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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. ...




Exemplary Service

By Randy Hurst
Oct. 2, 2011

At the podium to address one of his last groups of new missionaries, John Bueno opens his tattered Bible and chuckles.

“Someone told me I need to change Bibles,” he says. “This one is falling apart, and one of my friends thinks the print is too small for me to read anymore. But I’m going to give it a last try.” 

I glance down the front row at the other members of the World Missions Executive Committee. As they listen intently, I wonder if they are thinking some of the same thoughts I am as I ponder the past 14 years of John’s leadership in World Missions.

Sitting next to me is Mike McClaflin, regional director for Africa. Though Mike and I have served with John since the beginning of his tenure as executive director and have heard him speak many times, the inspiring stories from the Buenos’ years on the mission field are no less moving. They are always both inspiring and instructive.

All of us who have been privileged to serve with John on the Executive Committee have been truly affected by the exemplary life he has led — as a missionary, a pastor and a leader.

Throughout John’s early years of ministry, God placed people in his path to help guide and shape his life. Among the most influential was his pastor, Earnest J. Kumpe, whose influence began when John was a teenager. They became lifelong friends.

Soon after John graduated from Bethany Bible College, he was offered a comfortable, well-paying position at a church. But Pastor Kumpe asked John to help him in his small struggling pastorate in Santa Maria, California. John agreed. Having no salary, John applied for a construction job to support himself.

On his first day of construction work, he met a gentleman who asked, “Aren’t you the guy who goes to that Assemblies of God church on Church Street?” When John said he was, the man, Mr. Thorpe, requested that John be assigned to his plumbing crew.

After about three days of digging ditches, John began wondering, Lord, is this Your call? Is this why I went to college? I think I could have done this right out of high school.

God soon brought a tall, struggling Texan to John’s attention. There on the job site, John led the man to Christ as they knelt together in the ditch. When they opened their eyes after prayer, they looked up to see Mr. Thorpe looking down at them. Embarrassed, John returned to his workplace, grabbed his shovel and started digging again.

At the end of the day John approached Mr. Thorpe to apologize. “I’m very sorry,” he said. “I know you don’t pay me to do that. It won’t happen again.”

Mr. Thorpe cut him off. “Now listen, young man,” he said. “I’ll pay you for 40 hours to do that.”

This incident marked the beginning of a long friendship with Mr. Thorpe, another major influence in John’s life. Over the years the Lord used Mr. Thorpe to help John financially on many occasions.

When John began full-time ministry as an evangelist, Mr. Thorpe sponsored radio time for him. At times Mr. Thorpe would drive up to 300 miles to hear John preach at a church. He never failed to press an offering into John’s hand, and the amount he gave was always exactly what John needed to continue in ministry.

In 1960, John made plans to return to Chile, the land of his childhood, for ministry. The day his passport arrived, Mr. Thorpe knocked at the door. “The Lord told me to give you this,” he said. In his hand was $600, just enough for John’s passage to Chile.


Revival

In Chile, John teamed up with Cristobal, a young pastor who had been his childhood friend. They set up a tent for an evangelistic outreach, but only about a dozen people showed up for the meeting each night. For two weeks the meetings were discouraging with very little response.

The Rojas family came with two sons suffering with hemophilia. The older boy, Pepe, was about 12 years old and was confined to a wheelchair. At every meeting the boys came through the prayer line.

One night Pepe’s parents reported that Pepe was in the hospital and might not make it through the night. John went to see him and was told he needed blood. The hospital staff asked if the church members would donate.

John donated blood for Pepe. Going back a second time to the hospital, he went to see Pepe, but he wasn’t there. John hurriedly drove across town to the Rojas’ home and found Pepe — not in his wheelchair, but standing before him completely healed.

Pepe said, “Pastor, last night after you left, Jesus came to see me.”

“Pepe, how did you know it was Jesus?” John asked.

Pepe looked at John quizzically and said, “Pastor, when Jesus comes, you know who He is. Jesus put His hand on my forehead, and I was healed.”

That night Pepe gave his testimony at the service. Soon the tent was filled with people seeking God. The meetings began to grow, more miracles took place, and the blessing of God continued for five weeks.

John and Lois had been engaged before John left for South America. Just over a month after returning from Chile, they were married.

Melvin Hodges, regional director for Latin America, heard about John’s ministry in Chile and asked if he and Lois would move to El Salvador and help with an urgent need. John and Lois were assured that the commitment would be no longer than two years. With that promise and after much prayer, they went to El Salvador, not knowing their “temporary” assignment would last 28 years.

John and Lois arrived as missionaries to El Salvador on November 11, 1961 — only nine months after they married. Their assignment was to try to fill Centro Evangelistico, a 2,000-seat auditorium in San Salvador, the nation’s capital.


A Breakthrough

When John and Lois went to San Salvador they had great faith that God would grow the church in less than two years. But after nine long years, only 300 people were attending. John was discouraged and thought he and Lois should probably return to evangelistic ministry.

As John struggled with what to do, the Lord directed him to read the first nine chapters of the Book of Acts. He read nothing else for several weeks. In the process he discovered that the secret of the first-century church was not a human strategy or manmade program. The power came when believers were filled with the Holy Spirit and yielded to Christ’s lordship. The apostle Peter’s message at Pentecost struck John’s heart: “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36, NIV).

With renewed faith, John understood that when individuals live under the lordship of Christ, they will see a move of God as witnessed in the first century.


A Hard Lesson

John preached that message, believing it would change the church. He was disappointed when the service ended like any other Sunday. People left just as they came. Discouraged, John talked with Lois again about leaving El Salvador.

The next week the Spirit led John to preach the same message. Nothing happened. He preached it the third Sunday. Nothing happened.

Church members asked why he was preaching the same message. John replied, “I can’t go on to the next lesson until we begin to practice the first.” He continued preaching the same message Sunday after Sunday.

After preaching that same message 13 Sundays, a group of young people came to John’s office and announced, “Pastor, the Lord is speaking to us about what you’ve been sharing on Sunday mornings. We want to start a prayer meeting.”

The first meeting drew 13 people. The following week, twice as many came. The group continued to grow until 200 people were praying every Friday night until midnight.

The young people began sharing the gospel throughout San Salvador. In six months’ time, the 2,000-seat auditorium was filled to capacity. Over the next 11 years, attendance grew to 22,000.

John believes submitting to the lordship of Christ is the key to revival.


A Boy Who Affected a Nation

John was driving home from ministry late one night when he saw a young boy selling newspapers. No one buys newspapers at midnight, he thought. Knowing the boy couldn’t go home until he had sold all of his papers, John asked how many copies he had left. When John bought the three remaining copies, the boy jumped for joy and ran home.

As John drove away, he realized the same cycle would start all over for the boy the next day. That would be the story of his life.

That night the Lord put into John’s heart the vision to help boys and girls break the cycle of poverty by giving them an education and the love of Jesus Christ. In 1963, he took a step of faith and started a school in connection with Centro Evangelistico.

Eighty-one children gathered in makeshift classrooms, sitting on benches made from used lumber. Enrollment grew steadily, and eventually an entire school system developed known as Liceo Cristiano (Spanish for “Christian School”).

Initially, funding came from a few different sources. In 1988, much of this support dried up, and the school’s operating funds were cut in half.

John shared the ominous news at a staff meeting. For a few seconds the room was quiet. Then a school director said, “Pastor, I think it’s your turn to sit in the chair.”

“Sitting in the chair” was a common practice among the teachers and staff. When anyone faced a need or had a problem, they sat in a chair as others gathered around them to intercede on their behalf. Most of the educators had experienced their turn in the chair. This time it was their friend and pastor who needed encouragement.

After prayer, the entire group was in agreement: They wouldn’t close any of the schools. Teachers and staff offered to work without pay. All of them believed God for a miracle.

Looking back, John says, “I really don’t know how God did it, but in six months our funding was back to the level before the loss and continued to grow. Help came from many sources, some from places we never would have expected. It was a miracle of God’s provision.”


Liceo Cristiano Schools (today)

The first school John and Lois started now has 5,000 students, a medical clinic, laboratory, pharmacy and dental clinic. Salvadoran leadership operates the entire school system, comprised of 37 campuses, 900 faculty and staff, and 22,000 students. More than a million children have been through the Liceo Cristiano program in El Salvador.


Student Testimony

Eelin Auxiliadora Romero Valle was born with a disability, and overcame many obstacles to complete her education. She attended a small village school for four years before receiving an opportunity to attend Liceo Cristiano.

Most of the children from her village never finished elementary school, but Eelin graduated from Liceo Cristiano High School and went on to receive her doctorate in law and is now a judge. She has a compassionate heart toward children who desperately need the same opportunity she was given.


Unlikely Revival

During John and Lois’ ministry, El Salvador was caught in a tragic civil war that lasted 11 years and claimed more than 80,000 lives. As the war edged close to San Salvador, Lois and the Buenos’ four sons were evacuated to a safer area.

An evangelist from Puerto Rico felt God call him to hold open-air crusades in San Salvador during this time. John explained that the plan was impossible, but clearly God had spoken to the evangelist.

The next day John went to ask for government permission to use the 60,000-seat soccer stadium for the crusade. The official said, “You know you can’t do that. There’s no way for people to get there, and there is a 6 p.m. curfew in place.” John patiently explained that God had told the evangelist to have the meeting. He promised that if permission was given, he would deal with the consequences. Reluctantly, the official agreed. John started announcing the meetings and, in God’s providence, the imposed curfew was extended to 10 p.m. Still, fewer than 1,000 people came to the first meeting.

Refusing to be discouraged, the evangelist opened the service. Before the sermon was introduced, a man in a wheelchair was healed. Attendance burgeoned, and many other miracles and countless salvations took place. Conservative estimates reported that more than 80,000 people passed inside the stadium doors for the final Sunday afternoon service.

The Jesus about whom Peter preached on the Day of Pentecost was the same Jesus who came to the stadium that day. Even civil war could not stop the work of God in El Salvador.


Church Planting

The revival at Centro Evangelistico prompted a wave of church planting. John was always gripped with a passion to take the gospel to every area possible. After 25 years of pastoring Centro Evangelistico, he felt led to establish another new church himself.

He chose one of the most hard-to-reach areas of San Salvador. With the great disparity between the poor and the wealthy in El Salvador, the professional classes had been untouched by Assemblies of God churches.

John found an old mansion in an upper-class neighborhood that had been vacated by the family because of the civil war. With its purchase, Templo Cristiano (Christian Temple) became a reality.

The first services were held on the porch because the house was inadequate to hold the young congregation. Eventually a 2,000-seat auditorium was built in the backyard garden. With a solid nucleus of leaders in place, the church grew to 6,000 in just three years.


Leadership

In 1990, John was asked to serve as regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean — a position that would require the Buenos to move to Springfield, Missouri. John respectfully declined, explaining that he did not consider himself an administrator. He enjoyed direct interaction with people and felt better suited as a hands-on missionary or pastor.

A few weeks later he received another call from General Superintendent G. Raymond Carlson asking him to reconsider. “I don’t have peace about this,” John replied. “My answer is still no, but I don’t want to seem rebellious.”

“John, sometimes you need to accept the opinion of your elders,” Brother Carlson said kindly. “All of the leadership team and your colleagues believe you’re the man. Think about it.”

With that, John reluctantly accepted. He served as regional director for eight years. While the work of administration wasn’t always easy, his contacts with missionaries and national leaders from across Latin America and the Caribbean were always positive and motivated him to keep serving.

In 1997, John was diagnosed with cancer. Believing the best action for him at that point was to step away from leadership, he submitted his resignation. Executive Director Loren Triplett asked John to delay his resignation until after the General Council.

Believing he was ending his service as regional director and recovering from surgery to remove the cancerous tumor, John decided not to attend General Council that year. But Lois encouraged him to go, feeling that the fellowship with pastors and other leaders would encourage him. That General Council would change the course of their lives and of AG World Missions. John was elected World Missions executive director where he has served with great distinction for the past 14 years.

During his leadership, John has always demonstrated dependency on the Lord and sensitivity to the Holy Spirit’s leading. When he became executive director, AG World Missions efforts were divided into four regions — Africa, Asia Pacific, Eurasia and Latin America and the Caribbean. John felt led to create separate regions for Europe and Northern Asia. His decisions have proven greatly beneficial to the spread of the gospel in those areas.

John also revised the missionary approval process, allowing greater flexibility for people seeking missionary appointment. This greatly increased the opportunity for young missionaries to go on one- or two-year assignments as missionary associates. Since the changes were enacted, the number of missionary associates has increased by 70 percent.

In 2003, current and former students filled a soccer stadium in El Salvador to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Liceo Cristiano school system. John and Lois attended as the guests of honor.

Through the years, students from the schools have entered all walks of life — pastors, missionaries, physicians, engineers and government leaders. During the ceremony, as John looked out at all those who gathered, he reflected on the events of his life. What if he had accepted a position with a salary straight out of college? What if he hadn’t witnessed to the Texan on that construction site, which prompted his friendship with Mr. Thorpe? What if he had decided not to go to Chile because he didn’t have money or a passport? What if the evangelistic campaign in Chile had ended too soon? What if, in El Salvador, he hadn’t bought the boy’s newspapers that night in the capital city?

God orchestrated each event to bring countless people — both children and adults — in Chile, El Salvador and around the world to Christ and better lives.

In 2004, John and Lois were named Noble Friends of El Salvador by the national government in recognition of their ministry as missionaries and pastors and their work in educating children. The award is the highest honor the Congress in El Salvador can bestow on a civilian and is similar to the Congressional Gold Medal in the United States. During El Salvador’s history, this distinction has been given only seven times. The Buenos are the first noncitizens to receive it, the first non-Catholics, and Lois is the first woman. As John spoke to the Congress and people of El Salvador that day, he expressed his deep gratitude, knowing that God had allowed all of this to happen for His purpose and glory.

During John’s tenure as executive director, AG World Missions has entered 34 new fields, and AG church membership has more than doubled throughout the world.

John and Lois have made a lasting impact in their 50 years in missions. The transformed lives of multitudes of children and adults in El Salvador and the significant growth in missions worldwide are eloquent testimonies to what can happen when God speaks to the heart of a man — and that man responds in obedience. Much of the fruit of John’s leadership has yet to be revealed.

Any believer can learn from how the Buenos obediently submitted to God’s plan for their lives. Many times along the way they could have chosen the easy path or the way of certainty. Instead, they recognized the voice of God speaking to them and chose to obey the Holy Spirit’s leading. As a result, God used them to change a nation and make a lasting impact on the cause of missions around the world.


RANDY HURST is communications director for AG World Missions.

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