Walter and Betty Groover came to Merida, Mexico, in October 1964, with three small children. After thirty-five years of faithful service, travelling almost every night of the week to one of the many pueblos (villages) in the state of Yucatan, this veteran missionary and his wife are just as excited about the Lord’s work among the Mayan Indians of the Yucatan as they were when they began. Like Caleb, Walter’s strength has not abated; and his vision has not grown dim.
Four years ago, the Groovers’ oldest son, Cody, was also called of the Lord to the work of the gospel. Cody, his wife Winna, and their three young children joined Walter and Betty in Merida in August 1995. It was our great privilege to join Pastor and Mrs Fortner in visiting these two families and several of the churches in the Yucatan from 10-17 March of this year. I hope that, by relating some of our experiences there, the Lord will be pleased to arouse in the reader an interest in and appreciation for what he is doing through these faithful families.
10 March: new congregation
We arrived in Merida, Mexico, about four o’clock in the afternoon on Wednesday 10 March. The evening passed very quickly. We had just enough time to eat supper before leaving for the worship service at the church in Merida. This is a new congregation, which was begun by Cody shortly after his arrival here. The building in which they meet is also used for the preachers’ school on Mondays. Pastor Don Fortner brought a message from 2 Corinthians 5:21 on Christ our substitute. Cody did all the translating during the services. He and Don seemed very comfortable. In fact, the audible translation did not appear to be distracting to either the Mexicans or their American guests.
11 March: Mayan dress
We spent the day sightseeing. What a beautiful country! We visited two huge haciendas. Haciendas, once numerous in the Yucatan, were similar to the old Southern plantations of the United States, only much larger. Today, many have been converted to various uses for entertaining tourists.
In the evening, we visited another young church in the pueblo of Dzidzantun. While Walter and Cody seek to have each local church become an autonomous, self-governing, self-supporting congregation with national pastors, the missionaries themselves serve as pastors of the churches in their early stages. Cody currently serves as the pastor of this congregation and the one in Merida.
The small, concrete structure in which the church meets is well maintained. The floors are covered with ceramic tile. The elevated platform is decorated with beautifully arranged, freshly-cut flowers. The pulpit and communion table are covered with exquisite, hand-embroidered cotton spreads. Most in attendance were adults, but several children were also present. The people were all well dressed. Some of the women still wear traditional Mayan dresses and scarves, though the younger women and men tend to wear typical western attire.
Though this is a young, small congregation, these things were much the same in all the churches, as was the orderliness of their worship services. It is obvious that they have been taught well, and that they take the worship of our God seriously.
Before and after the services we were greeted warmly by God’s saints in each congregation. Though we had to communicate almost exclusively through a translator, the warmth with which we were embraced was overwhelming. The Lord granted Pastor Fortner liberty to bring a delightful exposition of 1 Peter 1:2, reminding us of God’s wondrous works, gifts, and operations of grace in Christ, explaining God’s election, the Spirit’s sanctification, Christ’s redemption, and the grace and peace multiplied to God’s elect in Christ.
13 March: the sufferings of Christ
The Groovers planned a special day for us on Friday (12 March). Giving the pastor a rest from study and preaching, we all went to visit the Mayan ruins in Dzibilchatun, the fishing port at Progresso and its spectacular beaches. The morning of the 13th was spent watching Cody and Winna’s sons, Austin and Cade, play soccer. Then we went downtown to the markets (ladies have to go to the markets!). Cody and Winna’s daughter, Andrea, did the translating and haggling for us. She is really good at it.
The services on Saturday evening were held at Calcehtok. The pastor of the church here is Gilberto. He gave us all a very warm welcome. After reading a portion of Scripture, the congregation sang a few hymns and a special song welcoming us. Then Pastor Fortner preached from Isaiah 53 on the sufferings of our Saviour. He spoke with obvious effect about the sufferings of our Lord Jesus Christ in his body, in his heart and in his soul. The message concluded with a clear, biblical declaration of both the particular design and absolute efficacy of Christ’s sin-atoning death for his people.
When the service was over, Pastor Gilberto made a few comments, expressing both his appreciation for, and firm agreement with, the message. It is obvious that Walter and Cody are committed to preaching the gospel of God’s free and sovereign grace in Christ.
14 March: quiet ‘Amens’
On Sunday morning we drove out to worship with the congregation at Tekal, where Jose is pastor. Again, the congregation was most warm and friendly, the building very well maintained, and the worship service very orderly. The message from Mark 10:26-27, ‘Who will be saved?’, showed from Scripture both the total sovereignty of God in salvation and the responsibility of sinners to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.
In the evening, we drove out to Seye, where Rogelio is pastor. This church is a small congregation. Their church building is quite small. Yet, they have a beautiful courtyard in front of the building.
The message, taken from 2 Corinthians 12:10, was titled ‘A message for those who think they are strong’. Cody continued to do an excellent job translating, as was evident from the facial expressions, nods and quiet ‘Amens’ of the congregation.
15 March: preachers’ school
A preachers’ school was established in 1977 to train the pastors of the churches. It is not a typical Bible college ‘preacher-mill’ and there is no graduation from this school. The pastors continue to come for as long as they desire. Each Monday the school gathers in Merida. The students and pastors travel many hours to and from Merida for the classes.
Walter and Cody each teach classes, and five of the pastors also teach on a rotating basis in the afternoon sessions.
Cody took the early morning session of the preachers’ school classes and the rest of the day was given to the visiting preacher. Pastor Fortner, after discussing the particular problem of sacramental religion, spent the day teaching about the ordinances of the gospel, particularly setting out the teachings of Scripture with regard to believers’ baptism, church membership, and the Lord’s supper. The study appeared to be very helpful to the preachers.
16 March: grace to chosen sinners
Our last worship service in Mexico was with the congregation at Tecoh, where Gerbacio is pastor. Pastor Fortner gave a line by line exposition of Ephesians 1:1-14. The whole congregation, Mexicans, Americans, and preachers, appeared to be greatly blessed by the simple reminder of God’s rich, abundant, free grace to sinners chosen in the Lord Jesus Christ.
On the way back to Merida, late in the evening, we stopped by Seye. One of the elderly ladies in the church had died earlier in the day. As we drove up to the house where they were holding a wake for her, the crowd overflowed into the streets. The people were singing the praises of our God. Grief was obvious. Yet, it was grief offset by the confident hope of grace in Christ.
Walter Groover was asked to bring a message. He spoke briefly. This time there was no interpreter. While this writer has no idea what was being said, it was manifestly helpful to the family and friends of the dear lady, who had walked with Christ upon the earth for many, many years.
As we drove back to Merida, I thought, ‘What a blessed way to conclude a visit to this mission field. This is what our work is all about, preparing eternity-bound sinners to meet the holy Lord God in judgement and in glory’.