Posted by: calloftheandes | May 7, 2015

Latin American Church Leaders Wrestle with Current Issues as They Look to the Future

      For Marithza Andagoya, several years of living in North America had blunted some of the piercing tragedies of her own Ecuadorian culture. However, jarring reminders of social ills such as domestic violence in Latin America again became poignant as she attended a recent conference involving church leaders from the region.

“When we talked to other leaders from different parts of Latin America [domestic violence] was a main issue,” said Andagoya, who characterized her pre-conference appraisal of the pervasive problem as “something we had overcome.”

Afterwards, she said she views domestic violence as a problem that institutions, including governments, are trying to address, but sadly “within the church it’s still a big issue.”

Andagoya and her Chilean husband, Javier Sepulveda, took part in Consulta Quito 2015 in Ecuador March 23-27, joining 39 Christian leaders from the U.S. and across Latin America, a region stretching from Mexico to Chile.

Quito is her hometown and the city where she and her husband graduated from the biblically based Christian Center of Communications (CCC) at Reach Beyond, a three-year university program that closed in 2013. They presently reside in Ontario, Canada, where Sepulveda is pursuing his doctorate in Spanish studies.

The church’s response to same-sex marriage legislation also surfaced at the conference, in a region where such unions have been legalized in some countries. According to Andagoya, there were four general themes that appeared in the conference: the present lack in training for church leaders; the need for Christian mentoring; the need for qualified youth leaders to help ensure a strong Latin America church in the future; and women’s involvement in church leadership.

Her list looked similar to that of U.S. pastor Ric Stanghelle who traveled to the event from Lindstrom, Minn., where he has pastored for 30 years. He assessed the experience as helpful “to hear the needs of the church in Latin America such as … to understand the mission of the church, [observe] models for disciple-making, and see the need for good teaching on the role of women, marriage and family as well as … for godly leaders who will work together to reach their world for Christ.”

Andres Ralek, left, with Javier Sepulveda

Andres Ralek, left, with Javier Sepulveda

Andrés and Elena Ralek, who had spent decades as Russian broadcasters at Radio Station HCJB in Quito, told about their new ministry in Argentina, ministering under the auspices of the Buenos Aires Presbyterian Church.

The Raleks are Reach Beyond missionaries, facilitating visits to local communities with medical volunteers, opening doors to share the gospel. Now serving the churches of the Toba-Qom indigenous group in northern Argentina, they help make medicines available and seek ways for people to have clean drinking water.

“The ‘prosperity movement’ and others promote complete dependence upon the mind and upon personal effort to grow, discarding the only authority that Christ has left us—His Word,” offered Andrés. “Consulta Quito helped us define ways toward the goal of multiplying the multipliers so that the church doesn’t die spiritually.”

A conference document drafted by attendees deals with the consultation’s general themes without offering specifics on addressing them within their contexts, Andagoya said. The term consulta (consultation) aptly characterized much of what occurred as Latin Americans from across the region spent time both listening and talking in the event at Radio Station HCJB. Small-group discussions (often four or five people) helped conferees shape their message which a spokesperson then articulated for the larger group.

Marithza Andagoya participates in discussion at Consulta Quito 2015

Marithza Andagoya participates in discussion at Consulta Quito 2015

In earlier settings (including Nigeria), Andagoya had led discussions on topics such as women in leadership and adult education while working for Development Associates International (DAI), one of the sponsoring organizations of Consulta Quito. Reach Beyond’s pastoral training ministry, Apoyo, and Brazil-based COGEIME (Methodist Global Education Fund) also co-sponsored the five-day event.

In her work at DAI—which is only occasional because she’s the mother of three children—Andagoya employs the cohort learning model in which participants learn from each other as they did during the event in Quito.

DAI, in partnership with different universities worldwide, strives to help people complete leadership courses and earn their master’s degrees. Others wanting to hone their leadership skills can opt to take the coursework without receiving university credits.

      Daneli Ureña and Jane Overstreet pray at Consulta Quito 2015

Daneli Ureña and Jane Overstreet pray at Consulta Quito 2015

DAI began shaping its leadership program in the 1990s after the Global Consultation on World Evangelization in South Korea in which African church leaders implored other Christians to help them develop as leaders. For several years including 2015, DAI has counted on the participation of David Johnson, a former president of Reach Beyond.

 Jane Overstreet, director of DAI, summarized her role as “learning what’s working well in leadership development and training in different places and then making sure everyone in the organization learns about that.”

Asked what she sees working well, she said while specifics of leadership training are changing, “it always revolves around people helping other people grow.”

“God is doing some amazing things in Latin America, and He wants His church to be stronger and even more able to spread His kingdom,” Overstreet observed, adding that Christians need to pray “that God would continue to help strengthen them and enable them to do the things that they’ve resolve this week to do.”

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