A Gospel That Has The Power To Save
How God's love is transforming the most violent country in the world.
My wife Gracie and I moved to Honduras in 1982, inspired to minister Jesus’ love and proclaim the Kingdom of God amidst the chaos. It is considered the most violent country in the world.
We moved to Honduras with two Central American colleagues to establish our ministry, Tierra Nueva (New Earth), a model farm which demonstrates highly productive farming methods. From 1983-1988, Gracie and I rode our motorcycle down the mountain from our farm to the impoverished village of Mal Paso. We cared for the people and offered courses in nutrition and agriculture. Our objective was to embody the love of Jesus for the poor through serving them at their point of need, helping them increase production of basic grains and vegetables, and to improve health.
Impoverished farmers from around the region visited us, inviting us to their villages. One of the first couples we met was Emilio and Margarita, peasants in their mid-twenties (our same age at that time). They invited us in from the scorching sun to drink strong, sweet coffee under the veranda just off a dusty courtyard that served as a holding pen for their small herd of cows. Other farmers gathered to learn about sustainable farming practices, and our group grew to include many of the village men. Later, Gracie worked with Margarita and other women, teaching them nutritious recipes, hygiene and nutrition.
Hope on the rise
At that time, nobody was interested in Bible study. But the farmers experienced dramatic increases in corn and beans, water was brought to the village, vegetable gardens were planted, land purchased for a cooperative, latrines constructed, and hope was on the rise. Over the course of our five years, we witnessed similar transformation in some 35 other villages.
“Many residents, addicted to alcohol and gambling, were drawn to Jesus as we read and discussed stories from the gospels.”
One day, the people of Mal Paso reported that a little airplane had flown over, dropping hundreds of tiny pieces of paper warning that Jesus was coming soon and anyone who didn’t accept Him would be thrown into the lake of fire—so repent! The people were stirred up, and asked us to lead them in a Bible study at the start of every agricultural committee meeting.
We focused on presenting Jesus as friend of sinners who saves by grace—a rare word in a country rife with religious legalism. Many residents, addicted to alcohol and gambling, were drawn to Jesus as we read and discussed stories from the gospels. Leaders emerged who became New Earth’s founding peasant trainers. We spread our Bible studies to other villages, and before long, our main focus was training Bible study facilitators.
A major attack against our ministry followed. US government aid programs were raising up, designed to “win hearts and minds” to US military priorities. The government pressured people to leave New Earth, offering chemical fertilizer, chicken wire, and food for work in exchange for their allegiance. We were denounced as communists.
Then NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) was implemented. Heavily-subsidized American corn and rice flooded into local markets. Local corn prices dropped below what peasants could produce it for, driving many to migrate illegally to the USA. Even Emilio, who had done well farming with New Earth, got the “fever for the North”. He joined others from surrounding villages to work in U.S. fields, construction sites and factories as an undocumented worker. Some became involved in drug dealing and gang activity. Eventually deported back to Honduras from North American prisons, many became involved in drug trafficking and crime—a big reason Honduras is so violent now.
“Without a deep experience of the Father’s love and adoption through the Holy Spirit... people traumatized by poverty and neglect cannot become healed and secure.”
Gracie and I were called back to North America too. In 1994 we launched New Earth in Washington State, where we began ministering to undocumented immigrant farm workers from Mexico who also were part of a poverty-driven wave of migration to North America. Our work expanded to include outreach to gang youth, inmates in the local jail and ministry to people struggling with drug and alcohol addiction.
Every year we have continued to visit New Earth in Honduras, offering training and pastoral support to our leaders and communities. But ministering to people in extreme hardship was taking its toll on us. We became discouraged, longing for deeper transformation in the power of the Spirit.
Gracie attended a Catch The Fire conference in Toronto in 2003, and I attended the Pastors and Leaders Conference the following year. The Holy Spirit met us powerfully, empowering us for a new, unexpected period of renewal. Deeper experiences of the presence of God in worship, prophetic ministry, healing, inner-healing and deliverance resulted in upheaval and new growth. We read everything we could find about ministry in the power of the Spirit, participated in International Leaders Schools of Ministry (ILSOLMs) and saw lots of healing, conversions and deliverance in our jail ministry and in Honduras. We could see that without a deep experience of the Father’s love and adoption through the Holy Spirit, along with concrete acts of love, people traumatized by poverty and neglect cannot become healed and secure.
John Arnott and his grandson accompanied me on one of my visits to Honduras. Carlos and Catherine Rodriguez helped us lead an ILSOLM for our Honduran leaders. Offerings enabled us to purchase a coffee farm, which now imports specialty coffee roasted by ex-offenders as part of New Earth’s Underground Coffee Project.
Hope amidst tragedy
Meanwhile, immigrants from Honduras involved in criminal activity continued to be deported from US jails and prisons back to Honduras. Emilio returned after seven years working in El Norte, wealthier and tougher, his values damaged by wholesale pursuit of the American dream.
Two years ago, jealousy was aroused by the success of some Mal Paso residents in the US. A man who had been effectively managing his immigrant brother’s affairs was falsely accused by family members. Things escalated and he was shot to death. This unleashed a wave of vengeance killings, as people hired assassins to shoot whoever was next on the “kill list.”
My old friend Emilio was number nine of the ten who were killed. He was shot to death by submachine gun-bearing gunmen right in his corridor where we’d started New Earth in their village. David, New Earth’s leader, was Emilio’s next-door neighbor. He was awoken by the shots early one morning and heard Emilio crying out to God as he died.
David was first on the scene of most of the murders, and as a result, was traumatized. Though a gifted leader, peacemaker and pastor, David felt he had to move out of the village to protect his family. 60% of the people moved away. Not one of the murders was investigated, due a breakdown of law and order in much of the countryside.
“Men, women and children flooded into the center of our gathering to receive prayer.”
For the past two years, David has continued weekly visits to the remaining 200 people in Mal Paso. He ministers in homes, leads Bible studies and prays for healing and deliverance. We are seeking employment solutions like raising animals and purchasing abandoned land that once belonged to the victims. In March I flew to Honduras and was able to visit our coffee farm. In every village we went to we found people hungry for Bible study and open to prayer. Many received physical and emotional healing.
Toronto’s Catch The Fire mission team joined us in March 2013, over 200 villagers came to receive medical consultations, medicine and food. God’s love was expressed when the team played with the kids, painted their faces, shampooed their hair and combed out lice. We addressed the residents’ need to mourn, to forgive and to receive God’s comfort. Many acknowledged trauma, fear and ongoing nightmares. Men, women and children flooded into the center of our gathering to receive prayer, people of all ages cried as hands were laid on them. Prayer teams prayed for healing and a group of us took a long walk around the circumference of the village, interceding for peace.
Since then, Mal Paso’s faith community is growing in number and depth. Plans are in the works to build a training centre in Minas de Oro. Sales of Underground Coffee are rising and this year’s coffee harvest will be our biggest ever, bringing income to eventually cover the costs of New Earth Honduras’ monthly overhead.
Please pray for wisdom, strength and the Holy Spirit’s strong presence for David as he leads New Earth in Honduras. Pray for peace in Mal Paso and throughout the country, and for the light of Christ and the Kingdom of God to break out full-force among the poor and broken. Most of all, pray for the Gospel that has the power to save to transform Honduras, and the rest of the world.
Catch The Fire Mission Trip video: