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Church of God Big Sandy sends board member to help UCG split in El Salvador
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Church of God Big Sandy sends board member
to help UCG split in El Salvador
By Bernie Monsalvo

The writer, a native of Argentina, attends the Church of God Big Sandy and has been a board trustee of the congregation since 1995. Mr. Monsalvo graduated from Ambassador College, Big Sandy, in 1992. He lives with his wife, Paula, in Gladewater.

GLADEWATER, Texas--Sometime in early December 2006, I received a series of E-mails from Reg Killingley, a friend who lives in Big Sandy, with information about the Church of God brethren from El Salvador.

Apparently there had been a split in the congregation there that was affiliated with the United Church of God an International Association (UCGIA), based in Milford, Ohio. See the November-December issue of The Journal for more information.

The location of the congregation, San Salvador, is the capital of the picturesque country in Central America.

The pastor of the congregation, Herberth Cisneros, longtime elder of the Worldwide Church of God and then the United Church of God, was disfellowshipped.

Many members of the congregation there say they were also disfellowshipped, although the UCGIA official who disfellowshipped Mr. Cisneros told The Journal that he did not disfellowship anyone besides Mr. Cisneros.

Presentation and decision

At the Church of God Big Sandy's regularly scheduled board meeting for December 2006, Mr. Killingley (who is a member of the congregation but not a board member) made a presentation to the seven trustees suggesting a visit to El Salvador to share with the brethren of the church there some experiences that the people of Big Sandy had in April and May 1998 that may be similar to the recent circumstances in El Salvador.

(For information on the Big Sandy split, see "Largest UCG Church Splits Over Governance," The Journal, May 31, 1998, and "UCG Big Sandy, After Split, Changing Bylaws," June 30, 1998.)

Although the circumstances weren't identical, the board decided that Big Sandy could help. Board members made a decision that the congregation would fund a trip that I would take to El Salvador as a board member.

Although the suggestion for the trip came from Mr. Killingley, and he is also a fluent speaker of Spanish, for personal reasons he could not go to El Salvador.

After a series of E-mails between Mr. Cisneros and me, I planned my trip for the weekend of Jan. 20, 2007.

Lively exchange

Before I left, Mr. Cisneros and I had a lively exchange of information including photographs, copies of bylaws, transcripts of old Journal articles, statements of beliefs, funding information, Web pages and activities appropriate for a local church.

Mr. Cisneros as pastor of the congregation would have to undertake a broader range of responsibilities than had been performed by the headquarters of his former association.

Another significant purpose of my trip was to answer questions from the congregation as the brethren wondered how things might work in a congregation with a new way of thinking about church governance.

They believed, and I agreed with them, that our congregational and personal experience would come in handy in fielding these types of questions.

For the record, each May and June members of the Big Sandy congregation select the seven members of the board.

The church's election committee submits the names of the top candidates among those who are willing to serve.

During the congregation's nominating process, the committee determines the top two names for each position that is open. Then, in the election, the congregation votes to make its selection.

Terms expire on June 30, but because of rotating terms of service not all positions expire at the same time.

The officers, selected by the trustees themselves from among those elected, are president, vice president, treasurer and secretary. The pastor attends all board meetings but is not a member of the board.

All meetings are open not only to the congregation but even to the public. Members of the congregation may add items to the board agenda through the president.

Getting acquainted

After an uneventful flight to Central America, I arrived in San Salvador at about 9:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 19.

Mr. and Mrs. Cisneros and their son Jadiel met me at San Salvador International Airport and took me to their home to spend the night.

The temperature in East Texas had been in the 30s, but in San Salvador the temperature was in the 70s.

By the way, San Salvador is 1,370 miles from Tyler, Texas, as the crow flies. In comparison, New York City is 1,314 miles away, and Boston, Mass., is 1,495 miles away.

Next day, Friday, I spent the morning and early afternoon getting acquainted with the family.

The Cisneroses have two daughters and two sons. Daughter Patricia and her husband, Rodolfo, have two daughters. Daughter Natalia and her husband, Edwin, also have two daughters.

The Cisneroses' son Walter and his wife, Lorena, also have two daughters. Their younger son, Jadiel, is not married. Perhaps he and his wife will also have two daughters.

The Cisneros household is characterized by a friendly and loving atmosphere of comings and goings of the daughters, sons-in-law and granddaughters. I heard frequent laughter, tasted good coffee and food and enjoyed fine fellowship during my four-day stay. The Cisneroses were wonderful hosts.

Bible-study night

The Sabbath began that Friday at about 6 p.m. Mr. Cisneros' custom is to hold an open Bible study at his residence in the family's ample living area.

People began to arrive early, bringing lots of sweets and finger foods.

During this time is when I first began to get acquainted with the members of this vibrant congregation.

They asked a lot of questions, wondering about what will happen to them next, how others around the world view their situation and why were these things happening to them.

Above all, the brethren were in the mood to work through the obvious immediate logistical problems and begin to plan for the feasts of Passover, Unleavened Bread and Tabernacles.

Mr. Cisneros' career

Mr. Cisneros has had a 30-year career as an elder: 20 years with the WCG and 10 years with the UCGIA.

He has conducted baptizing tours and raised churches in Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras and, of course, El Salvador. He has conducted many Feasts of Tabernacles in Costa Rica, Guatemala and El Salvador.

He was there as a comfort to the brethren at the time of a deadly earthquake in El Salvador in January 2001.

(See "Eight Church of God Members Die, 20 Families Homeless in Earthquake-Wracked El Salvador, The Journal, Jan. 31, 2001, and a photo of earthquake survivors in the San Salvador congregation in the March 30, 2001, issue.)

Mr. Cisneros also worked with UCGIA council-of-elders member Victor Kubik's LifeNets organization when someone donated a dental clinic to the people of El Salvador.

The events of 1998

We had a lively session. The brethren--now calling themselves simply the Church of God El Salvador--asked questions about the history of the Big Sandy congregation, specifically about events in 1998 after which the Big Sandy church was no longer associated with the United Church of God an International Association.

I explained that we never left the UCGIA; the UCGIA left us. We were there as a congregation in Big Sandy--for several weeks in 1995--before the UCGIA existed.

Yes, we did associate with the UCGIA, under the terms of the founding conference in Indianapolis, Ind., in the spring of 1995, but the UCGIA changed the rules in December 1995 when it adopted its new constitution and bylaws and, in my opinion, did not at the time make full disclosure to its affiliated congregations the implications of the new governing documents.

I and many others did leave the WCG in 1995. But in 1998 the United Church of God an International Association made the decision to leave the United Church of God Big Sandy (which a year later began calling itself simply the Church of God Big Sandy).

As helpful background information, I like to point out that Bob Dick, chairman of the UCGIA's council of elders, wrote the Big Sandy congregation a letter dated May 13, 1998.

"In brief," Mr. Dick stated, "the local church is incorporated as a Texas corporation with its own governing board. The corporation and board consist of seven members with the pastor serving as the chairman. They view themselves as an independent church that has merely chosen to affiliate with UCGIA."

In the same letter, Mr. Dick mentioned that Big Sandy church members had left the WCG in 1995 "because of doctrine."

"There is no question that the structure of the [WCG] organization facilitated the introduction of heresy, yet how we would be governed was not the primary issue which brought us together," he wrote.

We in Big Sandy agree with Mr. Dick's assessment: that the primary reason for Big Sandy's original split from the WCG was doctrine, not governance.

[To be continued in a future issue of The Journal]

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