by Miguel A. Palomino
The Church has witnessed many changes during the past century. One of the most dramatic has been the massive growth of Christianity in the non-Western world—Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, certain parts of Asia and the Pacific Islands.
The Church has witnessed many changes during the past century. One of the most dramatic has been the massive growth of Christianity in the non-Western world—Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, certain parts of Asia and the Pacific Islands. The majority of Christians now live outside the West (Walls 1996). In fact, the world’s largest evangelical congregations are now in places like South Korea and Brazil. While it is difficult to find accurate statistics on the current number of evangelicals in Latin America (Cleary 2004), estimates range from ten to fifteen percent in many countries, and more than twenty percent in Guatemala.
The dramatic growth of evangelicalism in Latin America is not only affecting the continent, but it is also having an impact on North America and Europe through the immigrants who are flocking north in great numbers. Spain, for instance, the imperial power that conquered much of South America five hundred years ago, is now receiving thousands of Latino immigrants who want to live in la madre patria (“the mother land”). As political conflict and economic recession continue to plague much of Latin America, more people will flee their countries, in search of a better life somewhere else. The situation in Peru, my homeland, provides a case in point.
Government official reports state that the main Peru [sic] export is neither cotton nor copper, but Peruvians. Almost one million Peruvians have fled the country and established themselves in foreign lands as illegal immigrants. The favorite destination is the United States, where 500,000 Peruvians now reside. There are 52,000 in Spain, 50,000 in Japan, 50,000 in Italy… According to the authorities, there is no country in the world where Peruvians are not found (La República, 1999).
Missiologists are recognizing that this mass migration of peoples is creating a paradigm shift in modern missiology. The immigrants who are moving north can often more easily relate to the problems faced by the poor and oppressed. The South-to-North migration could prove to be instrumental in the completion of the Great Commission. As former Regions Beyond Missionary Union missionary Estuardo McIntosh put it:
According to official statistics, 200,000 Peruvians leave the country every year. We know there is a 5 percent of [sic] evangelical population in Peru. If we took the hypothesis that evangelicals are also fleeing, then we have around 10,000 “missionaries” per year leaving from Peru. Obviously, this pattern surpasses any other “formal” pattern of mission. (PUCEMAA, 1990)
A DIFFERENT MODEL FOR MISSION
The new immigrant missionaries do not necessarily follow the patterns set by American and European mission agencies. Their model is one that reflects the ethos of Latin American culture and the Latino church’s understanding of the Great Commission. Still, questions remain. Just how many cross-cultural Latino workers are there? What type of missionaries are they?
Brazil, which has by far the largest evangelical community in the region, has become a major missionary-sending nation. According to COMIBAM (Congreso Misionero Ibero Americano), there were 2,803 Brazilian missionaries serving on six continents in 2002. Of that number, 303 were serving in Europe, along with the more than five hundred missionaries from the other Latin American countries (see charts).
These Latino workers are often people with experience in urban ministry, but they are typically not missionaries in the way westerners conceive of the term. “Missionaries” from Latin America fall under three broad categories (Palomino, 1993).
1. Itinerant missionaries—ordinary lay believers who leave their native countries to seek a better life for themselves and their families. Like members of the first-century church (Acts 8:4), these Christians take their evangelistic zeal with them wherever they go. As evangelism is their lifestyle, they cannot stop proclaiming Christ.
2. Informal missionaries—those who make use of their Latin penchant for improvisation and adaptation. They are driven only by the immediate needs they see in the field. They rarely receive support from their home churches, so they tend to be bi-vocational, holding full-time jobs and using their spare time to plant and develop churches which generally resemble the congregations they left behind.
3. Conventional missionaries—men and women who are sent by their home churches to do mission work among a particular people group. All too frequently the sending church will have the unrealistic expectation that their missionaries will quickly produce “results.” In many cases, the conventional missionaries have some theological education but have little or no training or experience in learning new languages and cultures because their churches still have little understanding of overseas missions. If some financial support is promised by South American congregations, it may drop off after a short period. The financially abandoned missionary may then try to join any American or European agency in order to continue doing his or her job.
Some conclusions can be drawn from these categories:
• All three types of Latin American missionaries bring qualities that are great contributions to the Western church. Faith, vision, a pioneering spirit, new ideas, willingness to live on the edge, revival fire and passion are just a few examples.
• Latin American missionaries are apparently driven mainly by their desire to win men and women for the kingdom of God, and do not worry too much about implementing a holistic ministry in the communities where they are serving. It seems that many still need to sort out the difference between the “missionary spirit” and the “spirit of adventure.”
• A great number of Latin missionaries are coming to Europe or North America with the intention of not returning home. Although more research needs to be done in this area, evangelical church leaders are confirming this trend.
• The lack of theological and missiological training among “itinerant” and “informal” missionaries eventually hinders their ministry. Their missiology is intuitive rather than structured. Though this model has its strengths, many wish they had the training and biblical knowledge necessary for more productive ministry.
Since there are really no precedents from a previous generation of Latin American missionaries, Latinos today are essentially shaping a new model of missions that may seem unusual to Europeans.
In October 1998, the Evangelical Missionary Alliance (EMA) met near London to hold a forum called Supporting the Development of Latin American Mission. Forty people representing fifteen different organizations working in Britain met for this one-day consultation. Their conclusions address the implications of the Latin American missionary wave for the British church.
• Make theological training accessible to Latinos at a price they can afford.
• Encourage British churches to “adopt” Latin missionaries. This would help to reduce any lingering perception of imperialism.
• Help them to sort out emotions from long-haul commitment.
• Make contacts to place missionaries on the field.
• Provide sensitive pastoral care on the field.
• Provide debriefing and member-care facilities when traveling back home.
• Make crisis counseling available in Britain for missionaries returning from war zones and trauma situations.
It has been said that Christians are people born into community (family) and brought into community (church) by a God of community (Trinity). In practical terms, community involves relationships—connecting with others, learning from others, sharing with others, rejoicing with others and struggling with others.
The evangelical church in Europe can provide and receive tremendous benefit by sharing its two hundred-plus years of missionary experience with those Christian workers coming from Latin America. By networking with these Latinos, European evangelicals will learn to more effectively deal with issues such as poverty, violence and spiritual warfare. Networking, then, is a two-way street; one that can benefit both parties engaged in missions.
Some church leaders have begun talking about the need for effective consultants to help churches that are charting new missions territory. Richard Houston, a former missionary to Colombia, says:
Consulting represents a new role for mission agencies…and one that is becoming increasingly important. Some missiologists have identified this type of enabling ministry as one of the most significant contributions that North America mission agencies can make toward the future of world missions. (Houston, 1999)
The idea behind consulting is that an outside observer can often more accurately diagnose a problem and help a church or missionary achieve goals by providing them the right tools to accomplish them. The methods used in consulting may vary, but they usually involve suggesting training programs, introducing a candidate to missionary boards and agencies and offering informational resources. Regardless of the method, partnership is crucial for the success of any consultant—working side by side to enable the missionary to develop his or her own skills and plans.
Former missionaries may find consulting an attractive and feasible ministry today. It does not fit the traditional image of missionary work, but it can be enormously helpful for the younger generation of mission workers who covet the experience and wisdom of their predecessors.
New missionary winds are blowing into Europe from Latin America. The rapidly growing and maturing Latino church is fostering a vigorous, indigenous missionary movement that is at work in nations once regarded solely as missionary-senders.
“Casi un millón de compatriotas ilegales.” La República. 8 February, 1999.
Cleary, Edgard. 2004. “Shopping Around: Questions About Latin American Conversions.” International Bulletin of Missionary Research, 28:2:51-52.
Houston, Richard. 1999. “Navigating Uncharted Waters.” Encounter Magazine 6:1: 4.
International Urban Associates. n.d. World Mission Has Come to America. Chicago, Ill.
Palomino, M. A. 1993. “Misionología desde América Latina,” CLADE III. Buenos Aires: Fraternidad Teológica Latinoamericana.
PUCEMAA. 1990. 7 Ensayos de la Realidad Misiológica en América Latina. Lima: PUCEMAA.
Walls, Andrew. 1996. The Missionary Movement in Christian History. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books.
Miguel A. Palomino is a Peruvian ordained minister with the Christian & Missionary Alliance (CMA). He has extensively traveled throughout Europe training Latino pastors and church leaders. He is currently the director of the Facultad Teológica Latinoamericana Alianza (FATELA), a CMA graduate school of theology and mission working in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. He and his family reside in Miami.
EMQ, Vol. 41, No. 1, pp. 24-29. Copyright © 2005 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS). All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.