- Central America
- Central America includes the predominantly Roman Catholic former colonies of Spain: Guatemala,Honduras,El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama. Belize, the former British Honduras, was a predominantly Protestant country until immigration tipped the balance toward Roman Catholicism in the 20th century.The Church of England was the first Protestant group to emerge in Central America with settler congregations along the Miskito Coast of Nicaragua as early as the 17th century. in the 1770s, the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts commissioned chaplains for British Honduras, centered primarily on Belize City.Methodists arrived soon after the beginning of the 19th century. A British merchant founded Methodist societies at Belize City, Burrell Boom, and Freetown, which provided a base for the first missionary, who arrived in 1824. Work began at Bluefields, Nicaragua, around 1830. Meanwhile, African Methodists (former slaves in Jamaica) settled in Panama. Through the rest of the century, the Methodist presence expanded, primarily through immigration from the islands. in 1880, for example, Methodist missionaries came to Costa Rica to work among English-speaking workers who had come from various Caribbean islands to build the railroad from San José to the Caribbean coast.A Baptist missionary arrived in British Honduras in 1822 and a Presbyterian minister in 1825, but the real movement among the native population did not begin until the 1840s and the arrival of the representatives of the MORAVIAN CHURCH. Beginning at Bluefields, Moravians reached out to the Miskitos and the other peoples in rural Nicaragua, the Creoles (people of European descent who had been born in the region), and the Gari'funas (people of African heritage brought from St. Vincent).These early missionaries, most of European heritage, suffered greatly from the hot and humid climate, but churches were planted throughout the century. The British and Foreign Bible Society began distributing a Spanish edition of the Christian Scriptures in Costa Rica in the 1840s, partly with the support of Jamaican Methodists and Baptists. Adding to the diversity of the Protestant community in Central America prior to World War I were the Seventh-day Adventist Church and the Salvation Army.In Guatemala in 1873, the liberal (and somewhat anti-Catholic) president, Justo Rufino Barrios (r. 1873-85) invited the Presbyterian Church in the united States to send missionaries. Barrios hoped they would help counter the opposition of the Catholic Church to the reforms he had proposed. (A short-lived Baptist mission in the 1840s had been quickly expelled.)Protestant growth was stimulated in 1903 by the takeover of the Panama Canal project from the French by the united States. As Americans flocked to the Canal Zone, congregations of a number of American denominations were opened, which provided a base for probings into the predominantly Catholic countryside. over the next decade, the Southern Baptist Convention, the Methodist Episcopal Church, the Church of God (Anderson,Indiana), the National Baptist Convention U.S.A., the Free Methodist Church, and the Christian Brethren established Panamanian congregations.The first interdenominational faith mission to target the region was the Central American Mission (now CAM international), founded in 1890 by fundamentalist leader Cyrus I. Scofield and associates. By focusing its attention entirely on Central America, it was able to send missionaries first to Costa Rica (1891) and then successively into El Salvador (1896), Guatemala (1899), Nicaragua (1900), and Panama (1944). Sizeable denominational bodies later emerged, especially in Guatemala and El Salvador.Pentecostalism, apparently introduced in 1912 by independent Pentecostals visiting Nicaragua, has become a dominant element of the non-Catholic religious community. With more than 200,000 members, for example, the Assemblies of God of Guatemala is the largest Protestant body in the country; the larger Pentecostal community includes the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, the Elim Christian Mission, the Full Gospel Church of God, Calvary Christian Evangelical Church, and the Prince of Peace Evangelical Church, all of which have in excess of 100,000 members. only the CAM International affiliated Central American Evangelical Church and the Seventh-day Adventist Church have won comparable support. The situation is similar in Panama and Costa Rica, where the Assemblies of God is the only Protestant church with more than 100,000 members. in Honduras, where the Christian Brethren remains the largest Protestant body, the Assemblies of God is a close second. only Belize seems out of step with this trend, the Seventh-day Adventists and Methodists being the largest Protestant denominations.The original Pentecostal mission in Nicaragua was absorbed by the Assemblies of God in 1936. in 1916, Charles T. Furman and Thomas A. Pullin, representing the Church of God (Cleve-land,Tennessee) settled in Guatemala. Through the 1920s, they devoted most of their time to the Quiche people, one of several groups descended from the ancient Mayans.Ecumenically, the World Council of Churches has a national affiliated council only in Belize, but member churches include the Baptist Association of El Salvador, the Baptist Convention of Nicaragua, the Evangelical Methodist Church of Costa Rica, the Moravian Church in Nicaragua, and the Salvadorean Lutheran Synod. In contrast, the World Evangelical Alliance has national affiliated associations in all of the Central American countries except Belize.Further reading:■ David Barrett, The Encyclopedia of World Christianity. 2nd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001)■ Clifton L. Holland, ed., World Christianity: Central America and the Caribbean (Monrovia, Calif.: MARC-World Vision, 1981)■ J. Herbert Kane, A Global View of Christian Missions (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1971)■ William R. Read, Latin American Church Growth (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans, 1969).
Encyclopedia of Protestantism. Gordon Melton. 2005.