Posted by: calloftheandes | November 14, 2016

Latinos Embrace Role in World Evangelization

henry1by Ralph Kurtenbach

 “The Church,” said Carl F. H. Henry, a Christian thinker and first editor-in-chief of Christianity Today magazine, “is in position, in a way it has never been before, for a global witness. A great deal depends upon what we do with that opportunity.”

Henry’s statement to Discipleship Journal more than 30 years ago offered an early glimpse to a new horizon of missions—the involvement of Christians from the Global South. People from nations where the gospel has been presented for centuries have in turn joined the ranks of those carrying the message of Jesus Christ elsewhere in the world.

From Jerusalem when the gospel first began to spread, the epicenter of Christianity had moved steadily west and north. Mission scholars attribute the Western missionary movement to an Englishman, William Carey, whose pamphlet in the late 18th century was titled, “An Inquiry into the Obligation of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathen.”

Instrumental in the formation of the English Baptist Missionary Society, Carey began doing mission work now deemed as the beginning of world evangelization. Some 150 years after his groundbreaking work, the face of missions began to see more cross-cultural ministry by Africans, Asians and Latinos. The geographical center of Christianity has steadily shifted east and south since 1970.

“You sometimes wonder if the results [of mission involvement] and dividends are worth it all,” said Dr. Abe Van Der Puy in 1977 at a meeting in Ecuador when he was serving as president of the mission agency Reach Beyond (formerly HCJB Global). “Well, [Ugandan Bishop] Festo Kivengere stands as a beautiful example of what’s happening in the Third World today.”

“God has not only saved him [and] brought him into a position of leadership—wonderful exposition of the Scriptures—but now God is bringing him back to our own lands—the lands that send out the missionaries—to bless their hearts again,” Van Der Puy explained. Kivengere brought several keynote addresses during the mission agency’s annual members’ meetings in Ecuador.

Luis Palau: The Gospel Goes from South to North

Van Der Puy also referred to the Argentine evangelist Luis Palau, saying that “it was through a missionary witness that Luis Palau and his family came to a living relationship with the Lord Jesus. Now [he] is coming back to North America and to Wales, and to Europe—there to present the message of the Word of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Having heard, understood and responded to the news of Jesus’ love, churches in Africa, Asia and Latin America are now sharing the gospel across borders and in countries of the world where access by Western missionaries can prove difficult or even dangerous. Global South churches and individuals make up the newest missionary sending force, representing a vision and effort that has been building for decades.

Phillip Jenkins, a professor of history at Pennsylvania State University, wrote in “The New Faces of Christianity: Believing the Bible in the Global South,” that 60 percent of the estimated two billion Christians in the world live in Africa, Asia, or Latin America. (An excerpt of Jenkins’ book appeared as the article “Shall the Fundamentalists Win?” in the December 5, 2006 edition of Christianity Today.) By the year 2050, according to Jenkins, there are expected to be some 3 billion Christians with 75 percent of them in the Global South.

Shouldering the Missions Task with Latinos

from-jerusalem-to-irian-jayaLatinos—dedicated, committed and increasingly more equipped—have firmly placed themselves within this global spread of Christianity. In some ways, the very fact of being Hispanics gives Latinos an advantage over their counterparts from North America and Western Europe. For one, their passports may generate less negative reaction. As well, their views on societal and family relationships parallel views held by many in the Middle East.

“The day of the Western missionary is certainly not over,” wrote Ruth Tucker in From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya. “But the task of world evangelism is being shouldered to a greater and greater extent by Christians from Third World countries.”

Tucker’s 1983 book—published at a time when Carl Henry lauded the Global South trend in missions—devoted a chapter to non-Western missionaries (Kivengere, Palau and Rochunga Pudaite) and their work. The chapter began with the ministry of Korean believers, a maturing church that Henry noted as the fastest growing in greater Chicago.

“One of the heartening developments is that in the Third World some traditionally receiving countries are becoming missionary-sending countries,” said Henry. “They are now giving encouragement to the West at a time when the light has seemed to be lowering in the West.”

Confronting Realities as Latin Churches Send Workers

Decades later in 2003 in Panama City, Panama, Brazilian theologian Valdir Steuernagel told nearly 700 young adults, “You are a generation that when you think of missionaries, you think of sending instead of receiving.” He contrasted contemporary times with the past, saying, “You can see the church grow and explore while the church of our fathers was small and had an inferiority complex.”

Missionary journalist Ken MacHarg wrote of two conflicting trends that converged at the Panama conference, LATINA 2003. Latin and Caribbean churches were showing “a strong effort to send home-grown and home-financed missionaries to the Middle East and Asia” even as surveys showed decreasing interest in pursuing ministry work. The number showed that 17 percent of young Latinos considering a ministerial vocation in a 1988 study, dropping to just 3 percent in a 2002 study—a loss of 14 percent in 15 years.

Latin America Mission (LAM) in 2003 called together nearly 100 Latino pastors and leaders, along with missionaries and mission agency representatives, to explore the needs and appropriate form that missions should take in the 21st century. (LAM was merged into United World Mission known as UWM in 2014.)

The pastor group’s corporate document or “affirmation” stated that “Latin America is no longer solely a missionary destination for North American believers. We are co-participants in the mission given by God.”

With translation by Allen Graham (left) Reach Beyond President Wayne Pederson inaugurates Corrientes. (archive photo)

With translation by Allen Graham (left) Reach Beyond President Wayne Pederson inaugurates Corrientes. (archive photo)

‘A Vision of the Latin American Church’ to Send Missionaries

Several years later in 2009, Reach Beyond and other mission agencies* inaugurated Corrientes (Currents) to train Latin American missionaries to take their faith to places where Western missionaries aren’t as effective. At a 2009 ceremony, David Johnson, then serving as president of Reach Beyond, told of how “this has been a vision of the Latin American church for many years.”

Carlos Scott, an Argentinian and then president of COMIBAM, an organization that supports mission agencies in Latin America and Spain, reminded those at the Corrientes launch that it was in Galilee that Jesus gave the Great Commission. Galilee—marginalized and on the periphery—was similar to Latin America. The Lord used that place to announce the greatest calling—the call to missions. “I want to be focused on where God’s heart is focused—on the unreached,” Scott related.

“As Corrientes came into being many brains were picked from people all over the world,” said the program’s current director, Dr. Carlos Pinto in Quito, Ecuador. “And in part, out of this came three main areas of hoped-for input into the Latin American missionary movement.”

Carlos Scott

Carlos Scott

Pinto is a Peruvian UWM missionary on loan to Reach Beyond. He listed Corrientes’ aims as the following: a. development of individualized cross-cultural as well as practical training, based upon missionary candidates’ skills and needs; b. formation of agencies (“platforms” was his term) consisting of churches, organizations and individuals collaborating to support the missionaries, and “that these would be formed in each area of Latin America.” A third desired input was for: c. development of quality care for Latino missionaries, their children and extended family members.

After a period of mentoring through Corrientes, Latinos have begun ministry work in such places as Eastern Europe, North Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia Pacific as well as Latin America. With Christianity as their foundation, they work as healthcare professionals, community development workers, teachers and church planters.

Blending Medicine with the Gospel

Meanwhile in Quito, Pinto’s wife, Becki, facilitates a group for Ecuadorian doctors, nurses, and other professionals interested in missions and individually mentors some of them. The group studies La Solución Salina (The Saline Solution) by Reach Beyond board member Dr. Walt Larimore and William Peel. It apprises doctors and nurses of ways to lead into spiritual conversation with patients.

One participant, Dr. Paulyna Orellana, while on a 2011 trip to treat cholera victims in Haiti, talked with two patients near death and they eagerly accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior.

Corrientes mentors—local pastors, seasoned Western missionaries and others—work with missionary candidates in spiritual formation, biblical studies, bi-vocational skills, cross-cultural relationships and language acquisition. They specifically concentrate on preparing missionaries for change and cross-cultural differences, especially among Muslims.

Additionally as part of another ministry endeavor, Reach Beyond staff members attend an unusual “floating missions conference” in Misión a Bordo (Mission Aboard) in Peru each year on a 24-by-90-foot riverboat. El Evangelista (The Evangelist), a 24-by-90-foot riverboat owned by Iglesia Evangélica Misionera de Pucallpa (Evangelical Missionary Church of Pucallpa), is used during this venture. These journeys on the Ucayali River blend medicine with missions and incorporate shore-side stops at remote communities.

Counting the Cost of Christian Work by Latinos

A Mexican missionary couple serving in a restricted Middle East country financed their work with a business endeavor there—selling educational supplies. Marco and his wife, Romy (not their real names), used the distribution enterprise as a means of obtaining visas, a venue for making contacts and a source of income for other local and foreign workers who have joined them in their ministry.

Tent-making hearkens back to one of the earliest missionaries, the Apostle Paul, whose living costs were at times met by applying his artisan skills in addition to support from early Christian churches throughout Asia Minor where he preached and taught.

Not only known throughout Latin America, the bi-vocational model of ministry is too often a necessity where mission giving is not a well-understood concept. Pastors and other Christian workers simply must rely on outside work to meet their families’ needs.

Renowned Latin American theologian Samuel Escobar observed earlier this year that “while, the numeric center of gravity in terms of Christian growth has shifted to the Global South, the fiscal center of gravity remains in the global North, though this might be changing.”

In Panama, Escobar told a conference of the World Evangelical Alliance that, “the concept and the practice of the ‘powerful’ bringing the good news to the ‘powerless’ is being rightly challenged,” adding that, “missionary and theological tasks have a global dimension wherein neither imperialism nor provincialism has a place.”

Thirty years earlier in Discipleship Journal, Carl Henry had observed that “In some places [of the world], one has tent-making ministries; in others the Church exists only underground.”

Reach Beyond’s newly inaugurated president, Steve Harling, in October visited Ecuador where he was introduced to four Latinos (from Colombia, Ecuador and Mexico) currently in mentorship with Corrientes.

“There’s a brave new spirit … a boldness in these young adults,” Harling said afterwards. “There’s a passion and a commitment to take the gospel and a willingness to sacrifice everything—including their own lives—for the sake of the gospel. I was so struck and inspired by the passion of these young missionaries.”

*Latin America Mission, IMB, SIM, Paraclete Mission Group, the International Christian Mentoring Network and numerous Ecuadorian churches and agencies


  1. […] appearing in the film are Margarita Cuichan (staff member at Corrientes, Reach Beyond’s Latin American missionary mentoring program), Evangeline and Keren Gregorich (Dwight and Tamara’s daughters), Geoff Kooistra, Katherine Perez […]

  2. […] mature in their biblical understanding, their grounding in the Bible is deepening. Their grasp of Latin American believers’ growing role in worldwide missions is also greater than ever […]

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