by Ian & Heather Walton
Ian and Heather (Canada) serve in Belize.
We live in the Central American country Belize, about 15 miles outside Belize City, on the southern highway near a small village called Hattieville. As with most ministries, ours has evolved over the years and continues to do so as we get to know the assemblies, the area, the people and the needs better.
When we moved to Belize in 2018, our two sons, Jaykob and Caleb, came with us and we are thankful both boys could serve with us. In 2019, our oldest returned to Ontario to complete his education and has since graduated and is working as a registered nurse. In 2020, our youngest son returned to Ontario and now works as a heavy-duty diesel mechanic. Our empty nest opened our eyes to a few new ministry opportunities, which we hope to pursue in God’s time.
Belize’s official language is English but most people speak English-based Belizean Creole or Spanish. Among this population of more than 412,000 people, life expectancy averages about 75 years and the leading religion is Roman Catholicism.1 Tourism and agriculture are the main sources of income and employment. Belize is best known for its exports of seafood, sugar, citrus and bananas but it imports large quantities of equipment, food, fuels and chemicals.2
God Says, ‘Go!’
Our family’s journey into mission started in 2010 but the doors didn’t open until 2018. We felt the Lord was calling us to Zambia and Kenya respectively but those doors closed. Early in our journey, Heather came across a quote that helped us accept God’s perfect timing: ‘If the request is wrong, God says, “No.” If the timing is wrong, God says, “Slow.” If you are wrong, God says, “Grow.” But, if the request is right and the timing is right and you are right, God says, “Go.”’
Over those eight years, while we were waiting for God to open doors, we continued to pray and push forward, knowing that if God had called us to mission then everything would fall into place in His perfect time. In 2011, someone gave us a wall text that read, ‘Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him’ (Ps 37:7). It was a fitting verse then and continues to be relevant every day. In 2017, over the Christmas holidays, as a family, we travelled to Belize for two weeks to work alongside Sean and Vera O’Byrne (Canada) and help with a youth rally hosted by Grace Chapel in Belize City. Even before the trip, it became apparent that the Lord might be leading us to more than a two-week mission trip. We met with our elders about what the Lord had been showing us, which did not surprise them. On our return, we had another meeting with them to discuss how the Lord had reassured us of our calling to Belize. Our church officially commended us in February 2018. Ian retired at the end of July and we landed in Belize in September – with the Lord’s help it came together so smoothly.
Salvation by Grace through Faith
There are six brethren assemblies: Grace Bible Chapel and Berea Bible Chapel are located in Belize City, Western Paradise Bible Chapel is eight miles outside the city, Bethany Bible Chapel serves Burrell Boom, and Pomona and Gales Point in southern Belize each hold a meeting. Something that isn’t unique to Belize is the missing generations in the church – there are few younger men and women to carry on the Lord’s work. Some assemblies have an aging population that makes their future a great concern.
with the Lord’s help it came together so smoothly.
Churches own many of the primary and secondary schools in Belize but there are some government schools. Grace Primary School (GPS), owned by the Belizean assemblies, has two campuses in Belize City. For many of the schools, including GPS, the government sets the rules and regulations, provides the curriculum and pays the salaries of the teaching staff and administrators. The school’s owner, however, is responsible for maintaining a school board as well as all capital and operating expenses. Grace Primary School is allowed to impose a tuition fee but it can be difficult to collect those fees, which, at times, can make operating the school a challenge.
Religion and knowledge of God are widespread here with most well-known religions being represented. We also encounter a lot of traditional beliefs and cultural practices that have been passed down through the generations. Sadly, the mixed messages and various teachings make sharing the gospel difficult. With the Lord’s help, we try to unteach the nonbiblical ideologies by showing that Jesus is the only way to Heaven and faith is enough for salvation: ‘For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast’ (Eph. 2:8-9).
Bread Becomes a Blessing
Early in 2021, we began Bread to Blessings Belize, a faith-based ministry supported by Christians around the world via MSC Canada. The name stems from Ecclesiastes 11:1, ‘Cast your bread upon the waters, for you will find it after many days.’ Our vision is to bring glory and honour to God, to spread the gospel, to put Christian faith into action through service to the community and to enable others to join in this ministry. Our mission is to assist with physical and spiritual needs, to spread God’s love, encourage believers and share the truth of humanity’s greatest need – that of salvation.
Heather loves to bake bread, which has become a large part of our ministry. We have used loaves of her fresh bread as gifts with invitations to a gospel meeting or tracts attached, which we give to strangers or our neighbours. Every Friday, we hand out meals to the homeless and less fortunate in Belize City. We pack two of Heather’s homemade buns with meat and cheese, a banana, a dessert and a water pouch.
For Christmas 2021, Heather made blessing bags that contained a calendar, a bar of soap, a mini first-aid kit, tissues and a rain poncho. We offered each person who participated in the Friday ministry a Blessing Bag along with a packed lunch. One of our recipients asked if we could purchase some reading glasses for him because he wanted to read the Bible we had given him. When we gave him the glasses, he said that doctors had told him he had only a short time to live. We told him about salvation and he prayed, asking God to forgive his sins. A few weeks later, we found out he had died. Last year, we started an education sponsorship programme under Bread to Blessings where families could send in applications, informing us of the tuition, book and uniform costs of each of their children. We assisted 18 students from nursery-aged children to university students.
Another area of our ministry is importing and distributing gospel tracts and Bibles in English and Spanish. We use them ourselves but also provide them for other ministries. Ian helps a group called Hand in Hand Ministries with building houses for families. Through this ministry, he has had some great conversations and has given out Bibles and gospel tracts. With help from local believers, Ian also renovated the bathrooms at Grace Chapel and enclosed a shelter at Western Paradise Bible Chapel.
Apart from the ministries under Bread to Blessings Belize, Ian is busy with speaking engagements, preaching once or twice a week at our assembly and sharing a short message and song time at a retirement home. Ian also plans to help some of the surrounding assemblies and Heather is involved in a women’s ministry and our local Sunday school, as well as in the baking and cooking for the packed lunches and various get-togethers. Jesus said, ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age’ (Mt. 28:19-20).
- for the growth and development of the assemblies
- for the importing of gospel materials
- for gospel outreach and discipleship
- for the meal and tract programme on Fridays and the weekly gospel meeting at the retirement home.