In October, GES board member Bernie Hunsucker and I had the opportunity to conduct a two-day pastors’ conference in Costa Rica. I was also able to teach some classes at a Baptist seminary over another two-day period. In both cases, the goal was to introduce those in attendance to Free Grace Theology. Both at the conference and in the classes, there were about 20 in attendance.
On trips like this, I also like to speak at churches. This allows me to give the Free Grace gospel to the person in the pew. Usually, it also provides a bigger audience. That was the case on this trip.
I had the opportunity to speak on two Sunday mornings there. In addition, I was given the chance to speak on two occasions during evangelistic meetings aimed strictly at those who do not attend any church. I would say that the average attendance was around 120 each time.
This trip also gave me a somewhat unique opportunity to preach. One of the pastors at the conference has a prison ministry. He asked if I could come give the gospel in a prison that housed young offenders. Most of them would be teenagers. There were about fifty prisoners, and I would have to speak to them in small groups. I probably spoke to a total of about thirty-five, including both young women and men.
While in the prison, I assumed that these young people were there for non-violent crimes, such as drug possession. The young women appeared to be “regular” teenagers, and when I first met them, they were laughing, playing soccer, and playing harmless pranks on each other. Many of the young men were too young to shave. My pastor guide, however, said that many of them were there for much more serious crimes. For example, two of the innocent-looking teenage girls were sisters who had murdered a cab driver. When they first came to the prison, one was pregnant and gave birth while there. So much for my naïveté.
I love to practice and listen to Spanish. But my level of ability would frustrate somebody who had to listen to a sermon. For this reason, I had a translator when I spoke in all these situations.
In the churches, a good friend of mine, a Free Grace pastor in Costa Rica, translated for me. I can understand Spanish pretty well, and not surprisingly, he did a great job. In the evangelistic services, I stuck to the presentation of the gospel, speaking on the accounts of Nicodemus in John 3 and the woman at the well in John 4. When I spoke at the Sunday morning services, I wanted to present the gospel, but I also wanted to give some teaching that would benefit any believer present. During those two messages, I spoke on the rich young ruler and blind Bartimaeus. It is always a little hard to decide what to speak about on those occasions.
My translator in the prison, the young pastor, handled the translating differently. I spoke to three different groups, and he wanted me to stick with the gospel. I did so, concentrating on John 3:16 as I spoke to these teenagers. The young pastor accurately restated what I said. In each case, however, after I was done, he preached his own sermon. When he did, he told the kids of the need to believe “with all your heart” and to “invite Jesus into your heart.”
He clearly did not understand the details of Free Grace Theology. He had attended the pastors’ conference for one of the days, and obviously had more to learn. I must admit my frustration over this. I was sad that if the teenagers were listening to what I said, and then what he said, they would have been confused.
I didn’t know what to say to my translator when we left the prison. Should I have pointed out his unbiblical phrases that he simply stated out of habit, and shown him that such things confused those young people? Or should I accept the fact that this young pastor was not able, at this point in his theological understanding, to see the importance of such things? I don’t know if I was right or not, but I chose the latter. I felt good about the fact that I had had the opportunity to present a clear gospel to those young kids.
Another bright point was that I was able to give every prisoner a Spanish copy of The Living Water, a booklet containing the Gospel of John, with notes explaining the gospel of grace. Hopefully, the Spirit will use these booklets.
Thanks to all those who support GES and our work in other countries. We value and need your prayers and support. Please pray for the wisdom I and others need as we take the grace message around the world.