Fighting the Prosperity Gospel in Guatemala

guatemala ministry street
With high poverty and crime rates, the prosperity gospel has taken root in Guatemala. Read about one missionary's heart to show his community the only hope to change this narrative.

Every single day, we wake up to the latest news in Guatemala“Three people wounded in gun battle.” “Remains of two young girls who were murdered discovered in Zone 6.” “Millions of dollars swindled by president and vice president.” Even though these aren’t actual headlines, these are actual things that have happened.

A Narrative of Violence and Brokenness 

People are wounded and killed in gunshot battles every single day. Violence is rampant. The former president and vice president are currently in jail for stealing millions of dollars in what should have been taxes to help sustain and develop Guatemala.

The stories aren’t just stories though. A friend who is helping us renovate the space where our church meets came up to me the other day and said this: “I’m not going to be able to work on Wednesday. We have to go to my niece’s funeral. They found her in a bag on the street cut up into six pieces.”

I wish I could say I was making this up. Sadly, it is all true. And truer still are the feelings of hopelessness that come with such broken narratives. Though my wife and I live relatively protected from these stories, they are all around us. Every person we come in contact with has been affected by these narratives of brokenness. Every neighborhood in Guatemala whispers the words “thy Kingdom come.”

The False Hope of Prosperity

Interestingly, 40-50 percent of Guatemala’s population professes to be evangelical. Clearly, religion offers a sense of hope that is desperately needed. Yet, tragically, these broken stories aren’t merely rehearsed outside the walls of the church. Guatemala is known as having one of the highest concentrations of churches that proclaim the prosperity gospel. Guatemala is one of the top 10 countries with the most megachurches. Most of these megachurches preach the prosperity gospel.

The prosperity gospel, as preached in Guatemala, is a mixed bag of mysticism, Santa Claus, syncretism and just flat out blasphemy. Preachers, every Sunday, stand up on their stages, telling the Guatemalan population (75 percent of whom live below the poverty line, including 58 percent who live below the extreme poverty line) that if they will just sacrifice a bit more and give to the cause of these churches, then God will finally “open the storehouses of heaven” and will bless them financially and physically. If only you will obey the pastor, obey God and do all the right things, then God will bless you.

The pastor then tells you to obey the leader and to get involved in a variety of different programs at the church. Before long, you are running on the hamster wheel with the cheese just out of reach. It takes many years, if not decades, to discover that it is all a lie.

Every week, we hear appalling stories of pastors abusing their power to get foot massages from women in the church, calling people at all hours of the night to change their flat tires, banning anyone who confronts them, publicly humiliating those who don’t give. Pastors paste lists on the church walls of those who are “behind on their tithing.” Pastors ask members how much they earned, calculating for each of them how much their tithe should be.

And, these too, are not merely stories.

The True Hope of Christ 

In July of 2015, we planted Iglesia Reforma (Church of the Reform), desiring to increase true gospel ministry in Guatemala. Every week, we are flooded with these stories. People who are just a few short steps away from leaving the church and this whole Jesus thing entirely. Broken people living in a broken country, attending broken churches led by broken pastors, preaching to them a broken message.

Guatemala desperately needs hope. It doesn’t need any more cheap hope offered by foreign hands or greedy hands or even evangelical hands. Guatemala needs the kind of hope that can only be offered by pierced hands. Hands that have been pierced on behalf of the violence, on behalf of the corruption, on behalf of the lies and manipulation and greed that plague every alley of Guatemala. Hands that pay the penalty for all that wrong so that those of us who are broken may come and be healed.

Guatemala needs the hope of the true gospel, that in Christ, all things will be united in heaven and on earth. In Christ, there is redemption. In Christ, there is freedom. In Christ, there is reconciliation and restoration. In Christ, there is justice and mercy.

Until Christ returns, we find ourselves ministering in the midst of the contrast, praying to God the very thing that the streets of Guatemala long for: thy Kingdom Come.


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About the author

Justin Burkholder
Justin Burkholder

Justin Burkholder and his wife, Jenny, serve with TEAM in Guatemala City, making disciples and gathering them as churches. Justin grew up as a missionary kid in Mexico City. Jenny grew up in northeast Ohio playing any sport she possibly could. They have one daughter, Isabella.

6 Comments

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  • Maestro!

    Que bueno leer tu columna, me siento bien de haber podido leerla toda en ingles, claro, aun me pierdo en algunas partes, pero nada que el diccionario no pueda solucionar.

    Agradezco que tengas este corazón de venir a Guatemala y dejar la comodidad de tu casa para sembrar en este país.

    Quisiera agregarte una perspectiva más a tu enfoque acerca de las mega iglesias, yo soy el producto de una mega iglesia, los esfuerzos en ella permitieron que yo recibiera el evangelio, pero, cuando yo conocí al señor hace más de 20 años, no habían mega iglesias, el termino ni siquiera era conocido, fui enseñado amable y gentilmente por cristianos maduros que me llevaron desde la infancia, a la adolescencia a conocer a Jesús. Te puedo decir que no todo en una mega iglesia es cuestión de dinero, yo aprendí a amar a jesús, aprendí a leer la palabra, aprendí a servir a otras personas, tuve amigos y relaciones significativas.

    Mientras te escribo esto amigo, lo hago con mis recuerdos a flor de piel y te puedo decir que todo lo que dices es cierto, pero que parte de la historia que quizás no has tomado en cuenta es que muchos hemos conocido a Jesús por medio de estos ministerios. Claro, luego hemos aprendido y abierto los ojos a muchas cosas más, pero no cabe duda que no podría afirmar que todo ha sido malo, puesto que sería un ingrato si no reconociera todo lo que aprendi de Jesús, ellos me enseñaron a orar, me enseñaron a leer la Bilblia, me ayudaron durante el divorcio de mis papás, me dieron oportunidad de liderar y sinceramente creo que hay algunas excepciones en cuanto a las iglesias.

    por ultimo te puedo decir lo siguiente, en ocasiones el crecimiento de la iglesia es consecuencia de la vida y la verdad que se predica, en otras se debe a otras cosas como mercadeo, manipulación y falsas esperanzas como bien lo enseñas en tu columna. Pero recuerdo haber tenido un par de buenos pastores y líderes, que iniciaron una iglesia como la que tu estas iniciando y que crecieron y crecieron y se convirtieron en una mega iglesia, en contrario hay otros que inician la iglesia con la idea de convertirla en mega iglesia. Este es tema de otra conversación.

    Espero que puedas tomar mi comentario con la misma sinceridad y corazón abierto con el que te escribo.

  • Gracias por tu comentario Allan. No tengo nada en contra de megaiglesias, y en el artículo no propongo el problema es el tamaño. El problema que sí tengo es con falsas enseñanzas en iglesias grandes o pequeñas. Siempre hay excepciones, por eso digo “most” y no “all”.

    En traída la mayoría del artículo no es acerca de las megaiglesias. Solo lo mencionó en cuanto a estadística. Lo demás es enfocado en las malas enseñanzas.

  • I have issues with the VALIDITY of the articles statement . Please post some news articles.

    “The stories aren’t just stories though. A friend who is helping us renovate the space where our church meets came up to me the other day and said this: “I’m not going to be able to work on Wednesday. We have to go to my niece’s funeral. They found her in a bag on the street cut up into six pieces.”

    • Nelson,
      use Chrome and then find Prensa Libra web site/facebook page. Google Chrome will translate for you. I have been coming to Guatemala for about 15 years, lived here as missionary full time for 7.
      Sounds like you may not accept my word that what the author says is VALID. In fact the violence here is so rampant much of it is not newsworthy. If you want to see photos DIARIO wiill be the better ‘newspaper’ as they postings are more graphic.
      Justin should not in this format post and give credence to those kind of stories. You will not get news of Guatemala in the USA if that is your residence. Try CNN Latin America. Or BBC for crying out loud gives better coverage of news here than outlets in the USA. People disappear here. In the little town I live in they found a head across the street from the mayors house, to my knowledge have not in the last year found the body. A bus was bombed this past SUnday in the little market we have… two have died, a young family is in the hospital, youngest is a one year old. But please look it up for yourself to confirm so you will have no doubt of the VALIDITY – we could be making it up
      In Christ,
      Dennis McCutcheon

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