Tag: Latin America

For thousands of Nicaragua’s poor, mission ‘a gift from God’

For thousands of Nicaragua’s poor, mission ‘a gift from God’

Outreach that started with a small medical clinic has grown to meet needs ranging from education to water systems.

By Bobby Ross Jr. | The Christian Chronicle

JINOTEGA, Nicaragua — In a nation where many live on just a few dollars a day, things most U.S. residents take for granted make a world of difference.

An aspirin to relieve a headache. A filter to provide clean water. A classroom for boys and girls to receive an education.

Here in Central America’s poorest country, a 20-year-old outreach called Misión Para Cristo — Spanish for “Mission for Christ” — brings blessings such as these to thousands.

“It’s a basic fact,” said Benny Baker, the American missionary who with his wife, Donna, started the Christian nonprofit in 1997. “You cannot teach a hungry man. You cannot teach a man who is sick. They are not in a position to hear.”

Misión Para Cristo began with a small medical clinic in this mountain city a few hours north of the capital of Managua. The Bakers worked with a Nicaraguan minister and 12 church members to launch the clinic.

In the two decades since, the mission — overseen since 2013 by the Grapevine Church of Christ in Texas — has planted dozens of congregations, built or remodeled 25 school buildings and become one of Nicaragua’s largest providers of medical care outside of the government.

Besides nearly a dozen full-time American missionaries, Misión Para Cristo relies on a core staff of 47 Nicaraguans — including directors who coordinate areas such as health care, education and construction.

“How did we get here?” Baker said, contemplating the 40,000 patients served each year and the 1,000 adults and children who worship with 28 congregations supported by Misión Para Cristo. “It’s a God thing.”

Read the full story.

Related column: On international trip, this picky eater asks, ‘What’s on the menu?’ (from Panama City)

These stories appear in the February 2017 print edition of The Christian Chronicle. 

In Guatemala, a celebration 50 years in the making

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In Guatemala, a celebration 50 years in the making: The Pan American Lectureship returns to the Central American capital where it started in 1963 (reporting from Guatemala City). Currents.

GUATEMALA CITY — Fifty years ago, the Pan American Lectureship was launched in this Central American capital to focus attention on fledgling Latin American missions.

Just a few years before, Jerry and Ann Hill and their two young daughters drove a 1955 Chevrolet 210 station wagon all the way from Pleasanton, Texas — becoming the first Church of Christ missionaries between northern Mexico and the Panama Canal Zone.

The Hills — the first of a team of missionaries who came to share Christ with this nation known for earthquakes, guerrilla warfare and its deep Mayan roots — arrived in 1959.

“The oldest Churches of Christ in Mexico were only about 20 years old,” the late Jerry Hill wrote in “Guatemala: Joy and Crown,” his 2011 autobiography. “The oldest church in South America was seven years old. There were no known churches in Central America.”

Fast-forward to a recent Sunday: The Pan American Lectureship celebrated its half-century milestone by returning to this sprawling metropolis of 3 million people where it began in 1963.

To mark the occasion, busloads of Guatemala’s faithful came together for a joint worship assembly — some traveling hours from remote rural areas.

Ann Hill, now 81, sat on the front row of a national convention hall the size of a U.S. football field, barely able to contain her emotions.

Transitioning to a new role with ChronicleInside Story.

2013: The year in quotes. Currents.

This post highlights my stories in the January 2014 print edition of The Christian Chronicle.

For a Nicaraguan church, a revival

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For a Nicaraguan church, a revival: Once-struggling congregation finds new life through the work of native missionaries and their American supporters (reporting from Masaya, Nicaragua). Currents.

MASAYA, Nicaragua — The front door of the Sacuanjoche Church of Christ swings open, and children — 260 of them — stream out of a cramped concrete building with a tin roof.

The boys and girls sport freshly painted T-shirts that declare “God is our faithful provider” in Spanish. They carry Bible-themed crafts and sack puppets with Jesus’ hair colored brown, orange and even blue.

These young residents of Central America’s poorest country — most of whom live in homes with dirt floors — giggle as they dig into plastic goodie bags filled with coloring books, crayons, candy, stuffed animals, toothpaste and toothbrushes.

It’s the final afternoon of Vacation Bible School in a busy neighborhood where bikes, motorcycles, small cars and horse-drawn carts share a street paved with hand-laid bricks.

In recent years, this congregation in the heart of a city of 150,000 — about 45 minutes southeast of Managua, the nation’s capital — has experienced a spiritual and numerical revival.

Homosexuality and the church: As society embraces same-sex couples, a Texas conference equips the faithful to respond (reporting from San Antonio). Page 1. First part of “Bridges & Barriers” series.

Mission trip leaves father hungry for more (column from Houston). Inside Story.

This post highlights my stories in the September 2013 print edition of The Christian Chronicle.

A rocky road for Mexico missions

A rocky road for Mexico missions: Amid violence south of the U.S. border, many churches rethink travel plans (reporting from Aquiles, Mexico). Page 1.

First Place (part of three-story portfolio), Magazine News Religion Reporting, Religion News Association

Finalist (part of three-story portfolio), Supple Feature Writer of the Year Award, Religion News Association

Third Place, General News Reporting, Oklahoma Society of Professional Journalists

By Bobby Ross Jr. | The Christian Chronicle

AQUILES, Mexico — A year ago, Bethany Gibbs raised more than $2,000 to buy Spanish-language Bibles for 350 families in this remote mountain village and nearby communities.

Gibbs, then a high school senior, eagerly anticipated sharing God’s written word with Mexican friends she had made on two previous mission trips here.

But safety concerns south of the U.S. border prompted her home congregation — the Edmond Church of Christ in Oklahoma — to cancel its planned trip.

“It was heartbreaking,” said Deborah Gibbs, Bethany’s mother. “She didn’t know if she’d ever get to come back.”

Turf wars between drug cartels have claimed more than 50,000 lives in Mexico since 2006, even as President Felipe Calderon has deployed tens of thousands of soldiers and federal police to combat criminal organizations.

The violence, which includes kidnappings, carjackings and innocent bystanders caught in the crossfire, has caused many Churches of Christ in the U.S. to rethink Mexico missions.

Trusting God on mission trip to Mexico (reporting from Aquiles, Mexico). Inside Story.

Securing young hearts in Iowa (reporting from Marshalltown, Iowa). Churches That Work.

This post highlights my stories in the May 2012 print edition of The Christian Chronicle.