by EMQ Readers
Highest kudos to EMQ for featuring a less popular “mission field,” i.e. Latin America (LA) (July 2003 issue).
Highest kudos to EMQ for featuring a less popular “mission field,” i.e. Latin America (LA) (July 2003 issue). LA is not as attractive or “strategic” or fundable for North Americans as Russia was 15 years ago (now fading), or anywhere around the 10/40 Window and the unreached/under-reached peoples and cities of the world. It was refreshing (for one born in LA and 30 years living there) to welcome Esco-bar’s inimical panorama (nobody can survey LA better than he), plus the three “case studies,” two short side bars, all topped by the comprehensive Web resource overview.
Thank God Latin America just will not go away. The Church of Christ is there in supernatural power—in the midst of critical issues—and the Spirit invites the global church—LA and expat—to invite the creation of new ways of doing and being church and mission, of creative and collaborative ministry wineskins.
Engagement on a few items. Esco-bar’s highest value emerges from his comprehensive and historical perspective of his own continent, with the capacity and courage to graciously critique both society and church. In contrast to the usage in North America, the term “evangelical” in LA warmly embraces charismatic, Pentecostal and non-charismatic. Too many people in the North assume that Catholicism is the same worldwide. Bad assumption. And any pronouncements on evan-gelicals and Catholics in LA (especially from the North) must be generated with the substantive voices of those who live incarnationally in LA, where Catholicism now struggles to sustain its historic hegemony but the playing field has changed irrevocably. As long as the Roman church calls us “sects” we are farther than “separated brethren” in practical terms. Escobar’s concern about the crisis of leadership formation is spot on, and we desperately need new models. The overwhelming majority of evangelical pastors have no formal training, but in what ways are established theological institutions breaking out of their molds and creatively serving grass roots?
The Guatemala research project fascinates me, and it will be valuable to access the research instrument and the complete report. The implications should profoundly disturb all Christian leaders in LA, though I was a bit confused with all of the percentages and statistics. What kind of a gospel and what kind of a church has generated such biblical ignorance and even syncretism? It will be valuable to evaluate the study and learn how to adapt and replicate the study for the rest of LA. All the data must now be distributed and studied by the spectrum of evangelical leadership. These projects potentially can restructure both grassroots ministry equipping as well as formal models. I did wonder why the Central American Theological Seminary in Guatemala City, the largest theological institution in Latin America (1,437 students in both residential and distance study, from twenty-one countries in eleven different programs), was not even mentioned.
Latin America is a strong mission sending force, and the case study of the Radicals of Missao Horizontes is but one example of many autochthonous missionary training programs in Latin America, with the strongest models in Brazil. Their long-term staying power and effectiveness needs to be tested over the years. Of better value would have been a comparative study with Pueblos Musulmanes Internacional, the most substantive long-term Latin society working among Islamic peoples. At the same time, LA mission leaders must grapple with the disturbing attrition of Latin long-term cross-cultural workers. Too many of them are returning to churches that cannot handle their unexpected homecoming, crushed by pain, burnout, disappointment or broken health.
The Costa Rica article reports on the profound concern expressed by insightful students of the LA Evangelical church—the back door exodus, recidivism, the reality of nominal, cultural evangelicals. Again, some confusing numbers. Gómez and Anderson must be read seriously. The article would have been strengthened with more interviews of Costa Rican and other Latin leaders, though Samuel Olson alone is a gold mine. Again, these studies are prime curriculum for all levels of leadership training in LA. While Costa Rica is a unique small country (which I love because I was born there), similar patterns of thin evangelicalism are present across the continent. What will it mean to “re-evangelize” this generation of cultural evangelicals? Have they been inoculated against the real gospel? Have evangelicals of all streams marketed a fast-food, costless, problem-solving, miracle-working Jesus? René Padilla’s words to me back in Costa Rica in 1969 still resonate when I asked his opinion about the rapid church growth in LA. “Ah, Guillermo. We must ask ourselves what do ‘church’ and ‘growth’ truly mean?”
I am astonished to read of the vast resources on the Web—and I do try to stay on top of things. The secular sources are unsurprising, so the real encouragement comes from learning of the Christian material. What would we do without Moreau and O’Rear’s column?
Two corrections: CONELA (p. 291) is no longer related to the World Evangelical Alliance (not Fellowship). Samuel Olson (p. 326) is primarily the pastor of the influential Las Acacias church in Caracas—pastoring pro- and anti-government members. He also leads the Evangelical Alliance of Venezuela as well as the new WEA-related FIDE (Foro Iberoamericano para el Diálogo Evangélico), a network of leaders of LA national Evangelical alliances.
Finally, I recommend to our readers the following key publications:
Escobar, Samuel. 2002. Changing Tides: Latin America and World Mission Today. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books.
Gómez, Jorge I. El Crecimiento y la Desercion en la iglesia evangelica costarricense.
Publicaciones IIDEF: San José, Costa Rica, 1996. A disturbing analysis of evangelicals in a small but key country. What happened to cause such attrition with the survey evidence reporting 12.1 percent former Protestant/Evangelical? And what can be done now?
Jenkins, Philip. 2003. The Next Christendom: the Coming of Global Christianity. Paperback.
Núñez, Emilio Antonio, and William David Taylor. 1996. Crisis and Hope in Latin America: An Evangelical Perspective, revised edition. William Carey Library. Still the most comprehensive survey of Latin history, culture, religion, peoples, as well as the Evangelical world—churches, theology, mission, future.
—William D. Taylor, executive director, World Evangelical Alliance Missions Commission.
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