CRC Makes Trip to HondurasFrom Worldwide Faith News <email@example.com>
Date Thu, 17 Feb 2011 14:14:45 -0800
CRC Makes Trip to Honduras Story One February 17, 2011:
Carlos Hernandez left Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras, almost immediately upon being asked to look into a case involving a farmer who had probably been killed for seeking a fair price for his land to make way for a massive hydroelectricity project. Once Hernandez, a social activist who serves as president of a new organization dedicated to transforming Honduras, arrived in San Pedro de Catacamas , he met with two pastors from the Christian Reformed Church in Honduras. They filled him in on the strife occurring as farmers have fought the firm that plans to flood more than 20,000 acres to make a d am. Hernandez traveled to San Pedro de Catacamas on behalf of the Association for a More Just Society (AJS), which he helped to found with Kurt Ver Beek, a professor of sociology at Calvin College. He was also there as president of the board of Transformemos Honduras (TH), a new ecumenical group founded after the 2009 presidential coup in Honduras Hernandez says he was especially pleased to be working with members of the CRC in Hondurass, since the denomination ? founded and supported by the Christian Reformed Church in North America ? has not been too deeply involved in the social justice efforts being undertaken by AJS or now TH. He wasn?t sure if the Honduran CRC pastors would want to work closely with him. But he remains hopeful. There are strong ties between the social justice organizations. AJS helped to launch Transformemos Honduras ("Let?s Transform Honduras"), a larger anti-corruption, citizen-action movement. "AJS and TH are both examples of how the church can organize itself to do justice," says Peter Vander Meulen, coordinator of the CRC?s Office of Social Justice The two have, together or separately, decreased violence in one target neighborhood by over 80 percent, helped 60,000 people receive proper titles to their land, achieved convictions in the case of an AJS lawyer who was murdered, exposed corruption in Honduras? public health and education systems, established counseling programs for victims of domestic and sexual violence, and involved 150 high risk teens in vocational and leadership training. CRC agencies and individuals have been supporting AJS for over 10 years ? and with very good reason, says Vander Meulen, who recently visited Honduras to see the work of the organizations. "We are optimistic that we will be able to help the farmers in the north," said Hernandez. "We welcome the CRC of Honduras." CRC of Honduras congregations, of which there are 75 with about 5,000 members, tend to be more deeply involved in Bible study, prayer, the study of doctrine, and teaching their people about the Reformed faith than they are in social justice projects, says Caspar Geisterfer, a Christian Reformed World Missions missionary posted to work with CRC in Honduras congregations. Geisterfer says he sees it as his job to help train pastors to do pastoral care, especially with victims of violence, and to show the churches that there are ways "to be a light within a corrupt country. We discuss questions such as 'how can we be just in various ways?' This is about working in God?s kingdom," said Geisterfer. "I believe that social justice is a part of the overall ministry of the CRC in Honduras, and so it is a part of my work with the CRC of Honduras. I am working to the point where the leaders of the CRC of Honduras will see the work of AJS as a local resource that the CRC of Honduras can use in its own ministry." Transformemos Honduras has as its members Catholic, Protestant, evangelical, and a range of international non-government organizations. The group emerged after the then-president, Manuel Zelaya, was removed from office and forced onto a plane that took him into exile. A new president was elected last year. "We wondered what were the next steps going to be after the coup," said Hernandez. "Many of us got together and started to dream what could happen in Honduras after the political mess was over? We decided we wanted to work on ways to help Hondurans make their politicians accountable." Their first action was to call churches to prayer and fasting as they celebrated the annual Day of the Bible in September. Members of the group also went on a cross-country bicycle ride, riding from the Caribbean coast to the Pacific Ocean, to hold justice and information rallies in the center of the towns that they went through. As for issues, the mostly ecumenical Christian group decided to tackle the corrupt way in which teachers are hired in Honduras as well as the corrupt practices in massive requisitions of medicine for Honduras? public health system. Besides health and education, the other issues TH plans to work on are changing the justice system, increasing government transparency, and helping to create jobs. AJS has been especially active in matters involving land rights, stemming crime, labor rights, and women?s rights; in most cases, they bring the problems they uncover to the proper government agency and demand that it act with justice. "Thank God for these people who have the heart for the poor," said Rev. Leonard Vander Zee, editor-in-chief of Faith Alive Christian Resources, the publishing agency of the CRC, who recently visited AJS to see its work first-hand. "They are out in the front and changing the society of Honduras, protecting the rights of those who have the most to lo se." Some people are concerned because the words ?social justice? carry with them left-over baggage from the days when liberation theology, a potentially more disruptive movement, was being popularly espoused in Latin America. But the type of social justice being worked on by AJS and Transformemos Honduras is not necessarily as confrontational. As best they can, they work within the system, although ASJ will support protests in certain circumstan ces. "Some of the churches are against it [social justice] in theory, but they are generally open to it. They don?t see this work as anti-Bible or anti-Christian," said Hernandez, who told the CRC pastors in San Pedro de Catacamas that he would do what he could to help farmers and ranchers get a fair price for their la nd. In many ways, having a church embrace social justice efforts requires time and a chance for the churches to see the actual results of actions that they take. For instance, the CRC pastors involved in the dam project were pleased by the help that Hernandez offered. Even so, they will wait to see what happens. Should Hernandez be able to win a fair price for the land, without more killing, it is possible that those pastors will return to their rural Honduran churches and sing the praises of what persistent, faith-based, social justice can accomplish. They then may be more willing to wholeheartedly support such groups as AJS and Transformemos Honduras. When they started Transformemos Honduras in the wake of the political unrest, Hernandez said, they thought that evangelical churches would become more involved in the process of transforming their country. "Despite the fact that the groups we work with are Protestant, the Catholics are more open to this," said Hernandez. As is the case with the CRC pastors involved in the dam project, he said he suspects more evangelical churches will become involved when they see the results of certain actions. Both AJS and Transformemos Honduras have encountered scary and distressing realities. Today, because of death threats, the AJS office in Honduras requires a high level of security, as do officials with the organizations. AJS has high levels of security because one of their lawyers was murdered in 2006 after taking a security firm to court to request fair wages for the employees (security guards) of the f irm. Carlos has received death-threats because of his outspoken efforts to make Honduras a more just society. After the AJS lawyer was assassinated in 2006, Carlos received a message threatening that he would be next. But the Inter-American Human Rights Commission ordered the government of Honduras to implement measures to protect Carlos. Despite these obstacles, Carlos has continued to work for justice and to inspire his fellow Hondurans to follow God?s call to do justice. "We believe that the Holy Spirit is pushing us to live this way of compassion. Along this path, it can be very hard. There are times when we have felt that we were in the middle of a storm (such as when the labor rights lawyer was assassinated), but we have felt God?s presence with us and have seen areas of transformation," says Hernandez. Even US officials, who work hard to maintain a balanced, diplomatic path on many contentious issues, are willing to work with the social-justice organizations. "I'm really impressed by the work of Transformemos Honduras, as well as AJS," said Bill Brands, director of USAID (the United States Agency for International Development) in Honduras. "Where they work best is in building allies to deal with issues and to bring citizen involvement into a range of areas ? They empower people to get more involved." For more information on AJS, visit: ASJ Info. Also, ASJ website in www.asjhonduras.com; www.transformemoshonduras.com, the Transformemos website in Spanish, and www.revistazo.com, ASJ?s online newspaper, in Spa nish.
Chris Meehan, CRC Communications
-- Chris Meehan News & Media Manager Christian Reformed Church in North America 1-616-224-0849