When Jim mentioned he was preparing for his next trip to Nicaragua, Chris asked him a simple question: “Do you need anything?”
“I was thinking he might need a backpack or a Nalgene bottle or something,” Chris says, laughing.
He was not expecting Jim (then teaching pastor at Fellowship Bible Church in Conway, Arkansas) to invite him to join the team — especially with that team heading to the airport in about 36 hours. Yet, despite the short notice, Chris willingly jumped in, ready to get his first taste of a Bible Institute in Juigalpa, Nicaragua. That was the fall of 2005.
Jim (now serving with EFCA ReachGlobal in Costa Rica) started his first Bible Institute in Nicaragua in 1999 with two things in mind: (1) provide an opportunity for his local church to serve internationally and (2) train and equip pastors and leaders in Nicaragua with sound basic theology.
“Our vision was very simple: Influence the influencers and involve our people,” Jim says. “We wanted to be strategic and concentrate our energies and efforts on developing local pastors who would then be better equipped to lead and feed their people. We also wanted to provide our church with a corporate sense of long-term focus while also providing individual members with opportunities to deploy their gifts and passions for service.”
After Chris’s first experience in Nicaragua — observing a week of teaching and helping to scout out other missions opportunities in Juigalpa — he thought he’d give teaching a try the following year.
“It was hard not to fall in love with the people and the country,” he says. “Plus, I was blessed with a theological education, and I could turn around and bless someone else with that.”
Tragedy and a second chance
Powerful as that first trip was, it was during the funerals of two fellow short-term missionaries that Chris truly felt convicted to do more for God with his Biblical Studies degree from college.
After all, God had kept him from the fateful outing that had claimed his friends’ lives.
In April 2006, Jack Logan and Bert Alexander drowned in Lake Nicaragua, sacrificing their lives to save two Nicaraguan boys after their boat capsized. The boys’ parents, a Nicaraguan pastor and his wife, also died in the accident. Chris, Jim and Jim’s daughter, Hope, had flown back to the U.S. a day early, not participating in the tragic event.
“Jim said something to me that day about how God had saved us,” Chris says. “I went home and I said to myself, ‘I keep thinking I’m going to go do ministry someday. I keep preparing for it and preparing for it. But really it’s time to get busy doing kingdom work now. I don’t know how much time I’ve got.’”
Rivas Bible Institute is born
So Chris decided to start a Bible Institute in Rivas, Nicaragua. He had just begun attending Fellowship Church Arkadelphia (Arkansas) and working at Oauchita Baptist University, and he saw it as a great way for the church and university students to get involved in missions — they could take ownership of a new Bible school.
“I saw the Bible Institutes as short-term missions done well,” Chris says. “There is long-term impact. It’s more strategic.”
Since the spring of 2007, Chris (now executive pastor at Fellowship Bible Church in Conway) and his teaching team have held seven week-long Institutes in Rivas, and they plan to return for at least four additional sessions. They’ve taught courses on The Authority of Scripture, Biblical Doctrine (God, Christ, Holy Spirit, Man, Sin, and Salvation), Bible Study Methods, and other topics relevant to pastors and leaders.
It hasn’t all been easy, but it’s been worth it.
“The first couple of years it was hard. We weren’t seeing dramatic fruit,” Chris says. “But God had called us to it and I had given the pastors in Rivas my word that we would go through the full curriculum. So we kept with it. Two years in, we turned a corner. The nature of the questions they were asking shifted — they trusted us. They weren’t just feeling us out anymore. They were ready to go deeper.”
Filemón, president of the Pastors’ Council in Rivas, is pleased with the results of the semi-annual Bible Institute, too.
“The pastors and leaders leave [after the week of teaching] and they have the ability to preach better,” Filemón says. “The majority do not have formal studies, and they don’t have the money to pay for them.”
They make a sacrifice, though, to take part in the Bible Institute — often taking a week off from work to receive the theological training the Institute provides.
“One of the greatest miracles we see happening here in Rivas is that we’ve been able to unite all of the different denominations in the city through this activity,” Roger, a local pastor, says. “God says that what is from Him will prosper. It’s obvious that this ministry is from God. It’s a blessing for the people of Rivas.”
The Bible Institutes in Rivas, Juigalpa, and three other Nicaraguan cities could not happen without the work of the Nicaraguan translation team. Find out more about one of these translators — Melvin Loza.
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- For the pastors and leaders who attend the semi-annual Bible Institute in Rivas — that God would continue to use the Institutes to improve their preaching and teaching.
- That God would continue to open doors for new Bible Institutes in other cities in Nicaragua as well as in other Latin American countries such as Costa Rica and Panama.