By Bobby L. Graham
A second two-week trip to the Central American country of Belize was the occasion for the experiences that gave rise to these brief thoughts. During January of this year, I went again to share in the work of the gospel with Dana Whisler and some of the natives of that country. Study with the men desiring to preach was the immediate focus of this trip, as we studied Paul’s letters to preachers. Regardless of whatever else one might learn or teach, he is unprepared to preach the Word if he does not understand the place, purpose, kind, manner, and spirit of preaching approved by the Lord.
Dana Whisler Family
The Whislers moved to Belize in February of 1999 at personal sacrifice to make the gospel available to another people. During the year that has passed, a son has returned to Pennsylvania to work after finishing his home schooling, and a daughter is ready to return in the spring to graduate with her class and to enter Florida College in the fall. Dana and Carol, with the two remaining children, will continue their lives in Belize for a few more years, separated from familiar people, places, and circumstances. An unusual dedication to evangelism moves them to stay when it would be so easy to return to family.
A heavy work load for the only full-time proclaimer of the gospel in the country, the frequent need to give financial help out of his own funds to people requiring health care or various necessities, the high cost of imported American foods, gasoline costing approximately $2.50 per gallon, a poor system of health care, and inadequate support until recent weeks could have encouraged an early return to the United States. Frequent visits by brethren to help in spreading the Word have been appreciated and have helped to share the burden resting on the most mature kingdom workers in the entire country, who have been Christians for about fifteen years. These visits necessitate many costly trips to the airport in Belize City during the year — round trips of 170 miles, which I encourage visiting brethren to cover with funds that they supply.
These are the sacrifices that one often must make for the sake of the gospel. They also remind us of similar sacrifices that each Christian must be willing to make — family and self in the spirit of putting self to death (Luke 14:26-27).
This fifteen-year old girl at first seemed shy when I saw her, avoiding an initial attempt to study with her but later showing interest in Bible study and attending services some. Soon after she was immersed into Christ, she began having heart problems. Rheumatic fever was the doctor’s first diagnosis. Although the tests were negative, penicillin was prescribed. It became apparent that some of the doctors were as unskilled as the hospital facilities were poor, with dirt caked on the floor, mosquitoes coming through open, unscreened windows, and mice running in the rooms. She eventually traveled to her native Guatemala with Amerika, her mother, to learn that her heart was enlarged and she needed a certain medication.
During her ordeal the Christians “stuck by her,” keeping her company at the hospital before she had to leave for Guatemala. Some also assisted the daughter and mother financially for the trip that they could not afford. Such love in action was what John described in 1 John 4 as loving not in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth. Jesus also said that our destiny would depend partly on our attention to brothers and sisters in time of need (Matt. 25). This love of the brethren is needed and appreciated around the world.
The Lord’s apostle classified covetousness as idolatry, because it involves the desire to have more (the literal meaning of the word). This desire takes the place that God alone deserves. It was coupled with forbidden objects of that desire in the commandments given to Israel — neighbor’s wife, house, etc. It is found as a spiritual plague in all countries of the world, even the poorer ones like Belize. Many Belizeans work hard to improve their lot in life and keep the value of things in perspective, but many do not. The love of money, which is at the root of covetousness, is common to both the rich and those aspiring to be rich (1 Tim. 6:9, 17). Wealthy Americans — all Americans, that is — could easily help those preaching the Word in Belize and other nations, as well as the needy Christians there, instead of seeking to increase their possessions (Luke 12:15ff).
Abraham, the Translator
We occasionally meet people who are a joy to us because of their attitude, manner, or some other helpful aspect of their personality. Abraham was such a young man. Reared in a family of drunkards, he aspired to rise above the level that he observed as a youth. It was his work for a vegetable farmer that brought him under the influence of Andreas, a farmer who was a Christian. The seed began to take root in his honest heart, nurtured and watered by the honest speech and honorable conduct witnessed in this farmer and his family. Opportunities to study the Bible came, and the Lord’s increase followed (1 Cor. 3:6).
Abraham soon quit his job in farming to serve as Dana Whisler’s translator. Seemingly, not moved by covetousness like many, he desires to preach, studying often to learn the Scriptures better and to improve his translation skills. I hope some of you can meet this refreshing individual (2 Tim. 1:16).
Seventh Day Adventist Campaign
In a society somewhat like our own a few decades ago, Belizeans with little to do for pastime really turn out for the entertainment at the numerous Adventist campaigns, some even leaving after the special numbers, special songs, or special presentations are finished. I think every item before the preaching was described as “special,” while the sermon was called the “dessert.” The use of this gimmick did not keep some of the people there. There was even a marching group, dressed like Boy and Girl Scouts, who performed their march routine which ended with a “salute in the name of Jesus Christ.” The sermon, supposedly the “icing on the cake,” was loud, boisterous, and highly emotional, making use of few scriptures but many illustrations. It followed the standard Adventist line of employing many current events, and the remaining ones during the week were publicized as focusing on world events and dangerous conditions.
Four of us went on Sunday night after returning from the village where we had met with the brethren. It was a fruitful visit, in that we saw again how entertainment catering to carnal human desires is used to accomplish spiritual objectives. Let us remember that the weapons of our warfare are not carnal (2 Cor. 10:4-6). I also gained a Bible study as the result of this visit to the campaign.
A Liberal Congregation
Because of our worship period being on Sunday afternoon, I also was able to visit another local church in the area in the morning. The lesson was scriptural, and the people fairly friendly; but it was the “baby dedication” that stumped me. I had learned that such practice was found in some congregations in our own country, but this was the first one that I had seen. The seemingly harmless “ritual” consisted of the mother handing the infant over to the preacher, who read pertinent verses from the Bible and then prayed on the child’s behalf for a godly upbringing. I asked about this matter following the last prayer and learned that this is defended as a custom in Belize, not with Scripture. While I would not oppose a prayer for an infant and his parents, even during the service, I do not think the ritual aspects of this activity are wise. The worship in the New Testament did not include this ceremony.
Jesse Hightower, who began the work in Belize about three years ago, tried to teach these brethren to lay aside some of their practices, but was unable to stay with them. They have their “Corozal Church of Christ School” identified on the building as such. Mission work of liberal brethren often includes schools, which teach secular subjects as well as Bible, medical care, well-digging projects, and other humanitarian/relief efforts. I ask you: Is there any significant difference between these efforts used to attract people so they can teach them and the carnal attractions employed by the Adventists in their campaigns to draw the crowds so they can then teach them their doctrine? Do they not both depend on the wrong thing? I know the Lord did not approve such lures, for he rebuked the people who were following him for the loaves and the fishes (John 6). Attitudes toward the Scriptures must change before practices can change.
It seems to be a national epidemic in Belize. I am not sure about the problem in other Central American countries, but public posters warn about it, saying “Alcohol Destroys Lives.” This is a national, family, congregational (some have returned to the world because of strong drink), and soul problem. Lax attitudes toward social drinking and “having just a beer” will bear the tragic fruit of drunkenness, because “wine is a mocker and strong drink a brawler” (Prov. 20:1). Many Belizean wives bear the burden of a drunk for a husband, who wastes what he earns during the week, and some Belizean women have also turned to drink. How are we training our children in these matters?
Studies with Ernest McCauley
On the morning after attending the Adventist campaign, this man called to me as I was walking, and he began talking because he had noticed me under the tent. I was able to give my unfavorable impressions of the sermon in a kindly manner and to ask him to study the Bible with me. After arriving at his house, it became obvious that his wife was the more knowledgeable one in their doctrine and the stronger adherent to it. She emphatically made her point several times, only to leave the house when I began answering from the Bible because she was not interested in listening to a “false prophet.” She warned me more than once that my doctrine was wrong because “the Bible says the Sabbath will never be abolished.” If anybody has ever been able to proceed much beyond a discussion of the Sabbath with Adventists, I would like to know how it happened. This remained the center of our discussion. All points of argumentation were as water running off the duck; they made no impression on her. Ernest was more thoughtful and open to study, but she squelched the opportunity.
My attempts to elicit further study were mostly futile. When I pressed her to cite the passage saying the Sabbath would never be abolished, she only replied that Jesus kept it and said the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. I showed that Jesus also kept the requirement of circumcision, which was made for Israel. If her reasoning would work on the Sabbath, then mine would work on circumcision. She didn’t even seem to know what circumcision is. Her boast to be able to read and understand Scripture was met with my request that she explain what Ephesians 2:14-15 means in talking about Jesus removing the middle wall separating Jew from Gentile, even the law contained in ordinances. At this point she again walked out of the house, leaving poor Ernest to contend for their doctrine alone. I reiterated to him that he must study for himself and be able to handle the Word aright in view of the Lord’s second coming and judgment. After our second study, I walked back down the dusty road to Dana’s house, shaking the dust from my feet literally and figuratively.
Alfredo the Beggar
Alfredo had been coming often to Dana’s house, hoping to eat with the family before going with them to the service in the village, saying he was a Christian. The problem of beggars (bums) is a ubiquitous one, even in wealthy countries. All of us have been “taken” at times by these bums, but Alfredo seems to have “taken” more than his share. He even obtained land from his brother by lies and fraud. The Mennonite farmer for whom he had worked told Dana that he would no longer give money to Alfredo. He did care for him because of a work-related accident in which Alfredo lost a leg, but he gave the money to his brother to hand to him according to need. On the same Saturday morning this man, who had been attending the preacher classes I had been teaching nightly and the other services of the church, lied to both Dana and me, so that we would give him more money. After we caught him in his lies and talked to him about the matter, he quit attending services and spoke to me only when I forced him to in town early one morning.
How do you deal with this kind of problem? You want to help truly needy people, but bums are not truly needy. Hearts must remain tender toward genuine needs.
Anna and Her Children
Little do we often understand about the problems and trials of other people. Anna was a young mother who, along with her three children, was living with the Whisler family. They had asked her to live with them because of a drunken husband who had threatened to molest a daughter and then fled to his native Guatemala. This young mother was impressive to me because of her work habits at the house and at the papaya-packing plant. Her work at times was no more than a half-day, but she worked when she could for low wages and helped clean and cook for the Whislers. Miriam, Eber, and Jennifer are three delightful and appreciative children who made me glad that I was there. Their outlook on life has improved much because of the secure and godly environment where they now live. Much potential for good exists in similar situations where we do what we can for others. How do we view opportunities for doing good (Gal. 6:10)?
The Preachers’ Class
For two weeks we had nightly classes for the ten or eleven men interested in teaching the Word. They came faithfully after full, tiring days working in sugar cane fields or on the trucks. Willingness to make sacrifices is an inherent part of life for one wanting to preach or otherwise serve Christ. We studied Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus, emphasizing what preaching does, as well as the attitude, manner, aims, and problems of preaching. Regardless of what one might know about revelation, the life of Christ, or marriage and divorce, it is useless if he does not understand what the Lord told preachers to do with that knowledge and how to do it. The need to learn the Scriptures and a desire to do so were stressed, and serious self-examination to determine one’s readiness to preach and his motivation in preaching. Time was left for discussion of the material being studied each night, especially as it related to questions raised by the men. Future sessions are planned to cover the development of the entire Bible story and its geographical context, in order to give the men an understanding of the plan of God for saving people.
Lessons to the Church
While people in certain places might be at a different level of maturity, the basic spiritual needs of brethren do not change much. What is needed in one place will sooner or later also be needed elsewhere. There is no substitute for the plain teaching of the Lord’s Word on any topic or from any section. Every time the church met during my two weeks in Belize I spoke to them, presenting lessons that I thought would challenge them to a higher level of understanding and life: A Portrait of Christian Forgiveness (Letter to Philemon), Let Brotherly Love Continue (Heb. 13), The Lord’s Church, What Would Jesus Do? (2 lessons), and Threatening Times in the Gospel Age (2 Tim. 3). The need to teach on the level of new converts and to challenge them to grow is a good refresher course for any preacher.
24978 Bubba Tr., Athens, Alabama 35613 Bobbylgraham@juno.com