Although Nicaragua is the largest country between Mexico and South America, much of its population is scattered among thousands of small towns and villages that stretch from the Pacific coast in the west to the Caribbean coast in the east. In the sprawling countryside, many if not most of the churches are evangelical—a rarity in this traditionally Roman Catholic region.
Among those rural enclaves one can see the amazing spiritual legacy of Ruben Guerrero, who died of cancer this past summer. Many of the pastors trace the roots of their born-again faith to the ministry of the diminutive evangelist from Texas.
“The seeds that were planted by Ruben Guerrero can be seen now across the entire country of Nicaragua,” said Dr. Henry Salinas at Ruben’s funeral. “Today there are thousands of churches that were started because of the fruits of his ministry. That is why the vast majority of the rural population of our country is evangelical today.”
Ruben’s story began unfolding in the early 1980s, when Salinas placed a call to Franklin Graham at Samaritan’s Purse. Nicaragua was embroiled in a violent civil war between the Marxist Sandinista government and the U.S.-backed Contra forces. Battles constantly raged in the dense jungles and steep mountains, with both sides taking heavy casualties.
Salinas, a leading Contra commander who was responsible for medical care, had heard about the short-term medical missionary work of Samaritan’s Purse. He requested several physicians to come and help the Contras’ wounded and sick.
“I told him that all of our doctors are Protestant, evangelical, born-again Christians who openly shared their faith,” Franklin recalls. “He didn’t have any problem with that. He told me how desperately they needed the help.”
After months of discussions, Franklin landed in neighboring Honduras, where he was welcomed by Salinas along with a small, smiling acquaintance attired in a guayabera shirt. Together, they quickly departed in a four-wheel-drive vehicle to visit a Contra field hospital in a remote region along the Nicaraguan border.
Several hours later they stopped for a meal at a tiny, worn roadside store. Franklin and Salinas had talked almost nonstop, while Salinas’ friend had said very little. Franklin decided to engage him in conversation, and he was surprised to learn that Ruben was a Southern Baptist evangelist from Dallas, Texas.
“What are you doing here?” Franklin asked.
“I’m preaching to the Contras, and I have seen many of them come to faith in Christ.”
Ruben explained how the Lord had answered his prayers to be used by God in a part of the world where no one else wanted to go. He left his home in Texas for a month at a time to preach to the Contras.
Franklin knew a divine appointment when he saw one.
“Ruben, these people are asking us to send doctors down here. If I do, would you be willing to go into the hospital and preach?”
“My brother, there is nothing I would rather do.”
In the following months, while Samaritan’s Purse doctors Dick and Lowell Furman operated day and night on wounded Contra soldiers, Ruben moved from bed to bed and shared the Gospel, telling soldiers how Jesus Christ is the only way to God. Many put their faith in the Savior.
“We took care of their wounds and tried to save lives,” Dick Furman said, “but Ruben was ministering to their souls. We shared our faith with the patients as we made our rounds while Ruben stayed behind and explained the truth of the Gospel. He loved to tell others about Jesus.”
Salinas recalled, “Ruben would kneel beside the hammocks or beds and pray. He helped many of our soldiers to die well, telling them to look up to the heavens and ask God for His gift of salvation.”
Still, one evangelist could only do so much, as the Contra forces took continued losses in the hot and humid jungles. Salinas knew more was needed, so he approached Franklin about starting a chaplain training program. “Would you help us start a chaplain corps for our army?” he asked.
Franklin agreed, and a training center was built directly behind the clinic. The chaplain selection process was challenging. Contra leaders randomly picked out 140 of their men to train, many of whom were not believers. But within months, all the chaplains heard and responded to the preaching of the Gospel.
They all asked to be baptized, and a pit was dug into the jungle ground and filled with water. One by one, they stepped into the muddy hole–most clad in camouflaged uniforms–and emerged with tremendous smiles after Ruben baptized them.
By the war’s end, Ruben had discipled nearly a thousand chaplains. As the war quieted in 1990, the chaplains dispersed to their hometowns and planted churches. Today, these churches stretch across Nicaragua, evangelizing the lost and encouraging the believers.
“This is the size of the ministry of Brother Ruben Guerrero,” Salinas told the crowd of family and friends gathered to celebrate Ruben’s home-going. “He risked his life for Christ, and he was never afraid to say, ‘God is the only way.’ Thank you, Lord, for sending us Ruben Guerrero at the time when Nicaragua needed him the most.”