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A Conversation with Roberto Alvarez


GUATEMALA CITY — Not long ago, Roberto Alvarez’s wife, Martha, was stopped at a traffic light when she heard three shots. She looked in her rearview mirror and saw the driver of the public bus behind her slumped over the steering wheel.
Another time, the Alvarezes dropped to the floor when a robber opened fire in the store where they were shopping.
“Many people are telling me, ‘Why are you not going to another safe place?’ “ said Alvarez, minister of the North Pineras church in this capital city of 3 million people. “But let me tell you, we feel a strong call of the Lord for Guatemala City. Even though we are in a very dangerous place, we believe in our mission.”

Nearly a half century ago, his grandparents, Leonardo Alvarez and Josefina Noriega, were among the first converted by North American missionaries who came to this Central American nation the size of Tennessee. His father, Roberto Alvarez Sr., preached for more than 20 years before dying of liver cancer at age 60 in 2003.

A graduate of the Baxter Institute, a preacher training school in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, Alvarez directs the Biblical Institute of Central America’s Guatemala City campus. In addition, he speaks on a Sunday night radio program that reaches an estimated 25,000 people across Guatemala.

With almost 500 members, the North Pineras congregation, which Alvarez started in 1991, is the largest church of Christ in Guatemala. The church operates a preschool and elementary school as a community outreach tool.

Roberto and Martha have three children: Beto, 14; Leah, 12; and Isaac, 7.

The Cloudcroft , N.M., church supports the Alvarez family.

When you were a young boy, you survived an earthquake that killed roughly 100,000 people. How did that affect your faith?

We were spending almost three months living in the streets in the tents because the earthquakes were very frequent. I remember that maybe two or three of my mates in the schools died in this earthquake, so it was a tremendous experience. In fact, my faith was stronger, because at this time we were looking at a lot of suffering around us. But I remember that the church was very active in helping the people. I remember that many, many helpers from the United States were coming to our country.

You met your wife while attending the Baxter Institute. Tell me about that.

She was working as a schoolteacher in a public school in Honduras. She belongs to a very dedicated Christian family, and she had a good life in Honduras really — a nice house and all these things.

She leaves everything to come with me to Guatemala. She was making a lot of sacrifices for me. She’s like my partner in the ministry.

The North Pineras church has experienced rapid growth, starting from zero when you came. What have you done to bring about this growth?

Since the beginning, we were very clear in our focus. Our first mission was to reach the lost people. And when a new Christian is converted, we are helping him to mature. If this new Christian starts maturing, he will develop a natural love for the lost people. So in our church, we have a church of 450 evangelists.

From the beginning, the congregation has relied on small groups to help develop the church. How often do those groups meet?

One time per week. We are coordinating very well this ministry. In fact, right now, we have 17 small groups that meet every Thursday.

I understand that the North Pineras church has played an active role in planting new churches. Can you tell me a little about that?

Eight years ago, we were looking at the missionary development of the church of Christ in Guatemala. The Lord led us to see the real situation that, thank God, the church in Guatemala was growing very healthy, really. But we were looking that 40 years earlier, our great North American missionaries did great missionary work in Guatemala.

But for some reason, the church was growing only in the southwest part of the country. So in the southwest part of the country, you can see more than 100 churches of Christ. But nine years ago, you could see almost no churches of Christ in the northeast part of the country. For this reason, our church, our elders and everybody were putting in their hearts to spread the gospel in the northeast part of Guatemala.

Thank God, after nine years, we were planting 14 new churches in the east and northeast part of Guatemala. And our dream is that in the next 30 years or less, we want to plant 100 churches in the eastern part of Guatemala, to create a good balance in the country.

How did you become involved with George Hall and the Biblical Institute of Central America?

I was working in this vision of 100 churches for the eastern part of Guatemala. And two years ago, George was looking in Guatemala for the establishment of a preaching school. He was looking for a director. He was meeting with three or four or five preachers of the city. Some were interested, but when he was asking me if I was interested in being the director, I was telling him, “No, of course not, because I’m so busy in my dream.”

And I remember him telling me, “Roberto, your dream is impossible by yourself because you have not the resources, you have not the people enough to do this. Why not use the preaching school to do this with lots of students, with more support?”
Are you glad you accepted George’s offer to become involved with the school?

Yes. We believe that through the biblical institute, we are saving maybe 40 or 50 percent more people than in the past years. For example, in the past years, we were baptizing 100, 125 people a year. And after the establishment of the biblical school in Guatemala, we are baptizing more than 200 per year. In fact, our goal for this year, 2005, is to reach 400 people.
In a recent campaign in Guastatoya, about an hour east of Guatemala City, 32 people were baptized in a hotel swimming pool. How amazing was that?

Oh yeah, because we were starting with zero. But we believe in the power of the gospel. And we believe if we are preaching the truth, and if we are preaching biblically, people will understand the message of the Bible. And they are so glad to obey the truth.

So we are preaching the same things that our brothers were preaching in the book of Acts. We believe that we are a part of the book of Acts yet.
Are you optimistic about the church’s future in Guatemala?

I believe we will reach our goal. I believe I will not die before I will see more than 100 churches in eastern Guatemala.
Do you ever get a day off?

I’m not a workaholic, but since I am in the ministry, I never believe in a free day. I’m working all the time and I’m enjoying that because I’m working with my family, too. Usually, my family is with me, visiting people, preaching in towns. They enjoy traveling with me.

Filed under: Dialogue

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