By Bobby L. Graham
My third trip to the Central American country of Belize began on Monday, No-vember 20 and ended Saturday, December 2. My fellow-laborer, Ken McDaniel, met me at the Dallas airport around midday to continue the trip to Belize. He and I shared the spacious upstairs rooms, thus having abundant room for personal and study needs. The purpose of my trip was again to teach the men desirous of preaching in a series of ten classes taking them through the entire Bible story, to preach to the congregation, and to help in private studies. Our stay with Dana and Carol Whisler and their two children still at home, Luke and Hannah, was an enjoyable time away from loved ones and home. They continue to work diligently in the spread of the gospel, sacrificing much that we enjoy here in our country. Anyone interested in the spread of the gospel in this Central American country will find ample opportunities to do the Lord’s work. Christians there are looking forward to the January arrival of Greg Whipple and his family, who plan to make Belize their home that they might spread the Word of life.
Problem of Poverty
We in the United States find ourselves hard-pressed to fathom the poverty widespread in other countries because of our affluence and isolation from the mild poverty in our own land. In Belize the needs of children and adults become immediately obvious. When fathers who work for six months of the year in sugar-cane work have to exist the rest of the year on sporadic jobs, when their families sometimes need help for a week or two until the cane work resumes, and when children and adults have numerous medical problems that they can’t financially handle, what is one to do?
It is impossible to help all with their needs, just as it is unwise to help all. It is easy to want to help, but it is sometimes difficult to make wise decisions about genuine needs without also leaving the wrong impression about the purpose of your trip and thus hindering the work of the gospel. Many of the poor immediately see all American visitors as rich with an automatic obligation to help them with necessities and luxuries, but some are willing to work at whatever temporary jobs they can find to supply their own needs. New converts of about four months, Alejandro and Mare- celli’s baby had a skin problem that some of us thought justified help, especially because they were unable to pay the doctor and the pharmacy themselves. The father was willing to do other jobs until cane work commenced, but some help with bare necessities of food was needed. Another mother thought she was pregnant and needed to visit the doctor, but she needed bus fare to make the trip. Another young mother had recently escaped from her womanizing husband in Mexico because of an extremely undesirable situation, but she and the two children needed help with food. She was willing to work. The specific cases of need, arising out of poverty, provide opportunities to show compassion. Too much compassion also discourages individuals from doing for themselves and feeds the spirit of covetousness that thrives among the poor, especially when “rich Americans” appear. There seems to be no formula for detecting true motive in such cases, but we know the principles of the gospel do apply.
Anna and Martine
Dana Whisler has been studying weekly with his neighbors Anna and Martine. He has dealt with the need for obedience to Christ in all areas, and has dealt somewhat with their marital situation. They view themselves as husband and wife and refer to each other in this way, though they have never been married. Marriage ceremonies are costly for the people in Belize, who think they need also to have a “church” (Roman Catholic) ceremony. They have a decision to make about their commitment to the Lord and the sacrifices they are willing to make for him. Repentance, which is required of all that would be saved, demands fruits in life. Paul taught the Gentiles to repent and turn to God, doing works worthy of repentance (Acts 26:20). Some would probably advise them that their baptism would transform their relationship into an acceptable one, as they claim it does for an adulterous one, but Paul’s preaching does not sound like that, does it?
In view of the idea of some brethren that aliens are not amenable to the marriage teaching of Christ, it might well be asked, “By what authority does the alien even have a right to marry?” If all NT marriage passages deal with those “under the covenant” (which I deny), what passage would apply to the marriage of aliens? Not even Genesis 2 would apply, according to the argument here alluded to, for there the Lord was dealing with Adam and Eve, people already in covenant relationship with him before the entry of sin. From the opposite viewpoint, I would point out that 1 Corin-thians 6:9-11 shows beyond doubt that God recognizes unbelievers’ marriages, for he charged them with adultery as aliens. Adultery involves unfaithfulness on the part of a married person.
Training Classes for Men
We planned ten classes for training the men to preach, but the nature of the study aroused much interest on the part of the women and young people. Attendance for the classes was excellent most nights, as we made our way through the entire Bible story for the purpose of building an understanding of what the Bible narrative is all about. Materials used were: The History and Geography of the Bible Story (Spanish translation) by Bob and Sandra Waldron, translated by Jaime Restrepo of Columbia, South Ameri- ca, and an information sheet on the Periods of Bible History that included main people and events of each period, prepared by this writer and used for a number of years. The Waldron book was used as reference material, with the maps receiving special emphasis as a tool and as a means of demonstrating Bible events, places, and people to be real. Much attention was given to Bible history as the unfolding of promises made to Abram, Isaac, and Jacob, and to the Patriarchal, Mosaical, and Christian dispensations. The fulfillment of the first two Abrahamic promises was stressed as Old Testament history preparing for the final promise in the fullness of time.
What better proof of God’s providence is there than his measures used to keep his promises to Abraham? Such measures are seen in his preservation of Isaac from sacrifice, his use of Joseph in Egypt to spare Jacob’s family from famine, the saving of Moses from death and Israel from extermination in Egypt, the sparing of Israel from her enemies in the wilderness, his preserving the Jews from the mortal edict of the Persian king by the intervention of Esther, his sparing a faithful remnant through the seventy years of captivity in Babylon, and his deliverance of the infant Jesus from Herod’s deadly designs. Truly the Lord was keeping his promise to bring to earth the singular seed of Abram, through whom he would bless people of every nation (Gen. 12:3; Gal. 3:16). God foresaw man’s need for salvation (providence is seeing the need beforehand and acting accordingly), and he planned before he made the world to meet that need in Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:3-14).
My usual place of study at the Whisler’s house is found under the upper floor of the house, on the landing halfway up the outdoor steps leading to the upper level. Such a cool, shady place is rare in the warm, humid climate of Belize. My first day of study there revealed that new neighbors were at the back of the property in a small hut built from trees placed next to each other to form the walls. I soon noticed that the new house had obscured my former view from that study. Inquiry revealed who the neighbors were and that Dana had already begun Bible studies with them. During my weeks there, I was able to help in one of the two studies. Do you know who your neighbors are? Have you sought to study the Bible with them? Do you care about their souls? Why not be a neighbor (Luke 10:27-37)?
After my initial visit to this congregation in Corozal Town on an earlier trip, Ken McDaniel and I decided that we would visit on Sunday morning, as the group with whom we were working meets in the afternoon. While the lesson was a good, scriptural one and the rest of worship acceptable, the men there denied a request for an opportunity to teach a lesson on Sunday night or Wednesday night. This church has an unexplained connection with the “Church of Christ Primary School” in town. The students from the school are asked occasionally to attend services with the local church, and their parents often visit with them, as on the Sunday when we were there. The facilities of this congregation are quite poor by American standards, but they are better than those of the other church, with the congregation being supported by at least one church in Alabama that I know about. Attendance on the Sundays when the students and parents attend reaches to about 75 to 80, while on other Sundays it is about 45 to 50. The church with which Dana works has 70 on most Sundays, and its midweek attendance of 75 to 80 is much better than the liberal church’s 15 to 20 (numbers supplied by the preacher, with whom I spoke). One church, with its American support and its affiliated school, presents quite a contrast with the church trying to avoid all such unscriptural means of spreading the gospel. While we were sitting in the morning Bible class in Revelation 1, we could easily hear the children singing “Joy to the World,” “Jingle Bells,” and other Christmas songs. In the afternoon children’s classes conducted by the conservative church, the songs were spiritual and the children were not given a false impression of the Christmas season.
Problems in a New Work
New works often involves difficulties and problems that result from spiritual immaturity, the large number of conversions, and lack of leadership. One man finds it almost impossible at times to provide all of the leadership needed. He must be a leader, and his leadership is sometimes misunderstood or misinterpreted. The preacher is sometimes viewed as a pastor, and the members often view decisions as the preacher’s to make. In an impoverished area like Belize, the problem of greed often arises, as well as other distractions of the world. Transportation of the people over distances to the services is sometimes a problem of time and money. Numerous benevolent needs among the members often arise, demanding most often that the more wealthy American Christians serve as the benefactors. There is also the problem of how strict the mature members should be in handling sin among the weaker, less mature ones. It almost reminds one of the many problems existent in Corinth in the first century.
On our first Saturday in Belize, we visited some sites of special interest. One of these is Altun Ha, ancient Mayan ruins operated and administered by the Government of Belize. The name of this particular site comes from the sun god of the ancient Mayas, who were a pagan people that offered human sacrifices. We even learned of a game played by them to decide who would become the first sacrifice. They considered sacrifice of self a privilege. I thought of Paul’s preaching to the pagans of Athens in Acts 17 and of the prophets’ frequent condemnations of the idols, high places, sacrifices and groves of false religion as “vain things.” Is it possible that we think ourselves too sophisticated for such foolishness, while we bow before other gods (like money, pleasure, fame, acceptance, or “choice”) just as vain? Reading Colossians 3:5 and 1 John 5:21 will serve a good purpose at this point.
In my years of growing up, it was quite common for children to wear clothes earlier worn by friends or relatives. In our early years we Graham boys wore hardly anything bought first for us. The people of Belize know what hand-me-downs are, whether they buy them or receive them as a gift. Many shirts, shoes, caps, dresses, and blouses are recycled items from the United States, bearing insignia or brand names that betray their earlier use. I spotted a man in the church wearing a 1996 Olympic cap from Athens, Greece as he arrived one night, and a woman wearing a Rose Bowl shirt from an earlier year. It was quite common to see children wearing better clothes than their parents had. Matching colors, designs, patterns, and fabrics are unimportant to people who must work hard to have enough to buy food and the few clothes that they have. Attire for worship is generally better than that worn at other times. We can definitely learn lessons about the relative unimportance of fashion matters from some of our “deprived” brethren.
There is no better method of teaching one the will of God than to study from an open Bible while sitting around a kitchen table or in the family room. More of the Lord’s people need to have more zeal, gratitude, or understanding of responsibility in this duty. We talk easily about sports, politics, weather, work, school, children, etc., but we do precious little talking about the real need of people’s souls. More Andrews and Philips need to step forward to bring more Peters and Nathaniels to Jesus (John 1).
Fruits of Repentance
When one desires to become a Christian, he must repent of his sins. The first converts faced this requirement: “Repent and be baptized” (Acts 2:38). Repentance will produce fruits, as John the Baptist and Paul the apostle taught in Matthew 3:8 and Acts 26:20. The fruit of repentance sometimes comes immediately, as in the case of one who has persistently cursed or lied; this is not to say that he will never slip into his old sin, but that he will determine to pursue a new course of righteousness.
At other times fruit worthy of repentance will come later, as in the case of one who has stolen money but is unable to return the money immediately, for any number of reasons. A person who has immigrated to another country illegally, that he might work, might desire to become a Christian. Must he leave the country immediately upon learning truth, before baptism and grounding in truth, to be a candidate for baptism; or could he remain in the country, intending to become legal as soon as possible or to return to his homeland? The Bible clearly demands repentance, which requires a cessation of sin and the fruits suitable for repentance. On the other hand, it necessarily implies that some fruits take longer to mature than others.
This is the situation of Manuel, who came from El Salvador. Over several months his understanding of the Scriptures and his resolution to obey Christ grew stronger, as indicated in his regular attendance with the saints. He also manifested a desire to begin the process of gaining legal status in Belize. He was then baptized into Christ.
A Church Building
Meetings of the congregation once took place on the porch of brother Andreas Campos in the village of San Narcisso and at the Whisler’s house in Corozal Town. About a year ago, the brethren had a concrete slab poured on property donated by Andreas and necessary work done for a roof over the slab. On this trip I witnessed a building nearing completion, though it is quite different from those in our country. The bare block walls, windows with unpainted wood coverings, and two doors have been added in recent months. Some sealing might be done near the roof, as some rain entered the building twice during my two weeks there. A few windows might have wood coverings added, as they block the cool night air and mosquitoes. There might even be screens placed on them to facilitate airflow and insect control. There was no overhead projector or screen, microphone, air conditioner, padded pews, or even a fan, but a large white marker board pleased this former schoolteacher. Come to think of it, I didn’t even see a funeral home fan like we once used so often in the summer.
I remember Paul’s gratitude for those working with him, as found in his different letters. Dana Whisler has shown his faith in the Lord and a passion for souls during the two years he has resided in Belize. His work load has been a heavy one. On this trip Ken McDaniel of St. James, Missouri also worked conscientiously and diligently to spread the gospel in private studies and preaching to the church. It is encouraging to work with men who daily demonstrate their faith in Christ, their respect for the Scriptures as our guide, and their regard for the teaching of the gospel as the sole means of reaching the lost. No games, handouts, meals, prizes, or other gimmicks had any place in our work. As we engaged daily in discussions of pertinent Bible teaching on issues and questions facing us in our work, wholesome attitudes were displayed. The question always was one of what the Bible teaches or whether the passage applied to the particular situation.
Copper Bank Village
On our last Friday in Belize we drove to this small fishing village via a hand-cranked ferry across the New River. There we talked to a few residents and learned that there is only a Catholic building there, with a priest coming there once each month. It occurred to me that a local congregation of the Lord’s people might carry on its functioning in the areas of worship, work, and organization without the assistance of a full-time preacher. In earlier years in our country, many local groups met regularly, though they had a preacher visit only once a month. Dana is already thinking of the need for teaching in the community and starting a work there. While the question of how to do it might puzzle some, the New Testament clearly indicates that as people learn the truth and obey it, they will do the Lord’s work as a local church. Some might begin by building a meetinghouse or providing a full-time preacher, but these desirable aids are unnecessary to start and often hinder genuine progress. Teach the gospel, and let the growth take care of the other decisions. The Lord might well have many people in this village, but the gospel is the only means of deciding whether there are and who they are (Rom. 1:16).
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