by Kenneth D. MacHarg
Kenneth MacHarg helps us stay up to date by describing recent stories of Christians in Mexico, Brazil, Ecuador, Colombia, Peru, Venezuela, El Salvador, Chile and Argentina.
Latin America Mission, P.O. Box 52-7900, Miami, FL 33152, 2001, 243 pages, $8.00.
—Reviewed by Lindy Scott, associate professor, foreign language department, Wheaton College, Wheaton, Ill.
Latin America is one of the most vibrant areas of Christianity in our world today. So much is happening south of the border that it is difficult to keep up with all of the changes. Kenneth MacHarg helps us stay up to date by describing recent stories of Christians in Mexico, Brazil, Ecuador, Colombia, Peru, Venezuela, El Salvador, Chile and Argentina. He also includes a chapter on Miami (in which he deals with the controversy surrounding Elian Gonzalez), an overview of Latin America, and a chapter with his own reflections on the Latin American church. Many of these chapters involve missionaries with the Latin America Mission and were previously published in LAM News Service, Latin America Evangelist, Christianity Today and various newspapers. The stories cover a wide range of Latin American social and economic realities, from ministry to the “down and out” in the slums to attempts to meet the needs of the “up and out” in wealthy neighborhoods.
As a journalist, MacHarg writes in a style that enables Christians to share their own stories. The strength of the book is when our Latin American brothers and sisters express candidly their opinions and views. For example, an evangelical leader in Colombia critiqued some of the religious changes taking place in his country. “Since Christianity as a Western religious mold takes advantage of a military imagery, there’s no wonder why the most dictatorial versions of it are making deep inroads into the Colombian society.” From the same country Grace Murillo reflects on her captivity at the hands of a guerrilla group. “I learned what it is like to walk as Jesus walked. Because others’ suffering has touched me, I can now participate in life in a new way. This has helped me to grow in sensitivity to racial and cultural issues.”
In a similar fashion MacHarg allows foreign missionaries to share their views, even when their opinions conflict. These differences are seen in a chapter within the Mexico section. One missionary lamented that “the socio-economic background makes our type of work a lot more difficult, a lot slower because the people have low education” and their “poverty makes for low self esteem.” On the next page another missionary refers to the same area and exclaims that “people in Mexico are definitely open to the Gospel, and people in the poor areas even more so.” In general, the author refrains from giving his viewpoint or reconciling these differences. He provides the background and then faithfully records people’s stories in their own words.
Readers will be enriched by these stories of contemporary Christianity in Latin America. Nevertheless, some might be disappointed by the lack of cultural sensitivity expressed by many of the foreign missionaries. More space given to our Latin American Christians would have balanced out the somewhat paternalistic tone of the missionaries. The author himself praises God for permitting him to learn from the people of God in Latin America “reaching out in the name of Christ to bring hope and to transform their lives.” He challenges his reading audience to learn similar lessons from our Latino sisters and brothers.
Check these titles:
Escobar, Samuel. 2002. Changing Tides: Latin America & World Mission Today. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books.
Bonino, José Mìguez. 1995. Faces of Latin American Protestantism. Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
Scott, Lindy. 1991. Salt of the Earth: A Socio-Political History of Mexico City Evangelical Protestants (1964-1991). Mexico City: Editorial Kyrios.
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