This past January I and my wife and our four-month old baby daughter Noël traveled to Costa Rica on our frequent-flyer miles. Our stay was for 12 days, during which I taught a course on Worldviews at Seminario ESEPA in San José in the evenings, spoke to local pastors in the mornings during the first week, and spoke at the Language Training Institute on Friday morning of the first week. During our only weekend there we traveled to the Caribbean side of the country and stayed in a hotel at the beach. (The hotel had a bamboo ceiling and a tin roof!)
My course on Worldviews ran for 10 days—two weeks of Monday-Friday, 6:00-9:00pm classes. Twelve wonderful, attentive and bright students attended. I covered the subjects of Theism, Naturalism/Atheism, Deism, Agnosticism, Existentialism, Nihilism, Postmodernism, Polytheism, Pantheism, and Panentheism. There was, of course, a faculty member (Mark Padgett) who translated for me into Spanish. His skills were a gift to me.
Mornings with Pastors
In Costa Rica there is a great need for theological education for pastors, and for cult-awareness. On each morning I gave an Introduction to the Cults and opened up our time for Q&A and discussion. On many faces appeared looks of appreciation for gaining a theological and Christ-centered approach to discerning truth and error. Judging from what I heard from pastors, as well as during some personal conversations, the Word-Faith Movement (represented by such teachers as Kenneth Copeland, Kenneth Hagin, and others) is quite prevalent in Latin America, not only because of visits by Word-Faith teachers, but because of Trinity Broadcast Network (TBN). TBN brings to hundreds of thousands of viewers (if not millions) the teaching that Jesus was the first person to be born again, that faith is a power force, and that the words we speak carry the force of faith to obtain healing and prosperity, among other heretical doctrines.
Language Training Institute
Literally across the street from the Spanish Language Training Institute (which is Christian) are the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Mormons. Many of those in training at the institute were not equipped in reaching out to a mission field right across the street! Prior to my visit I arranged, with the director, a morning talk during which I shared on how to reach out to Jehovah’s Witnesses. Armed with a bit of knowledge on what the Jehovah’s Witnesses believe about certain essential areas of doctrine, and with the Scripture to share in refutation, Christians are able to share with Jehovah’s Witnesses exactly where it is they are unbiblical, and to apply that toward effective evangelism. I was grateful for the time I had at the institute, brief though it was.
A Mormon Encounter
After my first week of teaching, on Saturday we headed with our hosts to the Caribbean for a relaxing weekend. (By the way, it takes five hours by car to make the 110-mile trip!) As we began our trip we headed past the Language Training Institute and, of course, the Mormon Ward across the street from the institute. In the parking lot was a group of Mormons. My host stopped his car nearby, and I went over to engage the Mormons in dialog. I introduced myself, and, to my surprise, one of the Mormons spoke English! I knew my time would be short, for they were grouping in order to do something together. I asked the Mormon if he believed he could become a god some day. He answered yes. I then shared Isaiah 43:10 with him (“before Me no god was formed; neither will there be after Me”). I asked him to comment on the verse. But he had no answer, accept to say that he would look at it more in depth at a later time. I then shared with him the Mormon teaching that Jesus was the firstborn spirit-child to God the Father (an exalted man with body parts) and heavenly Mother (an exalted woman with body parts), and that the spirit-child Jesus became a god when he was a spirit-child. Further, this Jesus came to earth to take a body in the womb of Mary because the Father himself came down and had intercourse with Mary. He said that he had never heard of the teaching that Jesus was the firstborn spirit-child. I shared with him some official sources that teach that doctrine, and asked him to research it for himself. He said he would, but in the meantime I shared that Jesus always was God the Son (John 1:1), and that he was conceived in the womb of Mary “by the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 1:18, 20). I then appealed to him on the basis of Jesus’ words in John 8:24 (“unless you believe that I am, you will die in your sins”) to accept the biblical Christ, and to forsake the counterfeit Christ of Mormonism. “I share this with you,” I said, “because I love you for the sake of Christ.” I then thanked him for the time he gave to me and invited him to accept the biblical Christ as savior. He would not do so, stating to me that he believed the Mormon Church teaches the biblical Jesus. I then asked to check out what I had shared with him, shook his hand and said goodbye.
Well, needless to say, it was a fruitful trip, one I will never forget. Please pray for the students, pastors, language students, and for this Mormon man. Also, please consider making a donation to SDM’s “Costa Rica Fund.” See details on the flip side of this issue of The Sounding Board.