A. H istoric Formation. Before gaining indep. from Spain, Cen. Am. was divided into pol. areas which today comprise the 5 reps., viz., the captaincy gen. of Guatemala and the dependent divisions of Chiapas, San Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras, and Costa Rica. During the colonial period, sections of the Caribbean coast in Honduras and Nicaragua were settled by Eng. buccaneers. In 1786 Sp. recognized Brit. sovereignty over Belize (Brit. Honduras). After gaining indep. from Sp. in 1821, Chiapas became part of Mexico. The 5 other provinces eventually split into the present nations of Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica. Panama, which occupies the remainder of the isthmus, was part of Colombia till 1903, when it declared its independence. Though not technically part of Cen. Am., Panama is usually considered together with the other 5 reps. because of its geog. and economic similarities.
B. Inhabitants. Indians, chiefly of Mayan background, concentrated mostly in Guatemala; Mestizos, people of mixed Indian and Sp. blood; Negroes, settled along Caribbean coast; Europeans and North Americans, immigrants residing chiefly in larger cities; Orientals, forming small colonies in urban areas.
C. Social and Political Aspects. After gaining indep. 1821, the 5 reps. passed through periods of violent revolution and enforced calm under strong dictators. Since WW II there has been an awakened sense of soc. responsibility, with solutions for regional problems sought by more democratic means. Reactionary pressures, both from the conservative right and the extremist left, are still apparent. Panama has had special blessings, as well as problems, because of proximity to the US-operated Canal Zone, a 10-mile-wide concession through which the canal was completed 1914.
1. The pre-Columbian religions are still in evidence where larger concentrations of Indians hold to their primitive cultures. The Spaniards brought the pre-Reformation RCm of their land. Many of the priests were consecrated men who desired to learn the languages of the Indians and bring them the Gospel. But govt. policies often hindered such work. With the decline of Sp. power the number of priests became very limited. As a result, where the Indian cultures remained strong a type of syncretism developed in which ancient preconquest rites were combined with RC ritual.
2. Eng. Prot. work was begun 1825 by Wesleyans among Negro settlers in Honduras, Costa Rica, and Panama. Anglicans began 1844 in Brit. Honduras. The Moravian miss. among the Indians on the Mosquito (Mosquitia) Coast of Nicaragua dates from 1848. American Presbyterians opened a Sp.-language field in Guatemala 1882 at the invitation of the president. Using CIM as model, C. I. Scofield* founded the Central* Am. Miss. 1890. In the 20th c. many others entered the area, esp. since WW I.
3. Lutheranism came with Ger. settlers at end of 19th c. The first attempt to form a Luth. cong. in Guatemala was made 1908. The Ger. pastor also visited Luth. settlers in other neighboring countries. During both World Wars this work was disrupted. ln 1947 LCMS, on invitation by the people, sent the first N. Am. miss. to Guatemala to work among scattered Germans in Guatemala City, to serve Eng.-speaking Negroes in Puerto Barrios (since the Anglicans had withdrawn during WW II), and to initiate Sp. work in the rural area surrounding Zacapa. After 1950 the staff was augmented and the work extended into the other republics. In 1941 a Luth. miss. was formally opened in the Canal Zone to serve N Americans stationed there. By 1957 under the auspices of the Armed Services Commission of LCMS this parish also included work in Spanish in the Rep. of Panama. The only other Luth. effort in Cen. Am. is centered in Costa Rica, where a pastor has worked in cooperation with LWF since 1958 to serve Ger.-speaking Luths. in Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, and El Salvador.
E. Rep. of Guatemala. Area: 42,042 sq. mi. Most RC Largest Prot. group is the Ev. Ch. in Guatemala, which grew chiefly out of efforts of the Cen. Am. Miss. and has its Bible School and headquarters there. Others in descending order of membership: Ch. of God (Cleveland, Tennessee); United Presb. Ch.; Assemblies of God; Seventh-day Adv.; Ch. of the Nazarene; S Bap. Conv.; Soc. of Friends; Ch. of God of Prophecy. LCMS works in several areas. Guatemala City is also headquarters for the Caribbean Miss. Dist. of LCMS, with a resident counselor and bus. mgr. Also stationed there is the dir. for theol. studies, who supervises the preparation of nat. pastors through an in-service training program. The Luth. Hour office for Cen. Am. is in Antigua.
F. Rep. of El Salvador. Area: ca. 8,100 sq. mi. Most RC Largest Prot. groups are Pentecostals and Assemblies of God. Others follow in size: Cen. Am. Miss.; Ch. of God (Cleveland, Tennessee); Am. Bap. Home Miss. Societies; Seventh-day Adv.; Nat. Bap. Conv.; Soc. of Friends. The Luth. missions under LCMS began 1951.
G. Rep. of Honduras. Area: 43,277 sq. mi. Most RC Among Prots., Meth. miss. is largest, followed by Seventh-day Adv. and Ch. of God (Cleveland, Tennessee). Others are the Moravians, United Ch. of Christ, Assemblies of God, Christian Missions in Many Lands, and 12 other groups. LCMS stationed the first resident miss. 1963 to serve scattered village groups.
H. Rep. of Nicaragua. Area: ca. 57,000 sq. mi.; RCm predominates. Among Prots., the Moravian miss. is largest followed by Am. Bap. Home Miss. Societies, Nat. Bap. Conv., Assemblies of God, Seventh-day Adv., Ch. of the Nazarene, Cen. Am. Miss., and LWF ;Ger. cong.
I. Rep. of Costa Rica. Area: ca. 19,650 sq. mi. RCm predominates. Among Prots., the Prot. Episc. Ch., whose bp. for Cen. Am. resides in San Jose, the capital, has the largest following. Next are Seventh-day Adv., Lat. Am. Miss. (whose sem. and editorial center is also in San Jose), SPG, S Bap. Conv., Meth. Miss., and LWF Ger. cong. Since 1963 LCMS has a miss. working in Spanish.
J. Rep. Panama. Area: ca. 29,700 sq. mi., RCm predominates. Among Prots., highest membership is reported by Internat. Ch. of the Four-Square Gospel, Prot. Episc. Ch. (bp. in the Canal Zone), Seventh-day Adv., Meth. Miss., Ch. of God (Cleveland, Tennessee), S Bap. Conv., and Union Chs. of the Canal Zone. LCMS's only parish serves both Canal Zone and rep.; the first miss. to work in Spanish took up residence in the Rep. of Panama 1963.
K. Belize (Belice to neighboring countries; formerly Brit. Honduras). In Cen. Am., on the Caribbean Sea; bounded by Guatemala on S and W, by Mex. on NW and N. Area: ca. 8,867 sq. mi. Settled perhaps ca. 1638 by English from Jamaica; became a Brit. colony in the 19th c.; internally self-governing 1964; renamed Belize (from Mayan for muddy water) 1973. Ethnic composition: ca. 40% of Afr. descent; others of Lat.-Indian, Eur., and East Indian origin. Official language: English. Religion: RCm predominates. Among Prots., the Angl. Ch. of the Provinces of the W Indies, with a resident bp., is the largest; then follow the Seventh-day Adv., Meth. Ch., Ch. of the Nazarine, and others. RFG
Edited by: Erwin L. Lueker, Luther Poellot, Paul Jackson
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