The history of mission work in Cubulco, Guatemala, began nearly 4 decades prior to the Free Reformed Mission (FRMI) putting boots on the ground.
The story begins in 1953, when two women, Mary Shaw and Helen Neuenswander, were sent by the mission organization Wycliffe Bible Translators to Cubulco, Guatemala to undertake the enormous task of translating the New Testament into the Cubulco Achi language. After arriving and settling in their new surroundings, the two women began the arduous task of learning the oral language, creating an alphabet, and establishing grammatical rules. Furthermore, word quickly spread within the community that Helen was a registered nurse and people started coming to the door looking for medical care. There were no medical services available in Cubulco other than a small pharmacy. The nearest doctor and hospital were a 2–3-hour bus ride away. Soon Helen was spending her time seeing patients in the morning and translating in the afternoon, while Mary dedicated most of her time to translating the NT with the help of some local translators. As the years went by and the medical work grew, the women were given some land in town and built a medical/natal care clinic. After decades of labor, mostly while a bloody civil war devastated the country, the NT was completed in 1982. With the political situation stabilizing, plans were made to build a small hospital and by the late 1980’s construction began. By this time, the two women were retiring from the work and Helen was battling terminal cancer. They asked the Lord to bring an organization to them who would continue with the work that had been started. The Lord answered their prayers initially through AMG International (Advancing the Ministries of the Gospel) who agreed to take over the management and further expansion of the hospital. In turn AMG introduced and invited FRMI to continue the translation of the Old Testament and plant churches in the unreached areas of Cubulco.
FRMI had been looking a few years for a place to do mission work. They had explored several options in different Latin American contexts but each one did not materialize. There was some interest in taking over a children’s home in the northern part of Guatemala where John Otten and the late Joanne Bruinekool were serving, but it came to nothing. As they were losing hope, they were introduced to AMG who in turn introduced them to Mary and Helen and invited them to consider working together in Cubulco. After visiting Cubulco, seeing the work, and much prayer it was decided that FRMI would continue with the work of completing the translation of the OT into the Cubulco Achi language as well as plant churches in the areas of Cubulco where no protestant churches existed.
To carry out this work the following missionaries and their families served in Cubulco during the following three decades from 1989-2019.
From 1988-1989, John went to Guatemala to serve at a children’s home together with the late Joanne Bruinekool. In 1989 he returned to Canada, married Connie, and by the end of the year they moved to Cubulco to help set up the AMG hospital. After a few years, John assumed the role as hospital administrator and was instrumental in its expansion as well as the nutrition center and agriculture program.
In 2007, the Otten’s returned to Ontario where John took a position at Word and Deed as project director.
Gary and Martha first went to Guatemala in 1989 to assist AMG in setting up the hospital. After this was complete, Gary assumed the position of hospital administrator for some time and assisted FRMI in the construction of the houses for the coming missionary families. In 1993 they returned to BC to prepare for the work of translating the OT into Cubulco Achi. Gary enrolled in Biblical Studies at Regent College and during the summers studied linguistics with SIL in Oregon. In 1995 they returned to Cubulco to begin the difficult task of translating the OT and training local men to be translators.
After training several men and completing the translation of several OT books they returned to British Columbia in 1999 where they currently reside.
The Herfst family settled in Cubulco in the fall of 1992 and spent 10 years planting 6 churches in the Cubulco area. Pastor Herfst preached and administered the sacraments, set up a Bible Institute to train local men to become church leaders, and assisted the Bible translation work. The family was very involved in all aspects of church life like Sunday school, VBS, youth, women’s Bible study, and prayer meetings. They returned to Canada in 2002 and Pastor Herfst served as pastor of a church plant on Vancouver Island for 2 years. In 2004, the family once again returned to Guatemala but settled in Quetzaltenango where Pastor Herfst served as professor at a Presbyterian seminary. He also involved himself in several other development/relief endeavors to the needy in that part of Guatemala with the help of Word and Deed.
In 2015, the Herfst’s returned to Ontario where Rev. Herfst took a teaching position at Redeemer University.
After returning to Canada following many years of service in South Africa, Mary Overduin was asked to serve in Cubulco. In 1993 she moved to Cubulco to assist with the work there. Her focus was on working with the women and children of the church through Bible studies and Sunday school. She also worked on translating Bible stories into the Achi language which was later completed and printed and is being used in churches.
Due to health reasons, Mary returned to Ontario in 1997 and in subsequent years served with Word and Deed for some time and ministering to the elderly.
The Kattenberg’s moved to Cubulco in January of 2000 and served there until the summer of 2009. Nico spent much of his time visiting and teaching in the churches in the remote communities surrounding Cubulco. He took care of most of the administrative needs of the mission, was involved in setting up an education program, taught at the Bible Institute, and oversaw the translation work. Lia was involved with some of the administrative work, Sunday school, VBS, and ladies Bible study. After a brief return to BC in 2009, they went back to Guatemala in the summer of 2010 to continue with the work. This time they settled in Guatemala City, and Nico divided his time between the mission work in Cubulco and AMG. Nico continued to make regular visits to Cubulco and worked on the transition of the work to other ministries. Upon the successful transition of the work and the completion of the Bible translation the Kattenberg’s returned to BC in the summer of 2019.
Following a period of repatriation, Nico was hired by AMG International as the director of AMG Canada. Nico is still involved with FRMI on a part time basis to help with the work that continues in Cubulco.
The Everts moved from the Netherlands to Cubulco in the spring of 2002. The family was very involved with the churches through Sunday school, VBS, youth, prayer meetings, and women’s Bible study. Rev. Everts preached, taught, and administered the sacraments in the churches as well as assisted in the translation of the Bible, Bible Institute, administration, and management of the education program.In 2008, the Everts returned to the Netherlands where Rev. Everts continued his calling as minister of the Gospel in a church in Deventer.
The Bout family committed to spending one year in Cubulco to work with the churches and help during a time of transition. Although, their time was short, they left a lasting impression on the church. After returning to Ontario in 2009, Wilfred assumed a position of working with a ministry to Latin American migrant workers in the Niagara Region.
The Van Minnen’s came to Cubulco in the fall of 2008 and focused on taking over the administrative duties and further developing the education program. Ken was instrumental in setting up two afterschool programs in Cubulco and reinforcing the education programs in several public schools in the mountain villages. Although they had initially planned on staying long term in Cubulco, various circumstances contributed to the family returning to Ontario by the end of 2009. Ken travelled to Cubulco several times at the end of 2009 and beginning of 2010 to tie up some loose ends.
After returning to Ontario, Ken assumed a role as principal of a Christian school.