by Tim Halls
The work that God is doing through the gospel in Latin America is reaching into the entire world.
According to Ted Limpic of COMIBAM (Cooperation in Missions from Latin America), Latin Americans have sent some 6,000 of their own missionaries to serve Christ in countries and cultures other than their own. A majority of these missionaries are making long-term, often life-long commitments to missionary service-and their numbers are growing fast. The implications for the future of the planet are enormous, as are the implications for our own missionary commitments and action.
Their impact on my own experience as a missionary and on my career has been decisive. When Lois and I went to Brazil as missionary recruits, we went at a special time. The explosion in the growth of the evangelical churches had just begun and we got to see major changes, especially in the countries where we served (Brazil and Guatemala) because of it. Increasing numbers of young people were responding to God's call to missions and overcoming tremendous barriers that would have kept them from becoming missionaries.
Little by little these barriers started coming down as more and more Latin Americans moved to distant places for the sake of the gospel. The lives and stories of Latin friends serving in other continents challenged us. They were finding ways to tell about Jesus in places where access to the gospel was severely restricted by the authorities and by customs.
Same Call, With a Difference
Our story was so different from the story of our Latin friends. When we left the U.S., we had a choice of mission agencies. We could speak to the leaders of those agencies in our native English. We had to raise our support, which included provisions for purchasing a vehicle, and many of the items we needed to set up house in a foreign land. Our churches understood what this meant and, with the help of family and friends, they helped pay the bill. We applied for a "missionary visa" and Brazil welcomed us with open arms.
But Latin Americans who heard God's call found that obedience required a higher level of commitment. In some cases, they had to establish the very mission agencies that would send them to the field. If they chose to go with one of the established "international" agencies they were told to learn English first and then apply. Since Latin agencies are new, finances can be sparse for the missionaries. Many missionaries from Latin America sell all they own to go to the field and live without the medical and retirement plans that we North Americans require, much less the vehicles and appliances that we consider essential.
They often head to countries that have no diplomatic relations with their own and in many places they are not welcome as missionaries. Latins, unlike North Americans, often discover that locals have never heard of their country. I remember standing with a Venezuelan missionary in Uzbekistan as he tried to explain to one of the locals where Venezuela was ("between the United States and the country where Pele came from")!
Many missionaries from Latin America have also headed for service among Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists. They are finding many open doors for the gospel among people groups which Americans and Europeans have traditionally avoided.
There is maturity among missions leaders in Latin America that is often ignored by the North American "missions industry" with its vested interest in training programs for third-world missions leaders. Some of the most creative and effective missionary training and sending programs today have been created under the leadership of Latin American Christians.
All is not perfect. Many missionaries to Latin America suffer from the "out of sight, out of mind" syndrome. The support of too many has dropped off suddenly, only a few months after they get to the field. Also, recent economic crises in Argentina, Venezuela and, to a lesser extent, Brazil, have affected the ability of churches in those countries to maintain support levels for their missionaries.
Fledgling mission agencies planted and rooted in Latin soil are facing imported competition from well-heeled agencies from the North who see the possibility of many new recruits from a dynamic and growing church in Latin America.
I almost forgot to tell you about PM Internacional. This is the most recent partnership agreement I have served under. A Mexican in North Africa and his Swiss friend founded PM Internacional. They were led by a conviction that God wants to use Latin Americans as part of His plan to give Muslims access to His love and healing power through Jesus. For the last three years, Latin America Mission (LAM) has made me available to PM Internacional to work under their leaders in tasks they have defined. PMI has over 100 missionaries serving in Muslim lands and they come from 15 countries of Latin America.
The breadth of the impact of this new missions movement from Latin America cannot yet be fully appreciated. Latin Americans are learning how Muslims think. They are praying for them. They are engaging in their lives and not withdrawing. Someday, Muslims who have come to Jesus through the witness of missionaries sent from Latin America will sing Jesus' praises alongside believers from among the poor and marginalized from Latin America. I want to be there when it happens!
By faith we know that behind the rise and fall of political powers and of the spiritual life of nations is the hand of God who moves history with a declared purpose. He longs that all nations will see and know that only the Lord is God, and that He is gracious and kind to those who are marginalized by the powers of this world. The expansion of the missionary outreach of the church now from Latin America (just as from Africa and China) might be part of a major new effort by God to bring "peace to all people of good will" as was promised at Christ's birth.
Latin America Mission News Service.
<![if !supportEmptyParas]> <![endif]>
Kenneth D. MacHarg
Communications Coordinator/Missionary Journalist
Latin America Mission
P.O. Box 52-7900
Miami, FL 33152
<![if !supportEmptyParas]> <![endif]>