Thirty years ago on February 4, a monstrous nighttime earthquake shook tens of thousands of Guatemalan dwellings to the ground killing 30 thousand people in their beds.
The traumatic 7.9 Richter scale quake opened the doors for a group from California’s Gospel Outreach ministries to start a building reconstruction effort that turned into a church.
That Guatemala City congregation has multiplied into nearly 100 churches in 14 countries and four languages, plus schools, orphanages, medical clinics, radio stations, a TV ministry, an accredited university and many social outreach and development projects.
The original team’s guiding principles—glorifying God by living as disciples of Jesus, putting his Word into practice, and reaching out to the poor and lost—continue to motive the hundreds of fulltime Verbo pastors and workers today. Verbo’s director, James Jankowiak, says, “We thank God for 30 years of expansion, but we don’t dwell on what’s been done, but rather on what needs to be done. The world’s need for the transforming power and love of the Gospel put into everyday practice is what motivates us to prepare new workers and open new fields of service as quickly as we can.”
In the middle of the regular care and expansion of the work, the ministry also responds to emergency situations such as Hurricanes Katrina and Stan on an “as needed” basis.
On the missions field, a team soon will begin working in Panama. And in Ecuador, Zack and Melody Steimle, who have been working with the Verbo hospital and medical outreaches in Cuenca, recently accepted the challenge to move into the Amazon basin to share their medical and ministerial skills in remote towns.
“We thank God for our American workers but an important aspect of our movement is to place local ministers in key leadership roles as soon as possible,” James says. “For example, Bob Trolese, the founder of our churches and social projects in Nicaragua, turned over his church in the capital city to one of his local leaders. That young man is now a member of our International Council.
Image“Jim DeGolyer, who was instrumental in building our ministry in Guatemala and Ecuador ceded his place on the Council to an Ecuadorian. He is now freer to minister to travel and equip leaders and believers throughout our ministry.”
Though various American missionary families work in Verbo, only two serve on the nine-man international leadership team. According to James, the number of Latino missionaries and workers grows yearly. “We have Ecuadorians working in Peru, Guatemalans working in Spain, Canada, the U.S., Honduras and Costa Rica, and Mexicans working in the U.S. The health of any work is that faithful men are able to commit their vision and work to others. The original team did—and continues to do—just that. The result is that we keep expanding to serve more and more people.
“In most missions work antagonism often develops between nationals and foreign founders because the foreigners not only retain control but impose their homeland cultural values on the host society.
“We have avoided that by constantly adapting to the societies where we live, by sharing or turning over leadership to local workers, and by teaching that the church is its own kingdom where those called to given tasks are called by God, not by nationality or social status. This makes for a dynamic, free expression,” James observes.
It also causes the members of Verbo churches to grasp the same vision of going to the ends of the earth with the Gospel that impelled the founders. Interestingly, workers from the Third World generally meet less resistance from locals (especially in Muslim countries) than Americans and generally adapt faster to adverse conditions.
The ministry’s rapid spread is in part because so many Hispanic and Brazilian converts made the decision to become missionaries or relief workers rather than depend solely on workers from the First World. “We are grateful for every worker we have, no matter what their national origin,” James says, “But the fact is we need more of them, and more funds, more prayer, more moral support—more of everything necessary for reaching the hurt, the suffering, the lost. Jesus already said it, ‘The harvest is plentiful.’ Please join with us to send workers! We need your help now!”
The best way to give is through the OnLine Donations Center.