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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

Reaching Honduras ... One Church at a Time

By Charity Sites
March 7, 2010

Honduras has often been called the “black sheep” of Latin America. One of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere, it struggles with joblessness and a weak economy. Up to a third of the labor force is seeking work, and the annual income per capita is less than $1,000.

Yet in the midst of difficult times, Centro Evangelistico Assembly of God in Tegucigalpa, the nation’s capital, is growing, planting and multiplying.

In 1973, Bill Strickland and his wife, Barbara, were appointed as missionaries to Honduras. They ministered in Tegucigalpa and assisted in building a Bible school in the city before returning to the States in 1982. For the next five years Bill directed MAPS Construction and founded the Assemblies of God RV ministry. In 1987 he was asked to serve as Light for the Lost director, and later he founded the Prayer Task Force Ministry.

In April 1996, Bill returned to Honduras for a week with his family to preach a Good News Crusade for missionary Ron Pitts. During that time, Bill sensed God leading him and Barbara back to Honduras to lead Centro Evangelistico.

 “All my friends thought I was crazy,” Bill recalls. Crazy as it seemed, God had clearly given His call.

The birth of a church
When Bill and Barbara returned to begin pastoring Centro Evangelistico Assembly of God, their first service was on a Wednesday night. Eight people attended. On Sunday, about 75 people came.

“At that time,” Bill shares, “a good Sunday meant five cars in the parking lot and $5 in the offering.”

Church members knew nothing about missions, but Bill was determined to instill a heart for the lost within them. He organized a missions convention even before the group had its own permanent place to worship.

Last year believers gave the equivalent of $275,000 to missions. Currently, the church gives more money to missions than all other AG churches in Honduras combined. The church supports a variety of ministries and a 150-member staff. This is no small sacrifice.

An orphanage, a Teen Challenge center with 160 students, and radio and television ministries are just a few ways the church is reaching Tegucigalpa and the surrounding area. Medical and dental clinics and a pharmacy operated by the church touch many lives with the compassion of Christ. A significant number of people have come into the church as a result of the clinics.

The church also operates a bilingual Christian school for about 725 children. A leadership school is training several hundred students.

In the past 12 years Centro Evangelistico has grown to about 12,000 people with more than 1,400 cell groups. “The catch is that not everyone comes to the church,” Bill explains, “because we don’t have anywhere to put them.” Current facilities can only accommodate about 3,500 people, including children and youth. To reach the rest, copies of the Sunday morning sermon are given to cell group leaders who preach it during the week.

They hope to build a sanctuary for 12,000 sometime in the next five years.

“There is an expectancy and hunger among the spiritually lost in this city,” Bill shares. “A sermon could even be about tithing, and people will come to Christ!”

Grow, plant, grow, plant
A typical Sunday service at Centro Evangelistico might seem unusual to most.

Imagine more than 600 babies in the church nursery and an average of 20 baby dedications each week. (The record was 80.)

About 3,100 students attend a separate Sunday morning service. There’s just not enough room in the sanctuary for them.

As 3,500 people gather for services each week, a variety of music teams lead them in worship. This gives equal ministry opportunity for the numerous musicians eager to serve.

Parking is a challenge, with too many cars and not enough spaces. Currently, the church rents lots to provide extra parking.

No water baptisms take place on Sunday mornings. Instead they are held on a separate night because of the high number of people wanting to be baptized. The record is 389 baptisms in one service. “I stopped baptizing after the first 100 people and let the staff take over,” Bill recalls with a chuckle. The church has been in a new facility since April 2009, but already believers are in the process of buying 110 acres for $3.2 million so they can relocate to a larger facility. Land payments alone are $47,000 per month.

With great growth comes great responsibility. Bill and his staff know that planting churches is not only a necessity, but also a tremendous opportunity. Even with a congregation of 12,000, they are fully aware of the more than 7 million Hondurans who remain spiritually lost. To reach them, believers are involved in church planting in two primary ways.

Some churches are birthed from one of the cell groups that are spread out within a three-hour radius of the city.

“If no church is in the area of the cell group,” Bill explains, “we put a worker there and sponsor him until the new church can be self-supporting.”

Once land is purchased, a team of MAPS workers join church members to construct a building.?“We send ministry teams to help get things started,”  Bill says. “Then when the church becomes self-supporting, we turn it over to the national church.”

The second method of church planting begins with a temporary meeting place.

“We have our own tent,” Bill says, “and we set it up in different areas needing a church. The tent stays up until a building is built.”

No matter how a church is planted, indigenous principles are emphasized from the start.

“We are very strong on discipleship,” Bill explains. “Every church plant must have the same philosophy of ministry as the mother church, especially in the areas of missions, tithing and evangelizing.”

Since these ministries are so important to any indigenous effort, a staff pastor oversees all new church plants to make sure they develop strong and healthy.

Recently, Bill turned the senior pastor position over to his 35-year-old associate, Miguel Montoya, who has been on staff at the church for 12 years.

“Miguel and his wife, Jackie, are like our own kids,” Bill shares.

The two men share preaching responsibilities, but Miguel is responsible for the day-to-day pastoral ministry.

Though some considered it crazy, Bill and Barbara’s obedience to God’s call and their vivacity in continuing His work challenge each of us to do the same wherever we are. Each of us must be a part in reaching the world one church or one person at a time.

CHARITY SITES is editorial coordinator for AG World Missions Communications.

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