The Latin-American Missionary Movement:
A New Paradigm in Missions
Rev. Rodolfo "Rudy" Giron
The world has experienced in this century that is about to finish, one of the greatest shifts in Christianity. Today more than70% of all Christians live in the south. That phenomenon has been evident not just in number of Christians but also in a new perception of those who typically were considered a mission field. Larry Pate, a well-known missiologist in the early 90's declared, "the feet of the missionaries are changing color, now they are not just white, but brown, black, yellow and red." That was a prophetic declaration of what is taking place in the missionary world today. Thousands of Korean missionaries are all over the world, working not just with Korean expatriates but also with nationals. Imagine now, the largest evangelical church in Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, is lead by a black preacher from Nigeria. Pastor Sunday preaches and ministers in Russian language to his eight thousand plus members church.
Latin America has not been an exception. The missionary spirit has blown up there and God is rising up a great army of missionaries. Historically, in 1910, at the Edinburgh conference, Latin America was declared a Christian continent, later in Panama; in 1918 Evangelics declared it a "mission field." The need of evangelizing the continent as opposed to "Christianizing" it was perceived by the missionary leaders of that time. Later in 1987 at the First Iberoamerican Missionary Congress COMIBAM '87, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Luis Bush said, "Now Latin America declares itself A MISSION FORCE." A new paradigm in missions was taking form; the Latinos are becoming an identifying missionary movement.
What took place there was a result of a historical process that begun in 1914 when Brazilians sent their first missionary out of Brazil. Later many developments of missionary enterprises started. The missionary consciousness has been present in the continent since the beginning of the century. From being in 1900 almost a nominal Christian continent with just 11,000 recognizable Evangelics, the continent has developed now into a tremendous force of about 70 to 80 millions of committed evangelical Christians. Traditionally the churches of Latin America perceived missions mainly in terms of "reaching out our Jerusalem, and our Judea." The idea of being a missionary force to our Samaria and to the "ends of the earth" was somehow, a foreign idea. To us a missionary was a tall, white, blue eyes man with a camera on his shoulder. We did not thought of us as missionaries. We were effective evangelist to our own people. Nevertheless, God had a different plan and He begun to stir up the vision of some leaders to mobilize the continent to cross cultural missions. As a result of that COMIBAM (The First Iberoamerican Missionary Congress) begun.
Lead by Luis Bush, the congress was attended by three thousand three hundred people that came to the congress from the 25 Iberoamerican countries and at least 59 other countries of the world. They pay in most cases, 75% of their airfare and their registration. There the continent accepted the challenge of becoming a missionary force and a recognizable movement was developed.
This congress was not an event, but a process, a process that went in its first phase from 1983 till 1990. The name evolved to become the Iberoamerican Cooperation in Missions (COMIBAM). The concept of a process was a crucial element in our development. We were aware that we were facing a great process of revival that God was sending to his church in Latin America. That phase was characterized by the conviction that we were no longer a mission field but a mission force. Phrases like "Not with Dollars neither with computers but with my Spirit has said the Lord" were characteristic expressions of the new spirit present at the movement.
The seven I's, well known in Latin America, set the tone of the action, namely, Intercession (cell prayer groups), Instruction (seventeen books on missions were printed in Spanish), Involvement (Missionary consultations), Information (Data on world missionary needs were spread all over), Investigation (Research on potential field for Latinos), and Implementation (The congress itself). Hundreds of missionary intercessory cell groups were formed among pastor, leaders, layman, professionals, youth, women, etc. As a testimony of that I can say that in my commitment to missions I am a product of one of those intercessory cell groups organized by Luis Bush in Guatemala. I may even say that God prepared that experience to lead me were I am now, a missionary in Russia.
All over the continent national and regional missionary conferences were celebrated. The missionary spirit started to flourish in the continent. By the end of 1989 the Spirit of God clearly had raised up in the continent a missionary movement. Many new leaders were identified and discipled, and a new generation of mobilizers started to spread out the new vision among the churches in the continent. Though, without a recognizable structure, the movement was alive
In 1990 a change in the leadership brought interesting changes to the movement. Luis Bush left COMIBAM to work completely with AD2000. Many feared that the movement might die because of the big leadership gap left by Luis Bush. God in his mercy wanted for the movement to be in the hand of inexperienced, unknown Latino leadership. A Guatemalan Pentecostal pastor, member of the COMIBAM executive committee became the new President. Not well known by any main missionary institution in America, neither by any financial support institution, it was a great challenge to give a recognizable structure to the missionary movement.
By God's grace, an international office was solidly established in Guatemala City. Several offices were serving the movement in other parts of the continent. In Argentina, through a national agency "Misiones Mundiales," several new books on missions, written by Latin authors, were published during this period. The "Adopte un Pueblo" (Adopt a People) movement was strongly embraced by many churches in the continent. Germinated in Costa Rica, through the national missionary agency FEDEMEC, many fresh materials were developed to help the churches in their commitment to adopt unreached peoples group especially in the 10/40 Window. In Miami, FL, The magazine "Ellos y Nosotros" (Them and us) was edited and distributed. The production of the printing masters were done in Costa Rica and the printing was done in Colombia.
With few exceptions every country of the continent established a National Missionary Movement. They celebrated national missionary congresses were thousands of people made commitment to missions. In the United Sates and Canada, the first missionary congress of the Hispanics of North America (COMHINA '93) was held. Many people wondered why is a need of a missionary congress in North America. Thousands of missionary agencies are there. Nevertheless, those agencies were not reaching to the Hispanics. Obviously the need was present there. The United States is the third largest Hispanic Evangelical force in the continent. After Brazil and Mexico the United States has now more Evangelics than any other country in Latin America. That is a tremendous potential for missions. The congress was celebrated in Orlando, FL with an attendance of 1000 Hispanics that cover their participation completely and even helped during the congress to raise us an offering to cover $54,000 lacking in the budget. We praise God for that because that congress was a challenge for the Hispanic community to live their minority, second-class citizen mentality to become a missionary force. The motto of that congress was "we have been blessed to be a blessing," based on Genesis 12:2. Today the Hispanic movement is growing strongly in the United Sates and Canada.
The Characteristics of this period were very clear. God had given to the Latino Church a clear agenda, namely, to mobilize the local churches of the continent to fulfill the great commission of evangelizing the world, specially the unreached people groups. With this agenda, like spiritual "Quijotes" (the famous character of the great book Don Quijote de la Mancha) we tilted at windmills. Just imagine, we came to many people to ask for help and assistance, but we came with this motto, "we need help but we have an agenda. God has given as an agenda an we ask you to help us to fulfill God's agenda for the continent. We need your money, but we do not need your agenda. Accountability for us would be that you would help us as long as we fulfill God's agenda, our agenda, for the continent. As you can easily imagine, not many people were excited to help us. Any way, God did great miracle. Somehow this phase was one of finding our own identity. Outgrowing our childhood in missions. Overcoming our fears and complexes. Believing that we want and we could do it. In fact we have and we are doing it.
Our favorite subjects during this phase of the movement were about changing our mentality, our geography changed, we started to reject the Mercator projection map of the world with his bias deformation of the real size of the world. We started to look to a more balanced projection, the Peter's projection Map of the world. Finally, we decided to make a New Zealander map projection, the Macarthur projection the Upside Dow map of the world, our own. We preached against the grasshopper's complex in the life of many Christians in Latin America (based on Numbers 13:33). The subject of reaching the unreached became very prominent. Because of historical roots a passion for reaching the descendants of Ishmael have been prevalent in the hearts of many Latinos.
The concept of partnership (a word without exact translation in the Spanish language) became a reality through the Spanish concept of "Cooperacion" (cooperation) and strategic alliances. Many traditional denominational barriers have been putted aside by the new generation of missions' leaders. Thousands of missionary conferences started to be celebrated all over the continent. Missions have come to Latin America. The churches and the leaders have come out of age. They are willing to sacrifice for missions. They are willing to send missionaries and to support them spiritually, emotionally and financially.
One of the most peculiar themes of the movement has been the local church as the base and the heart of missions. We struggle through several consultations and dialogues, to find an answer to the traditional western dilemma between Modality and Sodality, between the local church and the missionary agency as the sender of missionaries. We became to the conclusion, after biblical, historical and sociological reflection that for us in the Iberoamerican context, the local church is the one who sends missionaries and the missionary agency is the specialized ministry that enable the enterprise of sending missionaries. In that context the agency became a servant, a partner and an instrument to the local church.
Almost immediately as this second phase begun, it was evident the need of establishing solid basis for the training of missionaries. With the help of the World Evangelical Fellowship Missions Commissions, several consultations on missionary training issues were held in the main regions of the continent. Celebrated in Argentina, Guatemala, Mexico and Puerto Rico; this consultations helped to launch a real missionary training movement. Several training programs and center were established and they are now operating and preparing missionaries to go the mission field.
As a result of the great missionary awakening of the Iberoamerican continent, it is consider that at least 300 missionary agencies, many of them in a very embryonic stage, became alive during this period. God is really moving his spirit among the churches of the continent and they are taking serious steps in their missionary enterprise.
This second phase of the Iberoamerican missionary movement became to an end with the celebration of the second Iberoamerican missionary congress in Acapulco, Mexico, in October of 1997. More than two thousand people attended that gathering in spite of the hurricane that hit the port of Acapulco just three weeks before the congress. Ten years after the first congress the agenda and the themes have changed. A more missiological-oriented event was needed. The movement is growing and new leadership and new agenda is needed also. That intermediate stage of validation and fight for and identity has passed. This new phase will required strategies to consolidate the achievements of the intermediate stage. Thanks God for this phase God prepared new leader with a great background to serve the movement. Bertil Ekstrom, a Swedish missionary for more than 30 years in Brazil became the President. His experience as missions' statesman in Brazil made him the right person for a three years transitional period. David D. Ruiz, a successful Guatemalan pastor, and leader of the Guatemala national missionary movement became the executive director for the movement.
Together, Ekstrom and Ruiz launched a new structure and agenda for the movement. The main goal was the strengthening of the National Missionary Movements and the regional cooperation of those movements. The idea was that once those national movements will be strong enough, the leadership of the COMIBAM movement would be placed in their hands. So far the leadership of COMIBAM had been self appointed, now the new structure will open a way to a more "democratic" leadership, although, the leadership that was until now enjoyed the support of the churches and leaders of the continent.
During this three years the goal was to strengthen the existing movements of the continent, and the formation of them were they did not exist. God gave the right leadership for this stage, and the goal was achieved. All the countries of the continent have now a national missionary structure promoting and coordinating the missionary development of their respective area.
One of the most significant achievements of this phase has been the formation of working networks and partnerships among the respective regions of the continent. The main themes of this phase has been: 1) Strengthening of the National Missionary Movements, 2) Create and direct resources from Iberoamerica to rich the unreached peoples of the world, 3) Strengthening of partnerships and communication among all the players of the movement, and 4) To form a Latinamerican financial base for the movement.
Just recently, in what may be the beginning of a fourth stage in the movement, the International Assembly of COMIBAM, formed by the leaders of all the Iberoamerican national missionary movements was celebrated in Lima, Peru. The assembly elected David D. Ruiz as the new President and the Colombian missionary leader Jesus Londo¤o as the Executive Director. This is a promising new phase based on the strengthening of the National Missionary Movements as the owners of their national missionary agenda. Four major departments are functioning as the implementers of the macro agenda for the movement. First, the department of National Missionary Movements, second, the department of strategic alliances between pastors and local churches; third, the department of missionary training centers; and fourth, the department of missionary agencies. This for legs of the movement are aiming to give a solid base for the church in Iberoamerica to strengthen his capability to send missionaries to the different regions of the world in order to rich the unreached.
I am not qualified to speak of all the details and achievements of this transitional phase because just right after the COMAIBAM '97 congress in Mexico, God sent my wife and I to work in the former Soviet Union. Based in Moscow, Russia, we have been working in the foundation of the Eurasian Theological Seminary. This seminary aims to train and disciple young men and women from the countries of the CIS were Russian is a common language. God has given us the blessing of training 22 students from Ukraine, Russia and Armenia. They are now in their ministerial practicum and will graduate in the summer of next year.
We are convinced that God has raised us to become missionaries. We firmly believe that Latin America is no longer a mission field but a mission force. God has stirred up the missionary fire in our churches and a new paradigm in missions is taking place, namely, the Iberoamericans are now a mission force!
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