by Brad Walz
Changes have to come not only in the churches, but among the missionaries as well.
COMIBAM (Cooperacion Mis-ionera Iberoamericana) International is promoting a missionary movement from Latin America, convinced that Latin America is no more only a mission field but also a missionary force. More and more Latin Americans are leaving their countries to start a missionary career in other parts of the world.
COMIBAM has developed an Adopt-A-People department. Latin America has accepted the challenge to focus on reaching 3,000 of the remaining 12,000 unreached peoples in the world.
Brazil held a second consultation on unreached peoples last April, studying a book with 500 group profiles and adopting 200 of them. Puerto Rico held its first consultation last spring to consider adopting 55 groups. Costa Rica is preparing 10 teams of four people each for work among some of the 60 adopted peoples.
Consequently, church and mission leaders have identified four priorities: the training and preparation of missionaries; the formation of sending mission structures; methods and strategies to be used; and support needs, or self-support (tentmaking) plans. To this list I would like to add a fifth, which I believe is more important than the other four-the preparation of the local churches to send missionaries. How do we birth a missionary vision in the churches so that believers will willingly and joyfully support this new band of missionary volunteers? Until now our greatest problem has been that the churches have not been prepared to send missionaries.
Let me illustrate why I feel this overlooked priority is the most important. In July, 1992, I spoke at an interdenominational missions conference in Rosario, Argentina. I had been asked to speak on the preparation of the missionary, but I asked to speak instead on the preparation of the church to send the missionary. I told the committee that the problem we face is not how to prepare missionaries, but that our churches weren’t willing to send them.
My proposal was accepted, but for some reason they did not change the subject on the program. When I spoke, I explained why I had changed the focus. I said that when we focus on training missionaries, but do not train the church at the same time, we have prepared people who then have to face and clash with the lack of vision in their local churches. The result is a crop of frustrated missionaries, people who have a call and a vision, people who are prepared to go, but frustrated because their churches are not willing to send them.
I could not believe the response to my message. Many people came to me afterward and said, "I’m a frustrated missionary." This is just one example of what can happen if we overlook the priority of training our churches to have a missionary vision.
The reality is that the church in Latin America lacks missionary vision.
How do we account for this situation, especially in light of the tremendous expenditure of missionary work in Latin America over so many years?
First, there’s what I call the Genesis 3 factor. A believer once told me, "Missions is difficult for us in Argentina, because we have a different culture than you do in the United States." I disagreed with him and said, "It is difficult for us as well. Missions is difficult in every culture. We really have the same culture, though we have different customs. Our culture is that of Genesis 3: sin. There we see the nature of man: pride, selfishness, and rebellion. Missions goes against the center of human culture, of man."
Everyone is selfish. We care about ourselves and don’t worry about others. That’s what often happens in our churches. We suffer from spiritual selfishness. We care only about our church. If a church lacks a missionary vision, one reason may be its self-centered vision, rooted not in Christ but in Genesis 3.
A second reason for lack of missionary vision in the Latin American church is that it has a receiving, not agiving mentality. These churches have received much from North American and European churches-missionaries, Bible schools, money to build churches, and training. But after 50 or more years of receiving, many of them have subconsciously developed a receiving mentality that results in spiritual dependency. They have trusted more in the missionary dollar than in God and their own potential.
SPIRIT OF POVERTY
Third, in many Latin countries, because of severe economic problems, there is a spirit of poverty and inferiority. Instead of declaring, "We can do all things through Christ," Christians have said, "We can’t do this on our own. We don’t have the money to send missionaries. We aren’t rich like the Christians in North America."
However, the potential is there, waiting to be unleashed. If every Assemblies of God believer in Latin America gave $1 a month, we would have nearly $200 million a year, nearly double what our members give in the United States.
When we started to talk about sending a missionary to Spain, some believers simply said, "We can’t do it." I asked them, "How can 1,000 churches in the Assemblies of God of Argentina not have the ability to support a missionary for at least $1,000 a month?" That is only $1 per church per month. Certainly there are economic problems, but our churches have sufficient strength in numbers to send and support missionaries.
VISION NOT SOWN
The fourth reason is that we have not sown a missionary vision. What we sow we reap. There is no harvest because there was no sowing. Missionaries did not pass on their missionary vision to the churches they started.
They thought their small, young churches could not send missionaries to other countries. Besides, there was still a lot to do in this country.
Some missionaries just felt the Christians were incapable of doing what the North Americans were doing. Sometimes their vision for world missions ended with their own work in another culture. It did not include sending people on to another country.
One of our veteran missionaries, David Kensinger, who founded the foreign missions department of the Costa Rican Assemblies of God, wrote the following in 1975:
Clearly there is a phase in which we as Assemblies of God, together with existing missionary bodies, have failed in meeting the demand for the total evangelization of the world. It is my conviction that much of this failure is due to the fact that we have failed to carry the concept of the individual spiritual responsibility of every Christian to participate in missions to our converts on the foreign field. I have been amazed and somewhat saddened by the fact that though during our past furloughs here at home I have preached hundreds of so-called missionary messages to our people here in our churches in the States, encouraging them to give for missions, it was not until the beginning of this last term on the field that I preached those same messages to our Costa Rican Christians, encouraging them to also give of their missionary offerings to send the gospel to the whole world. As yet in all my 28 years of service, I have not heard any other missionary preach a missionary message with the purpose of encouraging Christians on the foreign field towards missionary giving. . . . Why should we withhold this equal opportunity and blessings from our Christians on the foreign field by failing to teach and preach to them and encourage them in their missionary giving to a lost world? (Hasta lo Ultimo, No. 3, 1992.)
Fifth, missionary vision is hindered by immaturity in the churches. We have emphasized the power of the Holy Spirit without considering the purpose of his power: to evangelize the world and fulfill the Great Commission.
I have taught Acts 1:18 in missions classes. One time a student said, "Professor, that verse isn’t about missions, it’s about the promise of the Holy Spirit." He soonrealized it was a classic missionary text.
However, as Pentecostals we often talk about the first words of Acts 1:8-receiving power-but ignore the whole purpose of the power, which is to do missions. A church without missionary vision is a church that has not matured in the knowledge of Scripture and the Holy Spirit.
In summary, then, a church with missionary vision does not think first of itself, but of others. The people have a mentality of generous giving. They have faith and the confidence they can send and support missionaries. They build missionary vision into the programs of the church and realize that the purpose of receiving the Holy Spirit is to do missions.
WILL THEY WORK WITH US?
We also have to admit to a number of reasons why some North American missionaries, churches, and their agencies have not been enthusiastic boosters of the burgeoning Latin American missions movement. We are nervous about our future working relationships with Latin missionaries. Will they work with us, or independently? We fear loss of control. Some of our national churches have chosen not to work with the U.S. Assemblies of God. We do not control them, but we can still have a positive influence. If they realize that we do not want to control them, they will be more open to our help.
HOW WILL IT AFFECT OUR CHURCHES?
We wonder about the effect of Latin churches sending their own missionaries on the support of our U.S. churches. Will the people in our churches think that we are no longer needed?
I have heard this fear voiced many times. But we can overcome it and, in fact, develop greater motivation in the U.S. It is great to thank people for giving to something that has produced such outstanding results. Our national churches are now so strong that they can join us in the world harvest field.
We can also challenge North American Christians to consider how Latin Christians are giving out of their poverty, out of their lack rather than out of their abundance. We have to examine our own values and the influence of materialism on us. This can motivate people to give more, not less.
ARE WE STILL NEEDED?
If our Latin churches send missionaries, what is our future there? Are we still needed? This question threatens insecure missionaries. But it should not be taken as a threat. It should be seen as an opportunity to update our roles in the light of new realities.
Of course, missionaries are still needed in Argentina, Korea, Singapore, and so on, but they must be the right kind of people to adjust to different roles than the pioneers had 50 years ago.
However, we do have to ask ourselves when our job will be done, so we can focus on newer fields. The main thing is not to be afraid of the new Third World missions movement just because we worry about our own futures.
ARE THE COMPETENT
This question about Latin missionaries arises almost automatically from our pride and arrogance. It reveals our North American bias. We have to admit that our national churches have a lot to teach us.
That’s what happened when a U.S. pastor friend of mine came to visit. He has one of the largest churches in his district. I took him to meet four Argentine pastors. Every one of them has a church larger than his. One was three times the size of his. He asked many questions. He came to them as a learner, not a teacher.
Our national churches many not have developed the sophisticated infrastructure that we have, the great buildings and huge budgets, the high-level academic degrees, but they have the same qualities our movement was built on. They believe in the power of God.
Of course, they make mistakes; so have we in our 80 years of history. They lack experience, but they will gain it. They may be immature in some areas. We sent missionaries 80 years ago, not out of competence, but out of faith, sacrifice, and obedience to God. These people are not only competent, they have much to teach us. Let’slook now at what happened in the Assemblies of God in Argentina.
DEAD AND BURIED
When we went to Argentina in 1989, our denomination’s six-year-old missions department was-in the words of assistant superintendent Pedro Ibarra-about to be declared "dead and buried." The 1,000 churches of the Assemblies of God of Argentina gave $2,000. They had one home missionary.
In 1990 their giving grew to $26,000; in 1991 to $85,000; in 1992 to $200,000; in 1993 to $248,000; in 1994, giving continues to be about 30 percent ahead of last year. We now have over 50 missionaries, over 30 of them foreign. Eighteen pastors visited Spain and Russia in October, 1992, and since then there have been other trips by both pastors and young people doing short-term missions projects. We still have a long way to go, but the funeral music has stopped. What was behind this growth?
REASONS FOR GROWTH
We focused first on the vision, not on structure or preparation. We kept the challenge and goals reachable. For example, "It’s not what you don’t have, but what you do with what you have." And, "If every believer would give two pounds of bread a month (at that time about 50 cents), we would have over $2 million a year for missions." We emphasized that every church can do something.
We learned to focus on the positive. Even though only a few were open, we focused on them, not on those who were opposed, or those who talked a lot but did nothing. At first only a handful of churches were willing to get serious about making faith promises and giving. But gradually the small nucleus expanded.
We poured ourselves into key people. We concentrated on the president of the missions department. We took missions trips together. We tried to pour our vision into him and other leaders. A strong national leader was raised up to keep the work going while we are on furlough.
The structure developed naturally. We didn’t just translate our U.S. structure and missions manual. We had to be flexible and allow the structure to develop. Our own U.S. programs did not begin years ago with a lot of structure.
Before 1990, in Argentina we could only appoint ordained missionaries. It could take 10 years to be ordained. Many young people got discouraged. When we opened the missionary appointments to younger people, the department boomed. Flexibility is the key.
Leaders and pastors were reached with the vision. In Argentina the Bible school had been promoting missions. Unlike some other Latin countries, however, the school had mostly younger students, not leaders and pastors. (In some countries such as Guatemala and El Salvador you cannot attend Bible school unless you are a pastor already.)
Young people got excited about missions, but often clashed with their pastors – whom they were under – because they had no missions interest. Therefore, we made it our priority to reach the pastors and leaders. This was a key to the subsequent growth. Two district leaders went to Russia and Spain with our pastors. The assistant superintendent got excited and supported the missionary vision.
TIME TO CHANGE
As noted above, missionaries have failed in the past by not inculcating a missionary vision in their converts from the outset. Now is the time when we have to make serious changes, if we are to see a vibrant missionary program in our churches. Every church-planting effort must result in a missions-minded church. New converts must be taught faith promise giving. Sadly, in our experience, some of the least open churches were those that had been started by missionaries and had received large amounts of money from American churches.
We have to do all we can to stimulate missionary vision in the national churches. That will include developing a missions department, of course. But it will also include treating Latin missionaries with the same concern we have for ourselves. Will we be as concerned about how the national church will support its missionaries, as we are about our own accounts and supporting churches?
Perhaps most importantly, North American missionaries have to take a hard look at their own attitudes toward Latin American missionaries. One missionary told me that when they announced the creation of a national missions department his fellow missionaries greeted the news with a yawn.
A Latin missionary told me, "American missionaries, though they have never opposed us, have not been active cheerleaders towards the development of national missions."
We should be the most excited backers of this new movement of God. We should thank God for it, and pray for its growth and development in the face of many obstacles. We must work with them and for them. We have the chance to help them to grow and to learn from our mistakes. The revolution in world missions is here. The question is, Are we North American missionaries going to join it or not?
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