelicals in Chile, a nation with a population of more than 10 million.

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At Umaña’s death, the general conference decided to separate the office of bishop from that of pastor. Mamerto Man-cilia of Temuco was named bishop while Vásquez was elected pastor of the Jotabeche congregation (in the 1979 general conference, however, Vásquez missed being elected bishop by only eight votes). In 1967, the MPC of Chile signed an affiliation with the Pentecostal Holiness Church of the U.S. in which both churches entered into full communion (both groups share origins in Methodism).

If Jotabeche is a superchurch, then Vásquez could be called a superpastor. When he returned from addressing the 1979 World Pentecostal Conference in Vancouver, British Columbia, more than 30,000 of his admirers welcomed him home at the airport. Not only does he enjoy prestige among his religious peers, but he also is actively courted by the Pinochet government. After the dedication of the “cathedral” in 1974, President Augusto Pinochet Ugarte designated the Jotabeche church the site of the annual thanksgiving service for the nation.

About a year ago, Pinochet offered Vasquez the position of “Evangelical Nuncio” in the diplomatic corps. On Mancilla’s advice, Vásquez rejected the offer as aligning the church too tightly with the Pinochet regime. He also declined an offer to serve in the cabinet as minister of religion since this would call for him to resign as pastor of the church. Despite these refusals, relations between evangelical leaders and the government remain warm and cordial, even though many individual church members were supporters of Salvador Allende Gossen’s Marxist government.

Pinochet, according to some observers, has treated evangelicals with favor in order to offset the influence of the Roman Catholic hierarchy, which largely supported the Allende regime that Pinochet overthrew. They see him as rewarding the evangelicals for uncritical loyalty to his heavy-handed junta.

World Scene

Trans World Radio ranks second among international radio stations in language coverage. Statistics released by the Annenberg School of Communications in Philadelphia show Radio Moscow first with 72 languages, TWR second with 69, and Radio Beijing (Peking) third with 43.

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Wycliffe Bible translators withdrew from Panama in July. The Summer Institute of Linguistics was rebuffed by Panamanian authorities in its effort to renew the working agreement that lapsed two years ago and under which it was doing linguistic analysis of five minority languages in the country. Weeks before their departure, security officials confiscated the registered SIL radio communications equipment that had been dismantled and placed in storage since the formal working agreement lapsed. Photos of the reassembled equipment were later published in the press as “evidence” of purported collusion with the CIA. Wycliffe spokesmen are optimistic that the New Testament translations in progress can be completed in five years.

Evangelicals have found ways to cooperate with the Nicaraguan regime. World Vision International has teamed up with the Nicaragtian Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship and the Nicaraguan Bible Society to provide 800,000 Bibles to those who learned to read in the national literacy campaign. The team will also train prisoners—mostly former members of Somoza’s National Guard—in carpentry, mechanics, printing, and gardening. A program to assist their wives and families is also under way.

The Sandinistas’ rocky relationship with the Nicaraguan Roman Catholic church has taken two new twists. An agreement allows priests serving in government to maintain their political positions but they must refrain from all priestly duties; it is a “temporary exemption” from the decree that no priests should serve in political offices. But the rulers recently banned Archbishop Miguel Obandoy Bravo’s televised Sunday sermon after he criticized their Marxist tendencies. He and Nicaragua’s six other bishops were conspicuously absent from the revolution’s second anniversary celebrations; a year ago he celebrated a mass for the occasion.

Radio Lumière inaugurated a new studio in Caves, Haiti’s third largest city, in July. The network, owned and operated by Haitian churches in partnership with Worldteam, now has five radio stations covering 94 percent of Haiti’s six million people. Its news director, Jethro Julien, received a national award for journalists in May for having best informed the public in 1980.

The Brazilian government has drawn up draft legislation for an immigration policy favorable to missionaries. Backed by strong lobbying from the Catholic church and the National Council of Churches, the new policy gives missionaries the right to a temporary visa, valid for one year and renewable for another year. The visa may be converted into a permanent one. The bill, whose passage is considered assured, specifies the probationary two years in order “to weed out undesirables.”

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The Church of England has modified its stand on remarriage of divorced persons. The church’s synod, its highest decision-making body, passed a resolution in July that said, “There are circumstances in which a divorced person may be married in church during the lifetime of a former partner.” A standing committee under Archbishop Robert Runcie will now draft guidelines for priests and bishops. Until now, some priests have conducted “services of thanksgiving” for those who remarry in civil ceremonies. Although the archbishop deplored the high divorce rates in England, he said he did not believe stricter application of church law would affect divorce statistics.

Three different church organizations, representing East Germany’s seven million Protestant Christians, will unite to form a single church group. The move ends more than 10 years of discussions among the Evangelical Church Union, the United Evangelical Lutheran Union, and the Council of Evangelical Churches. Leaders from all three bodies will constitute a common synod.

Last summer over 30,000 teen-agers attended retreats organized by the Oasis movement in Poland. Started by Franciszek Blachnicki, a Roman Catholic priest and former Auschwitz prisoner, the retreats for altar boys in his diocese now attract youth from all over the country. Although the authorities intimidate some children, “advise” parents to keep their children away from the camps, and impose fines on farmers who give lodging to Oasis members, the movement continues to grow. The camps and retreats help the youth to deepen their faith in Christ through Bible study, teaching, and prayer.

More than 20,000 people attended the final day of a crusade conducted in Kampala, Uganda, in June. Bishop Festo Kivengere and eight members of the African Enterprise team led the meetings. Crowds gathered daily in the city square at noon to hear the gospel, and a youth rally held in Kampala’s All Saints’ Cathedral attracted 5,000 people. After the mission, the AE staff held two follow-up meetings to instruct the new believers, and the AE office has sent out the first lessons of a correspondence course.

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A Christian Materials Learning Center has opened in Nairobi, Kenya. The nonprofit company will enable Africans to do work formerly done by foreign missionaries: developing curricula for teaching the Bible in churches. Two such projects already under way involve 43 Africans working under the guidance of five staff members. Materials developed by the center will be made available to publishers in other countries for translation and publication in local languages.

The Australian government can legally provide financial support to church schools and those with other religious affiliation, a Melbourne High Court has ruled. The court rejected a suit brought before it by the Council for the Defense of Government Schools (DOGS), challenging the constitutionality of state aid to nongovernment schools. In effect, the court decided that the separation of church and state clause in the country’s constitution does not require the state to discriminate in favor of the secular opinion that religious schooling is divisive in its effects on Australian society.

The Chinese Protestant Three-Self Movement recently ordained two pastors in Beijing (Peking); both men had received their theological training before the Cultural Revolution. The appointments follow on the heels of the consecration of five bishops by the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association in defiance of the Vatican. In the years following the resurgence of religious freedom, the two representative bodies of the Chinese church have continually asserted their independence of any outside authority. In June the Patriotic Association stripped Monsignor Deng Yiming (Dominic Tang) of his church posts for accepting a papal appointment.

Haystack ’81
U.S. Foreign Missions Return To Their Source

The history of North American involvement in missions is tied closely to student movements. This summer, Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship—better known for its mammoth student missions conventions—sponsored a relatively minuscule pilgrimage to those student roots: Haystack ’81.

They gathered in the Berkshire Hills of northwestern Massachusetts on the campus of Williams College in Williamstown. IVCF missions director John E. Kyle had planned for attendance of 500 (limited to students with definite plans to serve overseas). But only 125 college students, recent graduates, and mission leaders attended.

The six-day conference climaxed with a three-hour worship and dedication service in a glade of evergreens around a monument erected in 1854 to commemorate the spark that 175 years ago kindled a concern for foreign missions.

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That spark was touched off on August 2, 1806, along the nearby banks of the Hoosack River. It was there that Samuel J. Mills, Jr., and four other Williams College students met two afternoons a week to pray for the salvation of the “heathen” and to discuss what was needed to bring that about. On their way to the appointed place that August afternoon, they were caught in a sudden thunderstorm. Taking shelter in the lee of a haystack, they had their usual time of prayer. Then, arising from prayer, they declared, “We can do this if we will, and we will do this if God wills.” (These words were picked up by Haystack ’81 as its theme.) The five then signed a pledge to devote their lives to missionary service.

This Society of Brethren moved its focus from Williams to Andover Seminary, which several attended after graduation; there they were joined by Adoniram Judson and others. Within four years Mills, Judson, and several other young men presented a petition to the General Assembly of the Congregational Churches, offering themselves for missionary service and soliciting their “advice, direction, and prayers.” With some misgiving, the clergymen accepted their offer and the next day organized the first North American mission society: the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. Within two years seven had sailed for India.

Inter-Varsity traces its missions heritage through the turn-of-the-century Student Volunteer Movement back to Mills’s secret society. David Bryant, IVCF missions specialist who had just returned from the Oxford Revival Conference in London, went further and traced the beginnings of the Great Awakening to student groups that served as forerunners. Praying students, he said, provided the basis for each awakening. “Could it happen again?” he asked.

Haystack ’81 provided a positive answer. Conference director Kyle canceled two scheduled social receptions and one speech to devote more time to prayer. Corporate and small-group prayer was characterized by requests for workers in unreached parts of the world. Often, after a young participant prayed for “laborers to be sent into the harvest” in a certain country, he would add, “Lord, send me,” or even more strongly, “Lord, let me go!”

John Kyle says that if Inter-Varsity is to achieve its goal of stimulating the departure abroad of 1,000 new missionaries a year, it must conduct this kind of conference for those committed to go. He believes Williamstown is the right place, but he is attempting to determine the optimum frequency and a more appropriate time of year for student attendance.

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In spite of the light attendance, the missionary speakers seemed upbeat about the event. Ralph Winter of the U.S. Center for World Mission professed to see more significant potential in this committed group than in the thousands who attend the Urbana conventions for exposure to world missions. And J. Christie Wilson, self-supporting missionary to Afghanistan for 23 years, told the students, “In Afghanistan, we had a saying that where water has flowed before, it can flow again.”

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