The muddy soil in Corazon Creek, Belize, was unfit to grow much of anything. “It was swampland,” said Juan Ishim, a leader of the K’ekchi people. “You can’t grow corn, only rice.” So Juan and his brother-in-law Joaquin left in search of a new place for their people. Together they founded the village of San Pablo, planted their corn, and made a rule to keep pastors out of the community.
But when Joaquin grew terribly sick and the bush doctor had no cure, Juan asked a pastor to come pray. Joaquin got better. So they let the pastor preach, and Juan received Christ. That was when Joaquin, acting as village chief, named Juan the pastor. He declined, saying, “I know nothing about the Bible; what the pastor preached, I haven’t heard before.” But Joaquin persisted and Juan agreed to be trained.
With the village prospering, Juan sought new ways to shepherd his people. There were no mature pastors for him to shadow, but he was determined to find the mentoring he needed. Though Juan couldn’t get any mission organizations in the area to take much notice of him, he refused to give up.
Five years later Jonathan Reed moved to the Toledo District and, recognizing the local pastor’s hunger, began to mentor him. Juan was quiet at first—there was so much to learn that he didn’t quite know what questions to ask. And so the In Touch Messenger played a pivotal role over the first several months as its lessons steadily equipped him for ministry.
Not long ago, San Pablo Community Church had its first communion service. For weeks, the congregation had been preparing their minds and hearts for this day. They stepped up to Juan, who was holding the chalice of juice, and reverently dipped their tortillas. The church has also started a Sunday school, where the village children are introduced to sustenance far better than corn: food that endures to eternal life.
Juan’s dreams of a better life for his people are far from over. With the gospel planted and bearing fruit, the harvest is coming. Partners in a mission to equip dozens of K’ekchi pastors in the area, Juan and Jonathan have held training sessions and distributed Messengers. Now Juan studies and prepares for a future when pastors like him never again need to wait on outsiders for the words of life.
Photograph by Ben Rollins