QUETZALTENANGO, Guatemala — During a ceremony of hugs and exclamations of “Dios te bendiga” (God bless you), Guatemalan pastors expressed their appreciation for their region’s partnership with the Baptist General Convention of Missouri.
A team representing BGCM traveled to Guatemala to lead a training conference for pastors in the country’s western region. The conference, which drew about 75 pastors, spouses and lay leaders, was the fifth such event to take place in Quetzaltenango (kay-tzal-teh-NAN-go) or Xela (pronounced SHAY-lah), the city’s commonly used Mayan name.
Xela, Guatemala’s second largest city, is set in the mountains. While many of the pastors live relatively close in terms of distance, the drive can take several hours longer due to the continuous road construction, made necessary by landslides.
Gary Snowden, missions mobilization team leader for BGCM and associate pastor of First Baptist Church, Lee’s Summit, notes that a group of 50-55 has been at all five sessions.
The early sessions were based on themes Rick Warren addressed in his book The Purpose-Driven Life. Recently, pastors’ requests have shaped the program. “For us, the material is not revolutionary,” Snowden said. “But for those with no formal training, these meetings are a big plus.”
During a taped interview at Bella Luna Hotel in Xela, Brady Garcia, pastor of First Baptist Church, Cantel, said the training sessions have greatly benefited him and his church. “In the last two years, I’ve grown more in my faith than I did in the previous four years as a pastor in that congregation,” Snowden translated.
Roger Marquez, pastor of First Baptist Church, Xela, has had a similar experience. “From my point of view, the relationship and partnership we’ve established with Missouri has been a very special blessing for us — just as much in my personal life as pastor of a local church, as on the life of the church as a whole,” he said.
Last February, First Baptist Church, Lee’s Summit, led conferences in Cantel focused on ministering to youth and children. Garcia said the conference led to a 180-degree change in his church. “There are a lot of evangelical churches in our community, and many parents attend there,” Garcia said. “But the youth have been pretty much forgotten.”
Garcia and the church have used what he learned at BGCM training sessions to focus their ministry on the adolescents in their community. He said their church has gone from being virtually unknown in the community to being sought after for their work with adolescents in the schools. Television reporters and parents from other schools have asked about the work they are doing.
“Our church really hasn’t grown that much in terms of adult membership, but among adolescents, we’ve had a 70 percent increase since last year,” he said. “I think the fruits are visible of what’s been done.”
Marquez said his church has also put into practice the principles shared at the conferences. “And the result has been, well, we can almost say we’re having an awakening on the level of our adolescents, youth and even children as a result of the training that has been incorporated into the life of our local church,” he said.
He views the transformation not only on the local church level, but in the region. Last July, when a group came, the pastors formed an association of pastors to meet the needs of pastors in the area.
“And we owe gratitude first of all to God, but also to Missouri Baptists, because this has brought great encouragement and great unity to our congregations. We are eternally grateful to you all for that,” he said. “Our desire and prayer is that God would continue to bless those brothers who are investing in our work here — especially in the western region in Xela or Quetzaltenango.”
Garcia also expressed thanks. “I want to thank the members of the Baptist General Convention of Missouri,” he said. “Even though I don’t know the leadership personally, except those who have come, they have been a great blessing in my life.”
Photos: (top) Brady Garcia discusses the spiritual gift inventory in a small group. (below) Roger Marquez leads singing during the conference.