Former Mormon challenges cults in Central America mission trip
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)--One stark memory John Divito has from a recent trip to Belize was the buses that frequently rumbled past the home where he was staying.
The buses were not ferrying loads of eager tourists across the vacation paradise that is Belize but were transporting Jehovah’s Witnesses to worship in their assembly hall. Belize is home to one of the largest Jehovah’s Witness outreach centers in Central America.
“Those buses were a daily reminder of the problem of cults in Belize, and it saddened me to see how many people were being deceived by the Watchtower Society,” Divito said.
Belize -- a small English-speaking nation on the east coast of Central America -- is fertile ground for cult activity, with Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons exerting a notable influence.
Divito, a master of divinity student at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, knows one of the major cults as something of an insider: He was converted to Christianity out of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormonism) while in college.
Today, Divito’s animating passion is teaching other Christians how to engage such sects as the Watchtower Society and Mormons with the Gospel of Christ. He spent the first part of August helping Christians in Belize understand more clearly the teachings and methods of the cults that pervade their culture.
“The tremendous ignorance among Christians in Belize -- especially pastors -- about biblical discernment and cults saddened my heart,” said Divito, who is studying applied apologetics at Southern’s Billy Graham School of Evangelism, Missions and Church Growth in Louisville, Ky. “Again and again I heard questions like, ‘You mean that Mormons aren't Christian?’
“All too often, their churches do not have the leaders that the Apostle Paul insists upon in Titus 1:9: ‘He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.’ The pastors seemed so hungry to learn more about God's truth. As I spoke in churches, they would take rapid notes on what I was saying, and they often asked for more resources to help them combat these errors.”
While in Belize, Divito sought to accomplish three tasks: to present his testimony as a former Mormon and teach on cults and biblical discernment; to assess the possibility of developing a regional apologetics center for Central America; and to meet with pastors and missionaries to determine how to overcome barriers in effective counter-cult ministry in a Third World setting.
Divito’s trip was sponsored by the Centers for Apologetics Research (CFAR), a ministry based in Capistrano, Calif., to equip Christians in the developing world for discernment, the defense of the faith and cult evangelism. His local church, Parkwood Southern Baptist Church in Clarksville, Ind., also commissioned him for service, while additional friends and churches helped offset the trip’s cost.
“I preached and taught in several churches, sharing the need for biblical discernment, explaining the differences between Mormonism and historic Christianity and warning them of the dangers of cults,” Divito recounted. “I also spoke at a pastor's prayer meeting on Mormonism and historic Christianity, including what they should expect their members to face as Mormon missionaries come knocking on their door.”
God also opened doors for Divito to proclaim the Gospel through the media during his nine days in Belize: He was interviewed by a Christian radio station and he appeared on a cable television show in Belize City.
“I really enjoyed the opportunities the Lord provided for me in the media,” he said. “In Punta Gorda, my radio discussion covered my background in Mormonism as well as the differences between Mormonism and the historic Christian faith. On the television show I was also interviewed about these things and was able to interact with callers regarding these important issues.”
A bus trip back to Belize City from one of his engagements afforded Divito an unexpected opportunity to share the Gospel one-on-one.
“While I was tired and listening to my MP3 player, someone sat down next to me and started talking to me,” he said. “Little did I know what God had in store!
“He asked me why I was in Belize, and this allowed me to begin talking about spiritual matters. I was able to share the Gospel with him on the bus, emphasizing that it is by grace alone that we are saved. For about an hour, we talked about Jesus Christ and what He accomplished on the cross. I love the opportunity that God gave me on this bus ride and still regularly pray for the man I met.”
Divito plans to continue serving as a counter-cult minister fulltime upon graduation from Southern; his family is in the process of becoming fulltime missionaries with CFAR.
“My passion in life is to glorify God through proclaiming His Gospel,” he said. “And members of cults and other religions need to hear the Good News of Jesus Christ as much as anybody.
“Therefore, I desire to bring the Gospel to them in a way they will understand. I also want to educate fellow Christians to understand what we believe as well as what we don't believe. But more than this, I yearn for mature believers who will reach out to cult members themselves with the message of salvation.”