Showalter: Honduran forgiveness

Feb 18, 2019 by

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Christians know the cost of reconciliation. It stands at the core of the gospel in the suffering and death of Jesus for our salvation. Greater love has no one than a life sacrificed for others.

Richard Showalter


Reconciliation embraced as an intellectual belief is not the same as reconciliation lived out. The evangelical Anabaptist community of Honduras experienced this last year in an unusual display of mutual forgiveness.

Two leaders and two discipleship-oriented communions came together Nov. 14 after 20 years of estrangement, confessed their sins, forgave each other, celebrated communion and pledged to walk into the future in unity and love.

Twenty-one years earlier, an international group of 15 mission and church leaders had gone to Honduras to learn from Amor Viviente. Back home, they gave thrilling reports:

— “People who comprise the Amor Viviente congregation are now the largest [of any congregation in] the Mennonite World Conference” (David Shenk, Eastern Mennonite Missions overseas ministries director).

— “Honduras is one of the smallest and poorest countries. . . . How does one explain the 6,000 people who gather each weekend for fellowship and meet in 650 homes groups each week?” (Carlton Stambaugh, EMM board chair).

— “At Amor Viviente, Pastor Rene Penalba and his team offer hope in the midst of a culture of despair. . . . There are four pillars: 1) cell groups; 2) discipleship training for service; 3) a program of ecclesiastical work involving 80 percent of the congregation; and 4) missionary action. . . . Pastor Penalba does not function as a dictator or a lone ranger. In fact, he insists that important decisions be made by consensus” (LMC moderator Ervin Stutzman).

Unknown to the visitors, seeds of division were growing. Key leaders of Amor Viviente were beginning to lose their affirmation for one another. Each party was marginalized.

“Too much power in the hands of one person,” thought the Amor Viviente national leadership team of Penalba, the pastor of the body’s largest church, “and misuse of funds.” They took steps to strength­en and diversify Amor Viviente’s leadership.

“They’re destroying my reputation and my ability to serve effectively,” thought Penalba of the national leadership team. Mistrust grew. Each side was willing to be reconciled, but everyone had been wounded deeply.

Finally, Penalba gave up. In an act of charity, he left the congregation intact with its assets. But he also left the denomination. A few months later, he started a new congregation and eventually a new network, the International Christian Center. The breach was complete.

The fracture seemed irreparable. Yet each group blossomed. Today there are more than 70 Honduran congregations in both Amor Viviente and the International Christian Center. Both have widespread global ministries.

Now we see the picture more fully. Reconciliation was coming! All along God knew the humble, Christlike servant hearts of these leaders. Though they, and other brothers and sisters with them, had deeply wounded and sinned against one another, they would be ready to pay the price of genuine reconciliation — led by the Spirit.

Repentant, forgiving love. Amazing grace. New steps of obedience.

Richard Showalter, of Irwin, Ohio, travels as an overseer, mentor, consultant and teacher in the U.S. and global church and is adjunct faculty at Bethany International University in Singapore.

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