The release — giving 100% of a ministry to the national leaders — happened in May 2010, but it had been on the horizon for the Iglesia Evangelica Libre de Honduras (IELH, Evangelical Free Church of Honduras) for much longer.
“We cast the vision for disengagement very early,” says Bob, former EFCA ReachGlobal missionary to Honduras. “From the first meeting [in 2001], we explained to the Hondurans that our goal was to one day leave the work in the hands of their leadership.” After all, release is the third action in ReachGlobal’s strategy, following develop and empower.
But how do you go about an effective release of ministry? A natural question Bob and his wife, Joyce, faced: “Have we spent enough time in the develop and empower stages to be successful in the release?”
Bob and Joyce were working with another mission organization in the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa in the late 1990s, leading short-term medical teams. Thousands of Hondurans accepted Christ through the ministry of those teams — but there was a disconnect. “The local churches that were hosting the medical/evangelism clinics weren’t growing,” Bob says.
Recognizing a need for discipleship and development, Bob and Joyce felt drawn to church planting. They called on their EFCA contacts in the United States, and began planting a church in 2001 with a small team of ReachGlobal missionaries.
While overall church growth was slow — the church was committed to growing through the discipleship of leaders and members from within, as opposed to “robbing” people from other local churches — spiritual growth was robust.
From the start, Oscar, a talented Honduran teacher and leader, joined them in their efforts and provided important counsel regarding the Honduras culture. Over the years, as Bob guided and mentored Oscar and the other leaders who joined the fold, he was careful to also release aspects of the ministry to them.
‘We believe in you’
Despite making their intentions clear from the start, when Bob and Joyce put a firm date on the release, a year in advance, the Hondurans struggled with the news, wondering if they were ready.
“Relationships are so important there,” Bob says of the Honduran culture. “Having us physically leave them was really difficult emotionally.” In the year leading up to their departure, Bob and Joyce had to continually assure the church leaders and members that it was not abandonment.
“We were telling them: ‘We believe in you. We believe this is the right thing to do,'” Bob says.
To help show these brothers and sisters in Christ that they were serious about staying in contact when they left the field, Bob and Joyce created a Honduran “Sending Team” to support them in their move back to the U.S. Leading up to the move, the team prayed regularly and took responsibility for helping send these missionaries on to their next ministry assignment.
Forming this Sending Team reinforced that the departure of Bob and Joyce was part of a greater kingdom strategy. “The Hondurans started seeing that they are part of a bigger movement,” says Bob. They still keep in touch regularly with prayer updates and personal notes for the team.
By the time they departed from the field, they were confident that the Honduran leaders were prepared to take the reins. “They had the full intention and desire to move forward as a church,” Bob says.
On their own
In late 2010, several months after Bob and Joyce left Honduras, another ReachGlobal missionary couple, Roberto and Robin, began attending IELH with their family. Careful not to take a leadership role, Roberto and Robin have been participating as church attendees and encouraging and supporting the leadership in their work.
They have found the church, in the wake of the ministry release, to be healthy and growth-minded — spiritually and numerically. Like many Latin churches, they face challenges to their vision for growth, but they are persevering and showing signs of progress.
Roberto reports, “There are several people taking a weekly theology class [led by Oscar and Enrique, another key leader.] There is monthly fasting and a steady prayer group meeting. There are four men training for leadership. The women are meeting on a monthly basis now, with 8-12 in attendance each time.”
Roberto also notes that the leadership is strong. Enrique has assumed the primary leadership role, and Roberto says, “He is concerned about good theology and encourages people to backup what he tells them and what others may be telling them. He takes time to research and meditate on issues. Enrique also is a good teacher and explains things well.” And there is a vision and plan for outreach to the community.
Almost a year after releasing the ministry to the Hondurans, Bob and Joyce returned to visit the IELH in March 2011. The reunion was joyful. Relationships were intact. “They were really proud to display their church to us,” Bob says.
And, yes, it was their church — a true Honduran church released into the hands of the Hondurans.
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- That the IELH continues to move forward under the Honduran leadership, growing spiritually and numerically.
- For the church as they seek a new location for their services and programs that will be more centrally located and convenient for current members as well as visitors and seekers.
Make an online donation to the Honduras Field Ministry fund.