Against All Odds

Mountain farmer Oscar continues to serve God in Guatemala.

By Amber Kinneer   |  2 September 2011
image-oscar-praying-465x280 Photos by Ted Wilcox

Trekking up an earthen staircase of rocks and weeds, Oscar Tíul carries a 110-pound sack of dried, white corn.

Eyes shaded by the brim of his black sombrero, Oscar feels sweat seep through most of his T-shirt. The light-blue cotton stains a deeper blue.

Arriving at a small clearing, Oscar pauses for a view over the valley where rivers swell in rainy season. Dirt roads and tin-roofed homes are tucked into the green Guatemalan countryside of the Sierra de las Minas, the “mountain range of the mines.”

Oscar knows these places well. Here the 47-year-old farms corn, chicken and chili peppers.

Up the mountain, he shares the burden of home and ministry life with his wife, his 9 children and his grandchildren. At home, his pigs nuzzle the dirt for food, grunting and poking, while 2 dogs lie in the shade; a hen saunters by with 6 peeping chicks.

Yet Oscar’s world is larger than this rural life. He also serves as evangelism coordinator in a partnership between the Nazarene Church and The JESUS Film Project®.

Each week, Oscar spends 3 or 4 days traveling by foot or bicycle to villages, sometimes 6 hours away, to show the JESUS film and meet with new believers and church leaders in the district of Alta Verapaz.

He’s planting churches. His wife of 30 years, Catarina, goes whenever she can.

“I don’t care how far away the village is,” she says, “if my husband is going, I’m going with him.”

Oscar and Catarina often cross wide rivers and climb steep mountain roads to reach villages, carrying a projector, DVD player, screen and audio system. Two weeks ago, they showed JESUS in a church soccer field and saw 12 people give control of their lives to Christ.

In each village, Oscar is diligent to search out 5 men who can become leaders. He then returns to meet with them every few weeks, teaching them first to pray, then to read or listen to God’s Word.

Every day, Oscar thinks about how much people need Jesus.

“When I wake up at 4 or 5 o’clock in the morning,” Oscar says, “I always ask God to give me time to go and tell people about Jesus. I worry when people don’t pray and receive Christ,” he says. “I pray a lot in my mind that many will know the Lord. I want many people to know Jesus Christ.”

Before he knew Jesus, Oscar drank too much and lacked purpose in life. After a night of binge drinking in 1993, he fell onto a barbed-wire fence, scarring his face. Oscar knew it was time to change.

He and his wife decided to visit an evangelical church and dedicated their lives to Christ on Easter Sunday, 1994.

After 10 years of working with Nazarene church leaders, Oscar and Catarina began praying, asking God where to serve next. Oscar read in the Bible about God sending disciples to go and preach the gospel.

“I know that is what I am supposed to do,” he said.

In 2007, he was asked to become a partner with The JESUS Film Project, showing the film in nearby villages. He was trained and entrusted with his own equipment.

Using tools like the Proclaimer radio that audibly plays the entire New Testament, Oscar teaches pastors and trains leaders in new churches. The leaders use the Proclaimer to gather people in villages who come and listen -- sometimes late into the night -- captivated by this new message in their native tongue.

As a JESUS film volunteer, Oscar oversees 5 areas: La Tinta, Tucurú, Senahú, Panzos and El Estor, located approximately 8 hours northeast of the country’s capital, Guatemala City.

Each month, 40 ministry reports are collected from Oscar and 14 other volunteers in his area. The reports record various numbers like new leaders, people involved in Bible studies and those who’ve heard the gospel message of Jesus Christ.

Meanwhile the chicken farmer also attends seminary classes to become an ordained minister and evangelist someday.

Ten times a year for one week, Oscar visits the cities of Coban -- 3 hours by bus -- or La Tinta -- an hour by bicycle -- to take a Bible class paid for by the Nazarene Church. It’s a slow process, especially since he only recently completed the 6th grade.

Catarina worries when Oscar travels. Accidents are becoming more common, like when he fell going downhill on his bicycle and hurt both legs. Bicycle accidents aren’t the only challenge.

He has constant knee pain, especially during rainy season, which limits his ability to travel long distances. Sometimes he and Catarina walk 3 hours in the rain without proper clothing, causing aches and joint pain; their clothes take days to dry.

Mountain villages are not easily accessible without 4-wheel drive or motorbike, neither of which Oscar owns. To drive, Oscar’s vision must be clear, and he recently discovered he needs eye surgery, which he can’t afford.

Underlying these trials, Oscar lives on his parent’s property. Frustrated that he is not working full time and serving God instead, Oscar’s parents asked him to move off their land as soon as possible.

Oscar desires to minister full time. When he farms for paid labor, he receives about $2.50 per day.

“When I don’t wake up early enough or feel the desire to go out, it’s because I’m very tired,” he says, “especially in the rainy season.”

Yet, with limited funds, family health needs and lack of proper education, Oscar perseveres.

“I want to build more churches using JESUS and Proclaimer,” he says.

He wants to see communities grow in their knowledge of the Lord, equipped to tell others about Jesus.

“I don’t want people to live in sin. I want them to know there is another way to live.”

In a little more than 2 years, Oscar was responsible for planting 22 churches in an area where churches are scarce.

“Brother Oscar is always looking for people who can lead,” says Mateo Reyes, a superintendent with the Nazarene Church in Oscar’s area. “He is very good at finding leaders. I’m praying for 10 more men like Oscar to take the gospel to these unreached areas.”

Agua Fria, a village with more than 120 people, was one of these unreached areas. Oscar helped begin a new church after a JESUS film showing in 2010.

Pastor Pedro and his wife, Margarita, want a church building in Agua Fria, but right now they go from house to house because no building can accommodate them.

Margarita says, “Brother Oscar is like a father to us. He encourages us and helps in many ways.”

When not traveling, Oscar and Catarina spend time in prayer for the new churches and believers.

“Each day we pray together,” Catarina says, “in the mornings and afternoons. I cannot read, so Oscar reads to me. Sometimes he reads the Bible before meals or before praying.

“He is always concerned for us,” she says. “When he isn’t doing ministry, he’s working for us so we can have money. When we are sick, he takes care of us.”

Smoke rises from the fire pit in the kitchen of Oscar’s plankboard home. His daughters whistle and yell across the lush canyon to their neighbors, Catarina’s brother and his family.

Sitting inside at his large picnic-style dinner table, pencil in hand, Oscar records numbers on the monthly JESUS film reports organized in piles before him.

Outside, a young hen chirps and digs, scattering dirt and feathers through a gap in the wallboards.

In late afternoon, under a canopy of banana, paterna fruit and mango trees, Oscar descends to the cornfield to spend a few more hours harvesting white corn. His return back up the mountain will be his 2nd for the day, carrying the heavy load on his back.

Sometimes Oscar returns home after dark and uses a flashlight to hike up the mountain. He knows the path well, taking a few steps with the light, then switching it off and back on, then off again to save the battery. If the moon is bright, sometimes he walks without the flashlight.

No matter. Oscar will continue to climb.