GUATEMALA CITY, Guatemala (BP)–When Paul Bell, a Southern Baptist missionary to Panama, started venturing into several Central American countries in the mid-1940s, he may not have envisioned the fruit that would result from taking the Gospel into pioneer areas such as Guatemala.
More than 60 years later, those seeds, supplied through the sacrificial giving of Southern Baptists through the Cooperative Program, have led to an abundant harvest of souls throughout the country.
Today, the Convention of Baptist Churches in Guatemala, founded through the efforts of Bell and his missionary associates, encompasses more than 600 churches with 60,000-plus members.
Jose Angel Samol is one of those souls reached through the efforts of International Mission Board missionaries who followed up on Bell’s initial efforts. Samol, president of the Convention of Baptist Churches in Guatemala, came to the Lord at age 10 through the ministry of Southern Baptist missionaries who helped his church conduct a Vacation Bible School when he was a child.
In fact, his church in San Pedro was started by Southern Baptist missionaries Carl Wilder and Ted Lindwall. At 19, he started attending the Baptist Seminary in Guatemala City, which also was started through the efforts of Southern Baptist missionaries.
In April, at an SBC Global Evangelical Relations event in a Guatemalan Baptist church, Samol shared with the church members, “We are remembering tonight that Southern Baptists brought the Gospel [to our community] first. We are all here because of these people.”
Today, working through eight Baptist associations, the Guatemalan convention is striving to help its churches take the Gospel to the 14 million people of Guatemala, a country that has a land mass roughly the size of Tennessee.
Samol said the Gospel has been advancing and churches have been growing, particularly in the remote mountainous regions where the Kekchi Indians live. Two of the largest Guatemalan Baptist churches, with more than 1,000 members in each, are among these descendents of the Mayans.
The convention also sponsors the Baptist Seminary in Guatemala City, which plays a vital role in training Guatemalan pastors, offering high school, college and master’s-level courses. Founded in 1948, it has an enrollment of more than 170 students. The seminary also maintains a vital relationship with Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, through which pastoral students can earn a master of divinity degree.
“We believe if we can build great leaders, we will have great churches. I’m convinced it all goes back to the leaders, so we are investing in them to give them a new vision,” Samol said.
Samol is grateful for all that Southern Baptists have done but he sees a great need and opportunity.
“We are in a time of harvest here,” he said, “but any help [that our Southern Baptist family] can offer toward that harvest would be a great blessing.”
John Revell is editor of SBC LIFE, journal of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee.