The Central United Methodist Church of Danlí is considered the first organized church of the United Methodist mission in Honduras.
It began in 1997 as a mission initiative of Bishop Armando Rodriguez, who was the leader of the Methodist Church in Cuba. At that time, Rodriguez had retired from episcopal duties and became a missionary of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries.
With 200 members and an average attendance of 80 congregants, the church has Sunday school with groups of all ages, worship service, prayer service and five growth groups. It has several ministries oriented to outreach and community service — providing food for children at risk of malnutrition and a recovery program for people with addictions. It also provides pastoral accompaniment to workers in a local tobacco factory.
Currently, the church is evaluating opening a new congregation and studying options to select the most appropriate location. The Danlí church has a lot of experience in this area, as it has already started four other churches.
The Rev. Jose Roberto Peña Nazario, the current pastor of the church, said that The United Methodist Church of Excuapa was organized after Hurricane Mitch devastated several regions in Honduras in 1998. The United Methodist Committee on Relief began sending volunteer groups to rebuild homes. Excuapa was one of the communities they visited.
“There, the volunteers and members of the local church gathered to repair and rebuild houses, but also to evangelize," Peña said.
The Excuapa congregation continued to grow and developed another congregation — Ríos de Agua Viva United Methodist, located in the town of Jagua.
"Subsequently, the Council of the Central UMC was analyzing other possible fields of mission in order to develop a new congregation with the support of Yamilette Moncada. She is a member of this church and currently pastor of the mission,” Peña said. “In this way, the UMC of Quisqualagua was founded."
He recalled that while traveling to Quisqualagua to serve the nascent church, he met people in the neighboring community of El Pescadero. They asked him to start Bible studies in that area.
"I committed myself first, without compromising the church in the first moments. Later, when the group was growing, we presented the idea to the council of our church and they decided to offer congregational support to this mission. This was the origin of the fourth community of faith born from the Central UMC of Danlí."
El Pescadero United Methodist Church was officially received as a church at the last Annual Assembly — an annual gathering of delegates from all United Methodist churches in Honduras — in January. There are now 21 churches and a growing number of new congregations in Honduras.
For Peña, "the motivation of the local church has been the foundation of all this experience of expansion and consolidation of new congregations."
One of the challenges to Central Church’s expansion is having the recognition of the communities it reaches. In Peña’s experience, the involvement of the communities in the development of the new congregations has been fundamental.
"It is always a challenge to make The United Methodist Church known, so we do it not only through preaching, but also through ministries that assist the needs of the communities," he said.
The other important challenge is the development of local leadership in the congregations that are being integrated.
"It is sometimes difficult for local church leaders to recognize that it is important not only to develop activities, but to immediately begin to develop leadership in those communities," Peña said. "We must delegate responsibilities so that these new leaders can take experiences and be trained to lead the new congregations."
Peña said the city of Danlí is a prosperous city, but like other areas of the country, it has great needs. The levels of insecurity are lower than other cities of Honduras, but poverty affects it in the same way.
The level of unemployment in Honduras is high — between 7 and 8 percent — and Danlí does not escape this problem. Many of the women work in the local tobacco factories, which is one of the strongest economic activities in the area.
"Many of our churches are financially supported by the income provided by tobacco factory workers who are members of the UMC,” Peña said.
The church is aware that in the city, there are many deficiencies in public services, especially in regard to health and education. Peña is interested in supporting education for children and seeks ways to provide them with study grants.
The United Methodist Church in Honduras has a national scholarship program called "scholarships with blessing" that serves low-income students from each of the local churches. Peña said there is a similar local fund to cover, as much as possible, the needs of the students of the community.
The church addresses public health needs through medical brigades, which it coordinates with visiting United Methodist Volunteers in Mission teams.
“We host them during a period of time and they serve, not only residents of this area, but to people who come from the poorest villages in neighboring marginal areas to the city,” Peña said. The church has a fund called “particular health help,” used to help people in need who do not have money to buy medicine or pay for a medical consultation.
"The medical brigades, the dental services, the sewing classes, the filtration projects of drinking water, the construction of stoves (rural kitchens), among many other ministries, have been essential in the development of our congregations and in the projection of The United Methodist Church in the different communities in which we are present,” Peña said.
To donate to Honduras Mission Initiative, Advance #12928A, visit www.umcmission.org.
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Vasquez is Hispanic News Desk director for United Methodist News Service.