A street scene in Salama, Honduras.
The Church on the Other Corner:
United Methodist Mission in the Honduran Context
by Daniel Alberto Trujillo
The United Methodist Church in Honduras is “the church on the other corner.” While most churches position themselves in the center, this church has moved from the center to the periphery—to a corner. It is a church that is strong, prophetic, symbolic, political, and social—yet invisible. For 15 years, in the Honduran context of popular spirituality, the United Methodist mission has reflected wholeness, salvation, and a mission on behalf of the poor and marginalized people. In the corners of life, God is revealed to children, youth, women, and men living in a marginalized social situation. In part, this is why the church is invisible—it serves invisible people. These vulnerable groups have been—and will continue to be—the focus of development for the United Methodist Mission in Honduras.
Now consider the corner not only as a social place, but also as a theological place, where people encounter God. The contemporary church, by the grace of God, comes out of this place as an answer to need—which changes us and encourages us to reach out to and accompany oppressed people. Our task is to help them transform their situation of suffering to one of hope and liberation.
In Honduras, the majority of church leaders make no mention of social or economic suffering—or the absence of human rights—in their sermons. They are only concerned with personal spirituality and morality in their congregations. The reason for being the church is forgotten in this new socio-cultural context that tends to exclude people who live in poverty and social marginalization.
A central characteristic of the church is its presence with poor and marginalized people. If Jesus had not established a mission in the world, “outside” of the religious institution, then the Christian church would not have been necessary—at least not the church as described in the Book of Acts.
A Church Outside
Pablo Andiñach, an Argentinian theologian and Professor of Old Testament at the ISEDET theological institute in Buenos Aires, discusses this concept in his book, Being Church. The purpose of a congregation in a particular neighborhood is to give witness to the gospel of salvation and call everyone to the faith. But those who are invited to join this community that we call church see it from “outside,” receive the Word from a group of believers whom they can see and objectively consider, who are there in that temple, and who announce with their words and their lives a particular message. (Andiñach, 2007, 42)
From this perspective, the church on the other corner is a church like the one described in Acts, which practiced a social gospel. It is the church John Wesley intended, that goes out to the people and proclaims the Gospel in a personal way. This church is God’s response to the tragedy of exclusion experienced by people living on the margins of a dehumanized society. Its mission is found outside the church building. In response to the experiences of these excluded groups, the cross of Christ must be lifted up outside the church building—in market places, in streets, on corners, in parks, under bridges, anywhere in the public thoroughfare. “As Christ had to die in order to save the world, the church, in its own way, has to die in order to be an instrument of salvation.” (Miller 1980, 22) The church dies each time it goes into the streets, because there it is resurrected with the people in need of Christ’s grace.
The socially marginalized people of Honduras live in communities that need to be resurrected because God also is revealed there and saves there, because God’s grace is infinite, free, and does not discriminate against anyone. We must not forget that the church is the people of God. Belgian theologian Lode Wostyn urges us to use the communities of the New Testament as a framework in which to judge the situation of our present church.
As long as the church denies the dehumanization that takes place outside the church building, and as long as it exists only to serve its own members or to satisfy the needs of a “select” few who meet for mutual perfection, it stops being the church. The church must affirm that it is inclusive, with a centrifugal force that separates it from the institutional doctrine of exclusion and moves it outside. This is to take on the basic character of our Methodist ecclesiological heritage.
When the United Methodist Church of Honduras, through the practice of social holiness, works among marginalized and excluded people, transforming spaces of death into spaces of life, the church itself is transformed. Faith and hope are renewed, and at the same time, the church becomes a pilgrim church, alive and active. It becomes the truth of Christ in action.
The Invisible Church
The United Methodist Church in Honduras is a church on the other corner, each day and each moment. It is present where there is social marginalization and suffering. It is an invisible church, the church of Christ, where Christ is revealed and becomes incarnate and gives witness to a God of solidarity and mercy. It is present in the dirty, sad, beaten, and desolate faces of oppressed people.
In this sense,
the invisible church is where two or three meet in God’s name, on the corners.
The church on the other corner is where the Holy Spirit acts where it will and with whom it wants. The invisible church is the true church, founded not on our accomplishments but despite our actions and imperfections, by the free and generous grace of God.
But how do we make this church on the other corner visible? According to Andiñach, the invisible church is present in the world through the visible church. When the church preaches, educates, creates links between people, shares the faith and the sacraments, it is making visible a much deeper reality. It is able to transcend our abilities and actions (Andiñach 2007, 28).
This is where The United Methodist Church in Honduras is being built—on the other corner. Its mission statement affirms that it can only be church if it understands that its life is mission with the poor. Dr. Carmelo Álvarez, of the Disciples of Christ Church, editor of Pentecostalism and Liberation: A Latin American Experience, believes that mission is not a special function of one part of the church but, rather, it is the entire church in action. It is the body of Christ expressing Christ’s concern for the whole world. It is God’s people trying to make it possible for all human beings to become members of the family of God. Mission is the purpose for which the church exists. (Álvarez 1992, 23).
Having this definition of the church on the other corner and of its mission, it is clear that, as United Methodist Christians, we have the task of making visible the reality of social marginalization that exists in our communities of faith. We do this by serving our neighbors on the corners, on the periphery, and on the side of the road.
Service within marginalized communities reveals the need to create bridges between the church and the poor. Thus we succeed in making it possible for God to be revealed by God’s own grace and mercy. In this way the visible church is transformed into an inclusive and healing church so that all who are tired, beaten, sick, or in need can enter and seek transformation in an atmosphere of solidarity, grace, and love.
The Realm of God is based on the prophetic promises of justice, liberty, love, reconciliation, eternal peace, mercy, salvation, inclusion, mission, tolerance, ecumenicity, grace, and spirituality. This Realism is found in the places where Christ is revealed—in the corners.
Pastor Daniel Alberto Trujillo is pastor of a United Methodist Church in Ciudad España, Honduras. He has studied sociology and psychology and holds a Master’s degree in Pastoral Theology from the Latin American Biblical University in San José, Costa Rica. He currently serves as the director of the first school established by The United Methodist Church in Honduras, the John Wesley School, which has an enrollment of 397 students who live in poverty. English translation for this article was provided by Joyce Hill. This article was originally published in the May-June 2015 issue of New World Outlook magazine. Used by permission
The Rev. Jose Roberto Peña-Nazario is a United Methodist missionary in Danli, Honduras. Here he visits with Celina Rodriguez (right), who is processing her corn harvest, and Jamileth Moncada, a lay pastor in the rural community of Quisgualagua.
Photo: Paul Jeffrey
Pastor Jonathan Vanegas of Iglesia Metodista Unida Cristo in San Pedro Sula, the UM Mission in Honduras, participates in a shoe distribution for the community.
Photo: Courtesy the UM Mission in Honduras
Would you like to comment on the story? Send letter to the editor, email@example.com