Theresa Musa and Billy Simbo, the two delegates from Sierra Leone, during the January 13 prayer time for Haiti.

Theresa Musa and Billy Simbo, the two delegates from Sierra Leone, during the January 13 prayer time for Haiti.

William Otterbein, one of the United Brethren founding bishops, originally came to America in the 1700s as a missionary from Germany. Is God up to something in Germany, UB-wise? It’s looking mighty suspicious.

  • A United Brethren church was established there in 1997 by a former UB minister from Sierra Leone.
  • Marshalee Brown Loerch, a missionary from Jamaica Conference, married a German and settled in Germany.
  • Galen Fiedler, son of former UB missionaries to Sierra Leone, and his German wife Maritta live in southern Germany and now hold the status of “non-traditional staff” with Global Ministries.
Billy Simbo, Bishop of Sierra Leone Conference.;

Billy Simbo, Bishop of Sierra Leone Conference.;

At General Conference this past week, Billy Simbo, bishop of Sierra Leone Conference, told about the work in Germany, which is considered an outreach of Sierra Leone Conference.

“In 1997, one of our ordained ministers took refuge in Berlin. Being a well-trained United Brethren pastor, he didn’t sit idle, but started a church in Berlin.

“In 2007, I was privileged to visit Berlin to celebrate their tenth anniversary. They invited me to preach at the final service. About 400 people attended. Most were German citizens, but many other African nations were represented.

“My challenge to them was that when we get together to celebrate their 20th anniversary, they should come to General Conference asking to become a national conference of the United Brethren church.

“We have reaped a lot of benefit from this church. Before medical teams from the United States came to Mattru Hospital, the church in Berlin was sending us equipment for the hospital.

“The minister who started the church in Berlin moved on to the United Kingdom in 2008, and another pastor took his place. He’s pastoring a Methodist church, but has asked permission to start a United Brethren church in England. So I said yes. We’re excited about that.

“There is great potential in Germany and all of those European countries, because everywhere you go, there are lots of African immigrants. We can start churches everywhere with them.”

Jeff Bleijerveld, director of Global Ministries, explained that the United Brethren name is registered with the German government, which is a difficult process. Now, if we want to open other churches in Germany, we have representation before the government.

Me, after I've just signed 100 copies of Tio Archive.

Me, after I've just signed 100 copies of Tio Archive.

I started writing Tio Archie in 1996, and it was published in May 2001. While it tells the story of Honduras, it was not written in Spanish, the language of Honduras. It was published in English. Because that’s what I speak.

But it needed to be in Spanish.

Over the years, missionaries Roger and Marilyn Reeck translated Tio Archie into Spanish. Marilyn worked hard this year to finish the book. On Satuday, January 9, the book arrived in La Ceiba the same day I did (though it came from a printing plant in Tegucigalpa).

The book was unveiled at the end of the January 10 service which opened the General Conference. A number of people asked me to autograph their copies. That’s always a joy and a privilege to do.

L-r: Jeff Bleijerveld, Phil Whipple, and Alan Simbo in Chicago.

L-r: Jeff Bleijerveld, Phil Whipple, and Alan Simbo in Chicago.

Steve Dennie (left) and Jeff Bleijerveld waiting for the flight to Fort Wayne...home,

Steve Dennie (left) and Jeff Bleijerveld waiting for the flight to Fort Wayne...home,

A tired group of General Conference delegates left the Gran Paris Hotel in La Ceiba, Honduras, at 4:15 a.m. The conference bus (“Followers of the Lord” in bit white letters across the windshield, but in Spanish) came to pick us up. David Raudales, director of the Bethel Band and son of Francisco and Maira Raudales, tagged along with the bus driver to see us off.

The two Guatamalans, Francisco Najera and Rolando Valenzuela, deboarded at the bus station on the outskirts of town. The rest of us continued on to San Pedro Sula.

In San Pedro, the Americans, Jamaicans, and Sierra Leoneans boarded a flight for Miami about 9:30. they left four persons behind. Carlos Quesada, a workshop leader, would be catching a flight to Brazil to continue his presentations on behalf of Operation Mobilization. Jeff Dice waited for a flight to Costa Rica. And the two Canadians, Brian Magnus and Paul Plato, also had a later flight back to Canada.

In Miami, we lost Winston Smith and Isaac Nugent, who continued on to Jamaica. That left five Americans and three Sierra Leoneans.

On to Chicago. There, the Sierra Leoneans and Americans parted company. Billy and Alan Simbo were heading to Philadelphia, while Theresa Musa caught a flight for Baltimore.

Phil Whipple waiting for the flight to Fort Wayne.

Phil Whipple waiting for the flight to Fort Wayne.

That left the Americans waiting for a tiny American Eagle flight to Fort Wayne, Ind. Phil Whipple, Jeff Bleijerveld, Jason and Donna Hollopeter, and Steve Dennie arrived in Fort Wayne just after 8:30.

Meanwhile, back in Honduras….

  • The Costa Ricans and Nicaraguans left Wednesday night, driving home.
  • Oliam Richard would left this morning from La Ceiba, hoping to make his way to stricken Haiti. (We were happy to see, in Miami, that a scheduled flight to Port au Prince was On Time.)
  • Denis Casco left Thursday from the La Ceiba airport, heading back to Mexico.
  • Ajiax Wo and Karis Vong began their journey back to Hong Kong in late afternoon.

And that’s it. The end of a great meeting.

We’re rejoicing that Ajiax Wo, superintendent of Hong Kong Conference, finally made it to La Ceiba. He’s getting checked into the hotel now. He’s running on just a couple hours of sleep, having slept overnight in the New Orleans airport before catching a flight this morning to Houston, and then on to Honduras. But he’s here, and very happy about it.

Bishop Phil Whipple will preach tonight at one of the Honduran churches here in La Ceiba. Last night, Francisco Najera of Guatemala gave a dynamic message in a highly energetic service.

Unfortunately, Phil has been having some stomach problems–nothing serious, but enough to be very discomforting. You might say a prayer, that he’ll be just fine tonight.

Jeff Bleijerveld, Director of Global Ministries, translating at General Conference.

Jeff Bleijerveld, Director of Global Ministries, translating at General Conference.

As Juanita Chavez began her Monday morning devotional, the Honduran translator hadn’t yet arrived. So Jeff Bleijerveld began translating.

Juanita said something in Spanish, Jeff took it in, evidently translated it mentally to English…and then spoke it back to us in Spanish. This happened several times, and Jeff had no idea what he was doing…until people started chuckling. Then he finally realized what he was doing.

“I told you I wasn’t a good translator,” he laughed.

Brian Magnus, chairman of the General Conference, opens the meeting with Donna Hollopeter, serving as secretary, beside him.

Brian Magnus, chairman of the General Conference, opens the meeting with Donna Hollopeter, serving as secretary, beside him.

Juanita Chavez (left), superintendent of Honduras Conference, giving the morning devotional. The translator is a teacher at the Bethel Institute.

Juanita Chavez (left), superintendent of Honduras Conference, giving the morning devotional. The translator is a teacher at the Bethel Institute.

Winston Smith (left) and Isaac Nugent do some last-minute touch-up on their presentation right after lunch.

Winston Smith (left) and Isaac Nugent do some last-minute touch-up on their presentation right after lunch.

Juan Pavon Pavon, superintendent of Nicaragua Conference (seated) joking with some other Central American delegates during an afternoon break time.

Juan Pavon Pavon, superintendent of Nicaragua Conference (seated) joking with some other Central American delegates during an afternoon break time.

L-r: Billy Simbo (Sierra Leone), Denis Casco (Mexico), Paul Plato (Canada).

L-r: Billy Simbo (Sierra Leone), Denis Casco (Mexico), Paul Plato (Canada).

Bishop Denis Casco of Mexico Conference gave the last report of the day.

Bishop Denis Casco of Mexico Conference gave the last report of the day.

The General Conference delegates left their hotel at 7:45 abd were bussed to the Bethel Institute, the Honduras Conference-operated school, where a breakfast awwaited them. Then, at 9:00, they moved to a classroom set up with tables in a U-shape.

Juanita Chavez, superintendent of Honduras Conference since January 2009, opened with a devotional from Ephesians 4. Then the delegates launched into the first actual business meeting of the conference.

Brian Magnus, bishop of Canada, was elected chairman of the International Executive Committee in 2001 and has served in that position ever since. That role also makes him chairman of the General Conference.

He pointed out that the General Conference has very little actual business to take care. Instead, this meeting was primarily a time to share what is happening in our countries, encourage each other, pray for each other, and find ways to cooperate in advancing the Gospela.

He explained that the delegates would go around the table three times, country by country, each with a different purpose.

  1. Tell what we are doing in our countries–our ministries, challenges, prayer needs. We would have prayer after hearing from each country.
  2. Tell about mission efforts to expand the gospel beyond our borders.
  3. Explain the changes that have occurred in the last four years, especially in their governing documents.

“Together,” he said, “we serve as the membership committee of the United Brethren in Christ, deciding which countries get to be United Brethren national conferences.” Monitoring each other’s governing documents is a way to make sure we continue adhering to the Confession of Faith and Core Values of the United Brethren in Christ Church International (which were first passed in 2001).

Donna Hollopeter served as secretary in place of Ajiax Wo of Hong Kong, who was still in New York City hoping to secure a visa from the Honduran consultate that morning (a meeting which proved successful, though he wouldn’t reach La Ceiba until Tuesday afternoon).

Donna called the roll. Each of the nine national conferences were entitled to two delegates. Three conferences didn’t meet that standard:

  • Hong Kong. At least until Ajiax Wo arrived the next day. In the meantime, Karis Vong would represent Hong Kong alone.
  • Mexico. Bishop Denis Casco said his lay delegate couldn’t obtain a visa–same problems Ajiax was encountering.
  • The Philippines. No delegates. The lay delegate was denied a transit visa from the United States, and neither delegate ended up coming.
  • The Philippines.

Karis Vong prayed in Cantonese for Ajiax, who at that moment was probably with the Honduran consulate. They they started around the room, in alphabetical order, reporting on the work in their individual countries. Which put Canada, and Chairman Magnus, on the spot.

The delegates met until 3 p.m. Five countries reported:

  • Canada
  • Honduras
  • Hong Kong
  • Jamaica
  • Mexico

The conference then adjourned for the day. They took an excursion to the Honduras Conference campground outside of La Ceiba. In the evening, they attended a church service at a local church, and Rev. Francisco Najera of Guatemala preached.

The international General Conference began on January 10, 2010, with a 3:30 pm service in La Ceiba, Honduras. The service was held in the gymnasium of the Bethel Institute, a large, high-regarded school operated by Honduras Conference. The school shares a compound with the conference offices and the Bethel Church, the first UB Spanish-speaking church in Honduras.
The service opened with a parade of flags representing each United Brethren country and mission district repesented at General Conference. That would be nine national conferences, plus Guataemala, Haiti, El Salvador, and Costa Rica. Honduran teenagers carried the flags, escorted by younger children clad in outfits symbolic of that country.
The flags were inserted into holders on the stage, while the younger children lined across the front. Those children then took turns singing the national anthem of the country they were representing–first Mexico, then Canada, then on down the line. It was spectacular.
Here are a few other notes from the service:
A small acapella choir–about a dozen people–sang. They were all dressed in white robes with red sashes. Francisco and Maira Raudales were part of it.
There were video tributes to two Honduran giants who died during the year: Guillermo Martinez (who started out in Honduras, but is better known for his service in Nicaragua), and Helen Villanueva, a former pastor whosse father was responsible for bringing the United Brethren to Honduras.
The famous Bethel Band paraded to the front and did two numbers. It was clear why they have been named the best band in Central America.
We sang some congregational songs. When the English-speakers recognized the tune, they sang along in English.
Juanita Chavez, superintendent of Honduras Conference, gave a message. An English teacher from the Bethel School translated.
Every time reference was made to the presence of the international delegates, the congregation applauded. They were delighted to be hosting General Conference, and for the opportunity to showcase their country.
At the end of the service, all of the pastors and spouses came to the front.
The district leader read the names and churches of pastors in his/her district. One by one, this massive group of ministerial families gathered on the platform.
Jeff Bleijerveld, US Director of Global Ministries, was called forward to pray for the Honduran pastors, which he did (in Spanish). Then he introduced the international delegates and guests, who came forward and lined up in front of the Honduran pastors and families.
After a final prayer, the service ended.
Children clad in outfits for each country represented sang the national anthem for that country.,

Children clad in outfits for each country represented sang the national anthem for that country.,

The accapella choir.

The accapella choir.

The international delegates were seated right up front.

The international delegates were seated right up front.

Some of the Honduran pastors and families.

Some of the Honduran pastors and families.

Jeff Bleijerveld prays for the Honduran pastors.

Jeff Bleijerveld prays for the Honduran pastors.

All of the Honduran pastors and families, with the international delegates in front.

All of the Honduran pastors and families, with the international delegates in front.

The international General Conference began on January 10, 2010, with a 3:30 pm service in La Ceiba, Honduras. The service was held in the gymnasium of the Bethel Institute, a large, highly-regarded school operated by Honduras Conference. The school shares a compound with the conference offices and the Bethel Church, the first UB Spanish-speaking church in Honduras.

The service opened with a parade of flags representing each United Brethren country and mission district repesented at General Conference. That would be nine national conferences, plus Guataemala, Haiti, El Salvador, and Costa Rica. Honduran teenagers carried the flags, escorted by younger children clad in outfits symbolic of that country.

The flags were inserted into holders on the stage, while the younger children lined across the front. Those children then took turns singing the national anthem of the country they were representing–first Mexico, then Canada, then on down the line. It was spectacular.

Here are a few other notes from the service:

  • A small acapella choir–a dozen people–sang. They were all dressed in white robes with red sashes. Francisco and Maira Raudales were part of it.
  • There were video tributes to two Honduran giants who died during the year: Guillermo Martinez (who started out in Honduras, but is better known for his service in Nicaragua), and Helen Villanueva, a former pastor whosse father was responsible for bringing the United Brethren to Honduras.
  • The famous Bethel Band paraded to the front and did two numbers. It was clear why they have been named the best band in Central America.
  • We sang some congregational songs. When the English-speakers recognized the tune, they sang along in English.
  • Juanita Chavez, superintendent of Honduras Conference, gave a message. An English teacher from the Bethel School translated.
  • Every time reference was made to the presence of the international delegates, the congregation applauded. They were delighted to be hosting General Conference, and for the opportunity to showcase their country.
  • At the end of the service, all of the pastors and spouses came to the front. It was their counterpart of the traditional “reading of the stationing committee report,” which bit the dust some years back in the States. The district leader read the names and churches of pastors in his/her district. One by one, this massive group of ministerial families assembled on the platform. They have about 100 churches and church plants.
  • Jeff Bleijerveld, US Director of Global Ministries, was called forward to pray for the Honduran pastors, which he did (in Spanish). Then he introduced the international delegates and guests, who came forward and lined up in front of the Honduran pastors and families.
  • After a final prayer, the service ended.

Phil Whipple, US Bishop, talks to Jamaican delegates Isaac Nugent and Winston Smith at the San Pedro Sula, Honduras, airport

Phil Whipple, US Bishop, talks to Jamaican delegates Isaac Nugent and Winston Smith at the San Pedro Sula, Honduras, airport

Our party of 9–4 Americans, 2 Jamaicans, 3 Sierra Leoneans–arrived in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, around 2:30 Saturday afternoon. We all got through immigration just fine…except for Theresa Musa. She was the last person in line on our flight, and they held her for a long, long time. There were questions about the visa, which she had gone to heroic efforts to acquire, with a quick trip Friday to New York City to meet in person with a Honduran consulate official.

It seemed like every employee in the airport got involved in discussing the validity of the visa granted the day before in New York City. They were cordial. It’s just that nobody seemed to want to accept responsibility for approving her entry. So they got lots of people into it, spreading the potential blame around. And ultimately, they let her pass

Maira Raudales (left) and Donna Hollopeter

Maira Raudales (left) and Donna Hollopeter

Maira Raudales, along with her son and daughter and a driver, were waiting for us when we finally emerged into the terminal. Oliam Richard, our superintendent in Haiti, was also there. Maira and Company had brought an air-conditioned passenger bus, very nice. We loaded our bags in the back.

Canadians Paul Plato (left) and Brian Magnus finally arrive in San Pedro sula after a flight delay in Miami.

Canadians Paul Plato (left) and Brian Magnus arrive in San Pedro sula after a flight delay in Miami.

Then it was just a matter of waiting for the two Canadians, Brian Magnus and Paul Plato. They got delayed in Miami, but showed up near 5 pm. Donna Hollopeter bought everyone the Number 1 Single meal at the airport Wendy’s while we waited.

The trip east to La Ceiba took three hours, with a bathroom stop at a quick-stop mart. It rained much of the way.

We arrived in La Ceiba around 9 pm, and went straight to the Grand Paris Hotel. Jeff Bleijerveld, Director of Global Ministries, showed up just a few minutes after we did, and helped us get checked in. Along with our room key-cards, we were also handed a remote to the TV. That’s different.

Jeff Bleijerveld (right) at Pizza hut talking to three bishop: Brian Magnus (Canada), Phil Whipple (USA) and Billy Simbo (Sierra Leone).

Jeff Bleijerveld (right) at Pizza hut talking to three bishop: Brian Magnus (Canada), Phil Whipple (USA) and Billy Simbo (Sierra Leone).

After depositing our bags in our rooms, we walked (in the rain) next door to the Pizza Hut for a late supper. (En route to the hotel, we passed Burger King, KFC, Dunkin’ Donuts, Quiznos, Applebees, and another Pizza Hut.)

Jeff Dice was there, eating and watching the Cowboys-Eagles football game. He had come up from Costa Rica, where he and his wife are in Spanish language school.

Before leaving Pizza Hut, Jeff Bleijerveld bought everyone a bottle of water, which we’ll need to brush our teeth in the morning. He also warned, “La Ceiba is a nice-looking town, but don’t go out for a walk by yourself, day or night.”

Karis Vong, from Macau, had arrived earlier in the day. She used a Portuguese visa (Macau was a Portuguese colony until 1999), which posed no travel problems. But the other Hong Kong delegate, Ajiax Wo, was stopped in New York City. He’ll need to meet with the Honduran consulate (the same office Theresa Musa went to) first thing Monday morning, get a visa, and then head to Honduras. So he’ll miss some (if not all) of General Conference. Ajiax was scheduled to preach Monday night, but Billy Simbo, scheduled for Tuesday, offered to switch nights with Ajiax.

Nine of us are now sitting at gate D51 in Miami, waiting to board our flight to San Pedro Sula, Honduras. Seven of us left Fort Wayne, Ind., at 6:30 this morning–Phil Whipple, Donna Hollopeter, Jason Hollopeter, Theresa Musa, Billy Simbo, Alan Simbo, and me.

In Miami, the two Jamaican delegates were waiting for us–Winston Smith and Isaac Nugent.

But we received word that Ajiax Wo, superintendent of Hong Kong Conference, is stuck in New York needing a visa to Honduras. Since this is the weekend, he’ll need to wait until the Honduran consultate reopens on Monday, which means he’ll miss the open service and first day of General Conference (assuming he’s able to obtain a visa).

So that’s something to pray about.