Rev. Victor with acolytes.  Rehearsal for the Consecration.
The Iglesia Buen Pastor story is a good example of how the church is growing  in Honduras.  The man in the center of its success is Rev. Victor Velasquez, currently an ordained deacon.  He founded the mission  and nurtured it to where it is today. 
In 2006, Fr. Juan Jose Diaz asked Victor to go to Santa Maria, an hour outside of Danli on the road to Olancho. (Click here to see map.)  Fr. Juan told him that he had a few acquaintances there. Would he go and see if he could start a church?  Victor, who at that time had no car, hopped on the bus for Santa Maria, which is on a dirt road highway in the middle of nowhere. 
Chander’s adobe house and meeting place for the mission.

Soon Victor had a small group meeting regularly.   After gathering in various places, eventually they were invited to the adobe home of Alexander (Chander) Flores, who converted his living room into a permanent meeting hall for the mission.  Victor celebrated the Eucharist on Sundays, offered Bible studies, teachings, and other worship. He also did pastoral work, visiting families and the sick. The community continued to grow.

Between 2008 and 2013, Victor was replaced by Fr. Alejandro Chirinos, dean of Danli. During this time, the work slowed down and membership faltered.  Fr. Chirinos, as a teacher and singleparent father of several children, was unable to make a sufficient time commitment. Eventually, the mission was handed back to Victor.  With his attention and enthusiasm, the momentum returned.
At the same time, Good Shepherd Church from Lake Wales, Florida, under the leadership of Fr. Tom Seitz, came to Honduras seeking a partnership with the  local church. After exploring various options, they began working with Fr. Chirinos and the Santa Maria mission. They started to look for a piece of property, on which they could build a new church. Also, they made a contract with the mission to provide funds for youth scholarships, a sewing coop and implements for an incomeproducing garden. The mission, in turn, promised to send timely reports on their progress.  

In gratitude for the Church of the Good Shepherd’s help, the mission voted to call themselves ‘Iglesia Buen Pastor’, which is Good Shepherd’ in Spanish. 

The site of the future church.   Jeannie Loving, SAMS missionary, with parishioner.
In 2010,  the land was purchased.  And in 2013, the construction began first with a security fence around the property and then the church.  On June 26, 2016, ten years after the founding of the mission, the church was finished and consecrated.   Many of the  members, including Chander, participated in its construction.

Fr. Tom Seitz and Rev Victor celebrating the Eucharist.
During this time, Victor, accompanied by several parishioners, pushed into mountain villages around Santa Maria. He started new missions in Montuñuela and Valle de Jamastran.  He also began serving the community of San Lorenzo, initially reached by SAMS missionary Jeannie Loving. All the while, he continued to serve as pastor of Mano de Dios in Danli,  his home church.

Most of the people in Santa Maria are campesinos,  farming on small lots and getting odd jobs, where they can. They are poor and have a limited education.  I asked Victor why they come to his church.   His answer was that the church gives them as sense of worth. It teaches them  that they are valued children of God

The church has programs, in which they can participate, both spiritual and practical.  They include a Savings with Education Program, which teaches people how to use their money; Cursillo, a retreat weekend with courses in basic Christianity; Happenings, a similar program for teenagers, and others. The church also gives its members the opportunity to be leaders in the church governance. Additionally, young girls, who are often neglected in favor of sons, are empowered by having women role models as priests and diocesan leaders.
The meeting room inside Chander’s house.

The mission’s primary work is to deepen the members’ faith in God. In Honduras, God is always present, unlike in the often agnostic US and Europe. He may be relegated to the periphery of  life, as people engage in negative social behavior, such as promiscuity, drugs, family abuse and violence.   But when called to task,  Hondurans need no introduction to a spiritual world and know what God asks of them.  

The work of the church, therefore, is to sharpen the sense of God through spiritual formation, both formal and informal, and to bring people’s lives in conformity with the teachings of Jesus.

Alexander “Chander” Flores

Through Victor’s efforts, the church today has 80 members and two peripheral missions starting in the mountains.  And the original missionary vision that brought Victor to Santa Maria continues. Chander Flores is currently in training to be a Pastoral Leader. Upon completion of studies, he will be going into the mountains, as the pastor for one of the new missions.  

Some positive lessons on how to evangelize, learned from this experience, can be summarized as follows:

1. Local leadership.   The primary inspiration came from the  Honduran church, in this case Fr. Juan Jose Diaz.

 2. Teamwork.   Although Victor provided the primary leadership, this church would not have been possible without the help of Chander, his family, the other lay Hondurans, the support of the larger church, the missionaries, and Good Shepherd Church in Florida.
3. Foreign missionary sources provided assistance only.   The leadership was always in Honduran hands.
4. The Gospel was preached both by word and by example.    Victor provided a positive role model for the church. He was concerned about both the spiritual and physical welfare of his parishioners.
5. The church continues  to found new missions and the process begins again.