Month: June 2020

IMB missionaries use trauma care resources to help refugees, start churches

BOGOTÁ, Colombia—It’s tough to overstate the trauma the Venezuelan people have experienced over the last decade. The price of the country’s chief export, oil, cratered. Hyperinflation at one point hit 10 million percent. The country’s power grid failed, leading to massive power shortages. An unpopular dictator defied an election. More than 4.6 million people fled the country from 2016 to 2019. 

Then came COVID-19. 

For the nearly 2 million Venezuelans, like Omer and Vanessa Fuentes and their three children, who left for nearby Colombia, life didn’t improve this year in their new country. COVID-19 hammered Colombia, completely shuttering the area where many Venezuelan refugees worked. Despite the hardships they had just left, some returned to their Venezuelan homeland.

International Mission Board missionaries in Colombia are helping the Fuentes family, among others, deal with the trauma of the last few years—and helping them start churches in their neighborhoods.

Before leaving Venezuela, Omer and Vanessa had a growing ministry, and Omer had a good job as a computer programmer. As a youth minister, he had seen 23 youth baptized and had 100 youth attending the church in just three years. Yet nationwide blackouts cost Omer his technology clients, making it impossible for him to feed his family. 

“It was getting tougher and tougher in Venezuela,” Omer said. “We had only rice to eat. It came to a point that we had to make the decision to go or we wouldn’t have enough money to leave.”

In early 2019, Omer, Vanessa and their three children left for Colombia. Last summer, they met IMB missionary Matthew Fisher, who helped the family deal with the traumatic events that forced them to leave Venezuela and partnered with them to start a church in their home. 

Fisher used American Bible Society’s Trauma Healing Institute (THI) curriculum to help Venezuelans like the Fuentes deal with trauma in their lives. The curriculum teaches “basic biblical and mental health principles that help people respond to emotional trauma,” according to the program website. THI teaches these principles using Bible stories, such as creation, the fall and Jesus’ death and resurrection.      

In describing the impact of the THI program, Vanessa pointed to the chapter on bringing their pain to the cross.

“Bringing our pain to the cross was very beautiful,” Vanessa said. “It gave us peace with ourselves, to be OK with why we came here.” 

During this lesson, the couple wrote down their hurts and then burned them to symbolize that they had taken those hurts to the cross. The Fuentes’ traumatic move to Colombia had caused family upheaval, and the THI workshop helped them overcome several painful family events.  

For Fisher, THI provided an avenue to use his background in counseling to start churches in the Bogotá area. He has an undergraduate degree in psychology, a master of divinity degree and a master’s degree in pastoral counseling. 

As a church planting catalyst, Fisher often struggled to gather groups in the city. 

“It was the hardest thing to get people into groups because everyone was super busy,” said Fisher, who is from Houston. “Everyone is trying to survive in the city. It was hard to find something interesting enough for them to come.”

But in THI, Fisher finally found a ministry that garnered enough interest to be a gathering opportunity. Since Venezuelan refugees had been through significant trauma in recent years—even the move itself traumatized many—they were open to a THI workshop. Plus, the workshops helped people process personal traumatic events like the death of family members, childhood abuse and other violent acts committed against them.

“I love it because I am able to see their hurts being healed as they bring them to the cross, understanding that God isn’t causing the situation,” Fisher said. “It’s really the will of man and Satan. Everyone blames God, but he isn’t the one to blame. People come into the workshops blaming God, but they leave feeling relief because they see the Bible verses that show the biblical truth about dealing with sin.” 

Fisher held 16 workshops throughout Colombia. At the end of the workshops, he asked participants if they wanted to continue meeting. Four of them, including Omer’s group, decided to do so. Fisher led two of the groups himself.  

Thanks to provision by Send Relief, Fisher was able to give the Fuentes 100 bags of rice, along with other dietary staples, over two weeks as dramatic COVID-19 lockdowns kept many of their neighbors out of work. The food helped the Fuentes support their neighbors and share Christ in the process. In total, the Fuentes engaged 50 families (giving each a bag of rice per week). Fifteen people became followers of Jesus through the effort. 

Fisher notes that many of the people they gave the food to were Colombians who had not treated the Venezuelan refugees well at first. The gift of food was able to soften their hearts toward the Fuentes family, their church and ultimately the gospel.  

“The people who were able to donate the money so we, as missionaries, were able to go out and buy the food and be able to provide it for the church that we helped plant—this was such a blessing,” Fisher said. “I see this totally as a God thing, because the Colombians had been so closed off and hard-hearted. Some were even racists [toward the Venezuelans], and they were able to receive food, because they were suffering as well, from this church. They are opening up to the gospel.”

 Frida Robles, an IMB missionary who leads the missions department at Baptist International Theological Seminary in Cali, Colombia, has been training leaders throughout the country to use THI in their ministry contexts. She also helped train volunteers, both believers and non-believers, throughout the country who are engaging Venezuelan refugees. 

“There were a lot of people who were psychologists, who were professionals in the government here in Cali, but they were not believers,” said Robles, who is a master trainer for THI. “But when they received a little bit of the trauma training, they really liked it. They said, ‘This is what we need. We’re doing the psychology part, but we’re not touching the spiritual. We didn’t even have it.’ After that opportunity, we were having psychologists interested in spiritual matters, because they were dealing with psychology, but it wasn’t answering all the needs of the people.”

Robles believes that tools like THI help missionaries and other ministry leaders to start new groups and reach non-believers without people feeling like they’re being trapped in a religious group. 

“This is a very strong tool for us, as believers, because this is a tool to open new work for people who are suffering,” Robles said. “Even people who know God deal with trauma, but they have God on their side. But the people who don’t know the Lord, it’s worse for them because they don’t have the holy presence of God to strengthen them and to give them the peace that only God can give. Also, it allows us to open up a new Bible study or a new group in a community without people feeling trapped in something religious.”   

Editor’s Note: This is a two-part feature published in the July print issue. The counterpart story can be found here.

COVID-19 in El Paso and the Pecos Valley: churches distribute food and hope

EL PASOEven as COVID-19 cases surge in El Paso, Immanuel Church and other congregations serve communities with food distribution while reopening for socially-distanced worship.

“Our economy was rising for 34 straight months. Skyscrapers were going up. Then this hit. It’s been hard on every city,” Immanuel pastor J.C. Rico told the TEXAN.

“Mother’s Day, protests, we’ll find out in a few weeks if any of that affected any kind of spike,” Rico added, noting that El Paso’s proximity to the Texas border presents further challenges as the virus spreads through South and Central America.

El Paso’s COVID-19 numbers have indeed spiked. The week ending June 27 saw the city add 990 cases—its largest single-week tally yet—El Paso’s ABC7 reported. The city’s uptick is mirrored across Texas, prompting Gov. Greg Abbott to pause reopening: reducing restaurant capacity, shutting bars across the state and cancelling elective surgeries in several counties.

In the best of times, El Paso knows poverty. The pandemic has exacerbated this, but it’s also given local congregations opportunities for ministry.

Immanuel Church’s food distribution expands

Even before the coronavirus, Immanuel Church operated a food pantry. But with needs increasing and COVID-19 demanding additional safety protocols, the church’s food ministry changed and expanded in late March, when Immanuel became a monthly drive-thru food distribution site for the El Pasoans Fighting Hunger food bank.

One Thursday a month, Rico and his son drive a Penske truck to the food bank, load groceries and return to church where some 25 volunteers unload and box the items to be given away that afternoon. The process is daylong, from early morning pick-up to late afternoon, when the final boxes are placed in clients’ cars.

When temperatures soar, the process is broken into two days and distribution occurs earlier on Thursday mornings.

The church’s food outreach expanded in late May when Segovia’s Distributing, Inc., a produce distributor in El Paso, received a government contract through the USDA’s Farmers to Families Food Box initiative to provide fresh produce to families through the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.

A Segovia representative contacted Rico to ask if Immanuel would distribute boxes of fruits and vegetables which the company would deliver to the church three times a month. Rico said yes. Sometimes, both food bank and Segovia distributions occur on the same day. 

The produce boxes are generous: filled with potatoes, onions, carrots, celery, and seasonal fruits.

“We open up the parking lot and people drive through,” Rico said, adding that volunteers put copies of the SBTC’s Hope in Crisis disaster relief pamphlet in English and Spanish in the boxes. 

Clients are asked if they need prayer or would like a Bible.  

“We have given out 400 Bibles already,” Rico said, noting that he recently prayed with a lady who had been furloughed from her security job.

“We are giving out bread, but we want them to know there is the Bread of Life,” Rico said.

The pastor estimates that 1,500-1,800 people—some 700 families—receive food from the Immanuel site each week.

Other SBTC churches, including Semilla de Mostaza Centro Familiar Internacional, Iglesia Jezreel and Agua de Vida are also picking up food at Immanuel for distribution, Rico said.

Food distribution grows regionally

In July, First Baptist of Fort Stockton will begin receiving Segovia produce for its region. 

The church has long operated a food pantry in conjunction with the West Texas Food Bank in Odessa, which delivers prepackaged boxes to the church before its monthly distribution.

“COVID has greatly changed what we’ve done,” said Kay Northcut, church secretary. “We moved our distribution to our parking lot. We set up an awning. We don’t turn anybody down, but we do keep track of how many we feeding.”

First Baptist also takes turns with local Presbyterian and Catholic congregations to pick up donated food at Walmart, each church serving one week a month as a distribution site. The West Texas Food Bank also sends a truck to Fort Stockton each month and distributes items directly.

Northcut said First Baptist gives food to 65-70 families per month.

On July 12, Segovia will send a semi-trailer with 800 boxes of produce for the community.

Rico facilitated the contact between First Baptist and Segovia, Northcut said, adding that other churches in the Pecos Valley Baptist Association, including Collision Church in Alpine and Fort Stockton’s Immanuel Baptist, will distribute the produce and that boxes will go to the Rankin Food Pantry.

“We are just grateful to have it,” Northcut said of the Segovia produce.

Ministry continues

For pastors like Rico, the opportunity to feed the hungry is a godsend during a crisis that has paused many traditional ministries.

“It has blessed us. It’s an injection of ministry in action,” Rico said. “There’s so much need out there.”

Rico said he expects the food distribution to continue through the end of August, possibly moving to Saturdays after school starts.

In-person church services resumed June 14 at Immanuel, but online options continue as the coronavirus heralds a new normal.

America the beautiful?

The line “For fools rush in where angels fear to tread” was first written by Alexander Pope in his 1711 poem An Essay on Criticism. I suppose that should be the title for my column. I have refrained from expressing my opinion on a number of matters due to my role as a unifier. The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 is the expansive but definitive statement under which I serve the churches of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. My responsibility to the Lord is to do everything I can do to help the churches accomplish the Great Commission through cooperation. However, in the chaos of our current situation my conscience will not allow me to hold my tongue any longer. Some may think my commentary is not in my purview. I believe this is a pastoral word for all of us. 

The New World in North America was settled by people seeking religious liberty. The founding of the English colonies was primarily by people of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. When the Declaration of Independence was written, theological language was included. The God of the Bible’s actions of creation, judgment and providence are mentioned. Thomas Jefferson, who was no orthodox Christian, crafted these words. Many of the Founding Fathers were professed believers in Jesus Christ. Until the mid-20th century much of the culture was heavily influenced by Christianity. With that being said, we must understand those who professed our Lord were people like us with clay feet. 

We are flawed individuals with Adam’s nature. Even believers are capable of committing some heinous acts. Native American peoples were abused, lied to and almost annihilated as a people. People from Africa were transported to America and forced to suffer the ignominy of bondage. Later under Jim Crow, African Americans were maligned and murdered. Treated like second-class citizens, they suffered unimaginable injustices. Loyal Japanese Americans were placed in internment camps. Italians and the Irish people faced mistreatment when they migrated to the golden shore. Hispanic people have often been abused and marginalized. Although America was to be a melting pot, it has often been a boiling pot. 

Sin is sickening. It engenders strife, hatred and desire for revenge. What are we to do as believers? The most obvious and most enduring answer is to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ as the solution, and to display that gospel in a Holy Spirit-empowered life of holiness. This is the ultimate answer for ultimate justice.

But it is not the only answer for justice now. As Christians we have a Romans 13 obligation to obey the governmental authorities. As Americans we have the unique privilege to determine who those authorities are under the sovereign hand of God. Anarchists would seek to deconstruct the American system, replacing it with something that does not resemble our present form of government. While Christians are no longer the influential cultural force we once were, we can still be salt and light. Let’s improve on our system rather than change it radically to something it has never been. The provision for religious liberty remains in our current system. The avenues to right injustice are present in our republic.

Sadly, I must admit that the church has abdicated to the government the role of minister. We ask the government to “take care of us.” With the breakdown of the family, we see the government trying to provide for the poor, educate our children and care for the aged. If the church was the church these challenges would be met with a book of James type of practical Christianity. It’s not social justice that we need. We need biblical justice. 

July 4th should be a day to thank God we live in a country where grievances can be addressed. Hundreds of thousands have given their lives so that we can express ourselves. Let’s be civil as Americans and Spirit-controlled as Christians to work toward a more equitable, just and God-honoring United States of America.   

Arkansas church experiences revitalizing decade of baptisms, growth

GREENWOOD, Arkansas—Southeast of Fort Smith just off U.S. Highway 71 sit two building of red brick and white vinyl. The steps leading up to the front door are covered in green AstroTurf. By one of the entrances an old white sign with red letters reads ‘Westwood Baptist Church SBC.’ 

This church has seen a lot over the years, and when Pastor Dewey Hickey arrived any vision of the future of the church was blurry. There were 13 people, counting himself, the first Sunday he stepped into the pulpit. Eleven of the 13 were over the age of 60. These numbers do not paint the picture of a church that most people would describe as poised for growth. 

God calling

Dewey Hickey retired from the North American Mission Board and moved, along with his wife, to Greenwood. His plan was to serve as an interim pastor “here and there” and fish the rest of the time. They attended First Baptist Church in Greenwood, his wife’s home church, where he eventually became an associate pastor and preached every other Wednesday and Sunday night. 

Hickey knew of Westwood, but only by the numbers. “I watched them spiral down for about five and a half years,” he said. “I only knew that their attendance was dropping because the folks were joining First Baptist in Greenwood, where I was.” 

When Westwood’s pastor retired, Hickey said he felt some conviction to send his resume to Westwood. “Fortunately for me,” he said, “they hired another pastor before I could send it.” Hickey felt that tug for about three and a half years as pastors at Westwood continued to come and go while the church’s attendance continued to decline. 

One Sunday evening, after returning home from preaching on the evening service at First Baptist Greenwood, Hickey said he again felt a tug on his heart to send his resume to Westwood. He sat in his family room and said out loud, “God, I’m not going to throw a rag in the yard and expect you to keep one side dry in a rainstorm, but I’ve struggled with this for three and a half years. If you want me to go to Westwood, You’re going to have to let me know something that would convince me that I need to go out there.” 

His phone rang a few moments later. A layperson from Westwood called him and said that God had been tugging on his heart for three and a half years to call Hickey and ask him to come to Westwood. He was finally responding to that tug from the Lord. 

“I said, ‘Whoa! God you don’t have to hit me on the back of the head again. I think I got that one,” he recalled in describing that incredible phone call. He said that call motivated him to give his resume to Westwood and finally apply to be their pastor.

Starting over

When he arrived and began assessing the situation, Hickey wasn’t sure how he was going to get young families back into the older congregation. He talked with Ronnie Deal, pastor of First Baptist Greenwood, and asked if he could recruit three college students, who were willing, to come and help start a children’s Sunday school. 

“I handpicked those college students to come out here with me,” he said. “They became our Sunday school teachers.” Hickey knew that a college-aged student could be more appealing to children and younger families and make the experience more memorable. 

The process of reaching new families was slow. With two SBC churches within a 5-mile radius of Westwood, Hickey knew that fellowship within the church would be foundational to connecting families, and especially younger families with children, to Westwood. Therefore, starting new Sunday School classes was placed high on Hickey’s “to-do” list. There were only two classes—one class for men and one for women. Creating another adult class, as well as children’s classes, helped retain families that began to visit.  

With support from First Baptist Greenwood, Hickey set out to make Westwood’s next priority to be missions. He sent one person from Westwood with First Baptist Greenwood on a mission trip to Nicaragua. A year later they were able to send a small group from Westwood to Mexico. “One of the things that excites people is getting involved in some kind of mission work,” he said. “It’s a way of stirring people’s hearts.” 

Using resources 

These changes began to pay dividends. The growth rate in the first year was more than Hickey originally imagined – close to 40 people joined. He facilitated most of the revitalization at that time with the knowledge he’d learned in his years of ministry. 

A year and a half later, Hickey said that the ABSC Evangelism Church Health team developed their Church Revitalization materials that were extremely helpful in continuing Westwood’s growth process. This ABSC resource provides several elements helpful to churches like Westwood. It provides a plan for developing and engaging a team of lay leaders that help guide the church through revitalization. It also provides specific training materials in the key areas of church life. These materials are designed to guide leadership in diagnosing and changing the particular area so the church can become healthy in that aspect of church life. 

Hickey went through all the materials and was able to personalize them to the needs of Westwood.  “Most of the material, we could’ve honestly taken it and used it just the way it was,” he said. “But we wanted to personalize it so that when we met together it would be Westwood’s material—people knew it was still ABSC material though.” 

“I thought the materials were some of the most solid pieces of materials that any state had put out,” he said. “To me, after some 19 years of doing state work with different state conventions…it was easy for me to grasp and really make use of at our church.”

One of the most important benefits developed through the ABSC resources, Hickey noted, was the inclusion of laypeople in every aspect of the revitalization process. It’s usually on the pastor to do most of the hard work but creating leadership teams and including them in ministry positively impacts the entire journey. Congregational participation creates unity within the church. Everyone is engaged and understands what is happening. It creates a strong sense of buy-in within their hearts. The extra involvement also relieves a lot of stress on the pastor since the work is distributed through the involvement of these extra servants. 

“Our growth at Westwood has been very unusual,” Hickey said. “I’m humbled and delighted that God has let me be a part of something like this in my senior years.” Over the last 11 years, Hickey said they have averaged 26 new members each year and over 40% of those were by baptism. “It’s been an incredible run.”

When Hickey finally answered God’s call to come to Westwood, he had no idea the impact that God would have on a little country church in a town of less than 10,000. He never would have imagined that starting with 13 people 11 years ago would lead to 115 people being baptized into the kingdom over that period of time with more than a hundredfold increase in attendance. It is a true testimony to what answering God’s call can do.

Editor’s Note: This story first appeared in the Arkansas Baptist News.

God bless America

Independence Day, that chaos of flags, fireworks and watermelon, will be a little tentative this unique year. Those who fidget at seeing an American flag in church or hearing the national anthem sung once a year in worship will perhaps be more numerous and fidgety this year. 

But I still join those who celebrate America. There are reasons to do so. 

First, I’m grateful. Those who founded our country and who kept it through very difficult days have delivered to us a nation that has blessed the world. We are recipients of a nation that many long to join and only a few silly celebrities speak of leaving. I’m grateful for the liberty built into our nation and guarded by its founding documents. We benefit from those liberties each day. I benefit from it in writing this column. Whoever else may not like it, I don’t have to worry about the opinion of those in political power. That’s not true everywhere. 

I also admire my country, not because it lives up to its ideals but because it has them. Those high-minded aspirations are not forgotten but rather arise every time someone believes we are neglecting them to the detriment of our people. Some nations would be worse places if they were all they desire to be. America becomes better when it hews closer to its expressed values. 

America is a place of hope because our ideals were drawn out of a mostly Judeo-Christian culture. Where we have repeatedly fallen short of those principles it has been reformers with Bibles in their hands who have clamored loudly for change. Listen to the rhetoric of abolitionists and civil rights activists and hear the biblical references. 

But love for America is like my belief in God. I can give rational reasons for it that seem compelling but ultimately I love America (and believe in God) because I do. Others who love other home places don’t convince me as they sing the praises of their own countries. Perhaps people abandon their homes for rational reasons, but we don’t usually embrace our homes because of logic. Having a place you call home, a place not just a homestead, is a gift of God. 

Think of Israel, of Jerusalem. I’ve seen it and wouldn’t fight you for the landscape. It’s a harsh place, desert, a place of extremes and turmoil. A casual reading of Psalm 137 leaves me wondering, “Why the passion?” But letting the Hebrew children wander for a generation made them want a home of their own; anyplace sounds better than circling the Sinai. And Jerusalem was a more wondrous location than the Judean desert. Maybe it’s relative but it’s so much more than that. The Promised Land was given as an imperfect image of the Perfect Land to come. Jerusalem has not been a city of peace for much of its history, but at its best it gives a peek at the heavenly city we will see one day. At its worst it makes us long for New Jerusalem and the return of its King. 

So I love America because it is my home. Something would have to compel me to leave rather than convince me to stay. I recognize the meaning of Jerusalem is unique in the world, but I also think the gift of a home place can serve a similar purpose in anyone’s life. I have seen the best side of 10 foreign countries and the worst side of several. I didn’t long to stay in any of them but I found people there who were happily at home. When they think of heaven they think of a place where they will be perfectly safe, perfectly at rest and perfectly “at home.” They long for “a city not made with hands” but the concept of that city starts with the place God gave them.

G.K. Chesterton explores this so well in his essay in “Heretics” critiquing Rudyard Kipling. His contention is that Kipling, a cosmopolitan Englishman, loved England because of her qualities in a similar way that he loves other places because of their qualities. Kipling saw England in passing rather than as the farmer hoeing his potato field saw it. The farmer saw England as his world and the globetrotting writer saw it as an admirable place in the world. Kipling was to Chesterton “the philanderer of the nations,” a man who loved something about many countries with a “because of” love but who never knew that first love, the “regardless” love. 

Maybe you see the deeper point. Our country is troubled, and troubling—no matter how it compares to another place. But it is the place from which I see the whole world. It is the place that taught me to love a home place. And America teaches me, at its best and worst, to long for the perfect country that will be my home forever.  

Hispanic pastors address stress, suicide

Pastoral ministry is often fast-paced and high-stress, from weekly logistical and administrative responsibilities to speaking engagements, unexpected late-night calls, counseling sessions and crisis management. While church members may be aware of some of the challenges their pastors face on a weekly basis, many seem unaware of the taxing effect such a workload has on ministers. 

Ministers themselves are often hesitant to share such burdens with others. 

“This problem has always existed,” said Chuy Ávila, SBTC church planting associate “The problem is that, for cultural reasons, it hasn’t been treated so openly as we are attempting to do. We wanted to provide a safe platform where we offered pastors the possibility to identify themselves with one of the areas we covered, even when they might not dare to express it publicly.” 

SBTC en Español talked openly about such problems with a number of experienced ministers and counselors as panelists. The discussion was recorded through Zoom and can be viewed online. The panelists included Edgar Trinidad, pastor of Second Baptist Church in San Angelo, Texas; Mario Martínez, pastor of The Good Shepherd Baptist Church in El Paso, Texas; Eric Puente, a trained pastoral counselor as well as the interim pastor of Bethany Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas; Armando Vera, pastor of Power of God Church in McAllen, Texas; and moderators Chuy Ávila and Bruno Molina, an evangelism associate with the SBTC. 

From the beginning of the panel the often-avoided question was placed on the table: Why do pastors commit suicide? Puente noted that a fast-paced lifestyle filled with chronic stress, among other factors, can put a pastor’s life at risk. Martinez added, “It’s of uttermost importance not to spiritualize the matter. It’s really delicate … [involving] factors that are outside of our control and are not necessarily related to spiritual/religious elements.” 

Indeed, pastors often face loneliness in ministry, Ávila said. “The pastor is often everyone’s friend, attempts to be everyone’s friend, but very few seek to intentionally befriend their pastor.”. The panelists emphasized that one must have friends while doing ministry—particularly, trustworthy friends also in the ministry and who are able to understand the nuanced issues ministers face that are not as well known among church members. “Being in isolation or wanting to go solo is the worst thing a minister of the gospel could do, “Martinez said. “‘It is not good for man to be alone.’”

The panelists also recommended that all pastors have an emergency contact number belonging to a trained counselor they can call if they need help; a prayer team within the local church specifically and actively praying for the pastor; and a support group of other pastors with whom they can be accountable. 

Implementing all of these preemptive steps might be difficult, especially in a profession where one’s job is tied to one’s own moral performance, which in turn can discourage vulnerability among pastors. Nevertheless, as Puente pointed out, pastors have the example of Christ, who was open about his emotions, his sadness and his tears, particularly in Gethsemane.

Puente emphasized that in the gospels that “Jesus is speaking to you and to me.”

Los pastores hispanos abordan los temas del estrés y el suicidio

El ministerio pastoral es a menudo acelerado y de alto estrés, desde responsabilidades logísticas y administrativas semanales hasta compromisos como oradores, llamadas inesperadas hasta en la tarde de la noche, sesiones de asesoramiento y gestión de crisis. Si bien los miembros de la iglesia pueden estar al tanto de algunos de los desafíos que enfrentan sus pastores semanalmente, muchos parecen desconocer el efecto gravoso que tal carga de trabajo tiene sobre los ministros.

Quizás, más importante aún, muchos ministros a menudo dudan en compartir tales cargas con otros. 

“Este problema siempre ha existido”, dijo Chuy Ávila, Coordinador de Plantación de Iglesias de la SBTC. “El problema es que por asuntos culturales no se ha tratado tan abiertamente como estamos haciendo. Lo que hicimos es proveer una plataforma de confianza donde ofrecimos a los pastores la posibilidad de identificarse en alguna de las áreas en que ellos no tengan la confianza de expresarlo públicamente”.

La rama hispana de la SBTC decidió romper el hielo y hablar abiertamente sobre dicho problema con varios ministros y consejeros experimentados participando como panelistas. Dicha discusión se grabó a través de Zoom y se puede ver aquí. Los panelistas incluyeron a Edgar Trinidad, pastor principal de la Segunda Iglesia Bautista en San Ángelo, Tejas, Mario Martínez, pastor principal de la Iglesia Bautista The Good Shepherd en El Paso, Tejas; Eric Puente, un consejero pastoral por entrenamiento, así como el pastor interino de la Iglesia Bautista Bethany en Dallas, Tejas; Armando Vera, pastor principal de la Iglesia Poder de Dios en McAllen, Tejas; y sirviendo como moderadores, Chuy Ávila y Bruno Molina, profesor adjunto de Apologética y Evangelización en el Seminario Teológico Bautista del Suroeste en Fort Worth, Tejas.

Desde el vamos, la elusiva pregunta fue puesta sobre la mesa: ¿por qué los pastores cometen suicidio? Eric Puente señaló que un estilo de vida acelerado y lleno de estrés crónico, entre otros factores, puede poner en riesgo la vida de un pastor. Mario Martínez agregó: “Es de la mayor importancia no espiritualizar el asunto. Es sumamente delicado eso…[porque involucra] factores que están fuera de nuestro control y no están necesariamente ligados a la cuestión espiritual/religiosa”.

Ciertamente, los pastores a menudo enfrentan aislamiento en el ministerio. “El pastor es amigo de todos y busca ser amigo de todos, pero pocos toman la iniciativa intencional de acercarse al pastor”, dijo Ávila. Por dicha razón, los panelistas enfatizaron que uno, como pastor, debe tener amigos en medio del ministerio, particularmente amigos confiables que también estén en el ministerio y sean capaces de comprender los problemas particulares que los ministros a menudo enfrentan y que no son tan conocidos entre los miembros de la iglesia. “El aislamiento o querer luchar en soledad es lo peor que puede hacer un ministro del evangelio. ‘No es bueno que el hombre esté solo’”, dijo Martínez. Los panelistas también recomendaron a todos los pastores que tengan un número de contacto de emergencia que pertenezca a un consejero entrenado al que puedan llamar si necesitan ayuda; un equipo de oración dentro de la iglesia local que ore específica y activamente por el pastor, y un grupo de apoyo compuesto por otros pastores con quienes puedan practicar la rendición de cuentas.

Implementar todos estos pasos preventivos puede ser difícil, especialmente en una profesión donde el trabajo de uno está vinculado al desempeño moral de uno, lo que a su vez puede desalentar la vulnerabilidad entre los pastores. Sin embargo, como señaló Puente, los pastores tienen el ejemplo de Cristo, que fue abierto Y honesto con sus emociones, su tristeza y sus lágrimas, particularmente en Getsemaní.

Puente enfatizó que en los evangelios “Jesús te está hablando a ti ya mí”.

Ventilators and living wills: What’s a Christian to do during the pandemic?

Victor J. Cardenas isn’t one to tell patients whether they should place a “no ventilator” clause in a living will. As a Christian doctor and pulmonologist in Galveston, Texas, he says that’s up to the individual.

Still, Cardenas encourages patients to think carefully through the issue, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic that has placed ventilators at the forefront of the national discussion. In May, The Washington Post reported on a trend of older adults placing “no ventilator” or “no intubation” orders in their living wills. 

The use of a ventilator, Cardenas said, isn’t a “one-size-fits all” issue that can be handled easily with a form. 

“I always think if someone is thinking about putting some limits on their medical care or whatever, that they [should] have a very open discussion with their primary care physician [and] have a very open discussion with their family so that everybody can kind of be on the same page,” Cardenas, who practices at UTMB in Galveston, told the TEXAN. “When that happens, it’s a lot easier and it reduces a lot of stress on the family.” 

Cardenas understands why patients are sometimes hesitant to permit use of a ventilator. 

“When you’re on a mechanical ventilator, you have a tube down your throat [and] we almost always have to sedate them fairly heavily because it’s uncomfortable,” he said. “… A machine is pushing air into your body and [they] often have to be tied down because we don’t want people to suddenly pull something out when groggy.”

Patients who are on ventilators for days or weeks can develop bed sores and experience loss of vitality.

“There’s a point where medically we have our limitations. … We say that as physicians, not as the Almighty, but as physicians.”

On the other hand, ventilators can help spare lives, too, even if the average time on one for coronavirus patients is about 10-12 days.

“Mechanical ventilators can be life saving,” he said.

Health—and not necessarily the patient’s age—is the biggest factor in a ventilator’s success, Cardenas said.

“If you’re 82, and you’re healthy, and have been exercising and you’re in really good shape, you might be fine,” he said. “But if you’re 10 years younger [and] you have diabetes and heart failure, you’re much less likely to survive than the fit 82-year-old.” 

The success of ventilators on coronavirus patients is hampered by the lack of therapies.

“The body just has to go through the process of [fighting] the infection,” Cardenas said, adding about drugs, “We’re still trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t.”

One option for supporters of living wills, he said, is to add a time limit to the ventilator clause. That way, it gives the doctors and the family the opportunity to use a ventilator if it might help.

Cardenas always prefers to talk directly to the patient if possible. 

“Sometimes they’ll say, ‘Well, I just don’t want to be kept alive for weeks and weeks on the ventilator,’” Cardenas said, using a hypothetical scenario. He said he’ll sometimes reply, “We might be able to get you through this” with only a few days on the ventilator.

Thor Madsen, an ethics professor at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, urged caution in placing a “no ventilator” clause in a living will.

“No written document can anticipate every contingency that may arise in medical decision making,” Madsen told the TEXAN. “In reality, medical treatment plans have to be made on a day-by-day and case-by-case basis, using informal methods of judgment that legalese would never capture. Therefore, living wills are not good alternatives to the input of a trusted, informed, and biblically-wise decision maker.”

Cardenas said faith can impact one’s decision.

“From a Christian standpoint, we believe that there’s more to life than just this life,” he said. “… I think that helps in terms of trying to decide beforehand what you want for you and your family.” 

How US protests affect European missions

“I don’t understand; I don’t think most Americans understand. Why are people in Germany and all over Europe protesting what is going on in the USA?”

This was my question to my German friend as he and I talked over coffee one day not long ago. He thought of several reasons that Europeans reacted in solidarity with the protesters in the U.S. First, America’s number one export is culture. Many Europeans love America, Americans and American culture. So, naturally, what happens in America very much affects Europeans.

However, another reason Europeans—especially Germans—reacted so strongly in protest was, perhaps, their own feelings of the mistreatment of immigrants here in Germany. Back in 2015, Middle Eastern and Northern African immigrants flooded into Germany seeking asylum and refuge. Some have built new lives for themselves, but many others still struggle and face discrimination. Many Germans want to see immigrants flourishing with a better life.

This provides wonderful opportunities for missionaries here in Europe. As the COVID-19 crisis seems to wind down here in Europe, many Europeans are angry, scared and confused. During this time, they are looking for answers and a way forward. As missionaries, we can provide some life-changing answers. 

God’s goodness in the world

One of the conversations we have regularly with our German partners, neighbors and friends is about the justice of God. The COVID-19 pandemic reminded the world in a powerful way that this world is broken. It needs to be redeemed. It needs to be made knew. Because of this, we have regular conversations about the problem of evil and the goodness and justice of God.

“Why doesn’t he just fix it all already?” or “Why doesn’t he do anything about it now?” are just some of the questions we frequently talk about. The answer is, God has done something, is doing something, and will do something about the brokenness and evil in the world. When Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead, he defeated the powers of evil. He also began the process of restoring and redeeming all of creation. He is slowly healing the world and we as His followers get to be a part of that process.

The world is broken, and people are still struggling. But Jesus is the Savior and King of the world. And he has called everyone everywhere to repent and follow Him on His mission to make all things new. Missionaries are on the front line of that work, and that is exciting!

God’s justice for society

Because we have received the free gift of salvation, we share it with others. We share the message of hope and forgiveness in Christ. We show the love of God in our neighborhoods and in the context of our local church. We work to bring others to the kingdom and bring the kingdom to others. People can see and experience a better way of living—a more just way of living—and they can see a clear picture of the true just One who deeply loves them and invites them to join in His family.

However, with the issue of racism, we have to be even clearer. As Christians, our vision is that one day people from every nation, tribe and tongue will be together with King Jesus in the new creation. But we want to share a glimpse of that future in the world right now. We are forgiven people who are fully loved and accepted by God. We want to bring the radical peace to the lost and show them what it is like to live in a world without racism, discrimination, prejudice or hate. We give them a glimpse of what heaven is like. We show them how to live and love with Jesus as the center of their life.

Because of Jesus, we have a basis on which to say, “Racism is wrong.” Jesus’ people come from every nation, tribe and tongue. In his eyes, they are all equal—equally loved and equally valuable. We should eliminate racism from society not simply because it is “bad” or “wrong” or because it ruins other people’s lives (though those are certainly good reasons). We should eliminate racism from society because Jesus is building a new world where all people will live and love as one family. It is our job to take that message and that new world into our neighborhoods and cities and transform them by the power of the gospel. 

That’s why we work as missionaries. To bring the good news of Jesus Christ to a world that is asking questions. To bring them the one true answer to every question, the solution to every problem. The American protests are causing Europeans to ask good questions. Missionaries all over Europe are offering the gospel as the answer.

Lucas Wilburn* is an IMB missionary serving among European peoples.

*Name changed for security