Story and photos (except where otherwise noted) by LCMS Missionary Pastor Herb Burch, who serves the Latin America and Caribbean Region as an area facilitator based in Belize.
After years of hard work, patience, and coordination, the Spanish Lutheran hymnal, Himnario Luterano, arrived in Guatemala. The hymnals were published by a group of dedicated Lutheran pastors throughout Latin America, who considered the many cultural differences among the Spanish-speaking countries. Thanks to a generous gift from the Lutheran Heritage Foundation, a large portion of the printing and shipping costs were covered, making the hymnals affordable for our sister churches. Printed in Thailand, they were shipped to the Bible Society of Brazil for distribution through Bible societies in various countries. Shipments to the different countries had to wait until a full container for the target country was ready, including other Bible products printed in Brazil.
The hymnals designated for Honduras, Belize, and Guatemala were sent to Guatemala, as there is no Bible Society in Belize. In May, Pastor Byron Paz of Puerto Barrios, Guatemala, informed me that the 54 cases of hymnals had arrived in Guatemala. With a full calendar for July, August and September, June was the only time to get them into the eager hands of our mission congregations. Our Belizean friend, Pastor Roldan Rios, agreed to go on this trek along with his wife, Ruth.
We left Monday, June 19, just after 8:00 a.m., crossing through the Belize-Guatemala border and arriving in Puerto Barrios at 5:30 p.m., 500 kilometers later. We stayed overnight and rose in the morning to load half the hymnals – those destined for Honduras. The bed of my pickup with its cover on would not accommodate all the cases, so we put the hymnals in plastic bags to distribute them evenly. We departed Puerto Barrios at 9:00 a.m. and made our way to the Guatemala-Honduras border. There, we went through the paperwork drill to get our passports and a passport for the truck processed. At dusk, we made it to La Paz, Honduras, too tired to take them to Castillo Fuerte “Mighty Fortress” Lutheran Church in La Paz. Pastor Junior Martinez and his wife, Rosa, came to greet us as we ate dinner.
The following day, we went to Castillo Fuerte and dropped off ten cases. After visiting for a time with Pastor Junior, we continued to Comayagüela, where the brothers and sisters were hosting an eyeglass team from MOST Ministries. We got lost on our way to the church and had to call Alfredo Oseguera to rescue us while we waited at an off-ramp on the beltway. We arrived at the church, where lunch awaited, and they helped us unload the ten cases of hymnals for their church. After saying goodbyes, we continued south to drop off Ruth to visit her family in San Lorenzo. Ruth’s friends hosted us for dinner, and Roldan and I drove through a “driving” rain to Choluteca. There, I noted we had traveled 1001 kilometers in the three days.
Thursday, we checked on possible sites for future Luther Academy workshops for pastors from nearby Nicaragua. We also handed over the last seven cases of hymnals to Mario, our leader in Choluteca, at the close of his workday. He and his wife hosted us for tortillas, and we slept. Friday, we retraced our route to San Lorenzo to pick up Ruth. Skirting around the edge of El Salvador, we took a less twisty road to rejoin the toll road to San Pedro Sula, Honduras and arrived safely at Puerto Barrios that evening.
On Saturday, we loaded the other 27 cases of hymnals into the truck, knowing a little better how to do it on our second go-round. We bid Pastor Byron farewell and made our way home to Belize, arriving in time for supper.
Sunday morning, we rose early to attend church at Valley of Peace, dropping off the first batch of hymnals for Good Shepherd “Buen Pastor” Lutheran Church. We departed for Orange Walk, where we dropped off still more hymnals, as well as Roldan and Ruth. Markie and I continued north to the Mexican Border. Making our way through immigration and customs, we arrived at the mission congregation in Chetumal, Quintana Roo, Mexico. There, Pastor Genaro Arcos welcomed us. We gave him the last of our treasures, and when the time came for 7:00 p.m. worship, we prayed over the new hymnals and led the congregation in Vespers for the first time. A generous member of the congregation hosted us for dinner, lodging, and breakfast the next day.
On Monday, Markie and I made our way home, thankful for a safe trip. The Lord blessed us on this journey. Our closest run-in with customs came at the Guatemala-Belize border, and they let us through with just a few questions. I had traveled 2255 kilometers through four countries, passing through customs and immigration six times and filling three full pages of my passport.
What a blessing that these hymnals are now in the hands of our dear brothers and sisters throughout Honduras, Belize, Guatemala, and Chetumal, Mexico!