Latino America 2000 (LA2000) for more than 3000 Christian leaders, held December 27-30, 1996, is expected to be one of the most significant meetings of Latin American harvest force leaders of the decade. Co sponsored by the AD2000 and Beyond Movement, CONELA (the Confraternity of Evangelical Churches of Latin America), and Campus Crusade for Christ, LA2000 focuses on Latin Americas role in completing the goal: "A church for every people and the gospel for every person in Latin America and the world by the year 2000." Stay tuned for reports as they arrive.
Delegates got their first taste of Panama hospitality this evening as they lumbered out of the airport and were greeted by the LA2000 welcome crew. It was late, hot, and humid, but the young people, no doubt performing for the hundredth time that day, broke into enthusiastic song, a skirt-whirling native dance, and planted a noisy kiss on each guest's cheek.
Boarding the LA2000 charter bus, I realized that the remainder of two planeloads of guests had been obliged to wait for more than a half hour, while I and a couple of others tried to locate erring baggage (mine had apparently gone off to play "Prince and the Pauper" with someone whose orphaned bag was twin to mine). But instead of strained silence, the waiting passengers applauded and cheered us each in turn. In the dark, no one could see me blushing as I shuffled down the aisle to the back. But one woman piped up with a smile, "Youll have to get used to our Latin hospitality!". An LA2000 staff member gave us a sweet welcome speech and we bumped off through the Panama City streets, stopping at each of several hotels to discharge passengers.
Latino America 2000 (that's "dos mil" around here) Day 1 Friday, December 27, 1996
After a pleasant night's sleep and breakfast in the coffee shop, I progressed to the curb for the shuttle bus, which everyone knew was coming sooner or later, but no one knew when. No one seemed concerned, though, and I was reminded that I was now on Latino Daylight time (LDT), which I've heard has far more room for relationships, so I enjoyed visiting with the other delegates for a while. The bus arrived around noon and hauled us to the Atlapa Convention Center. Atlapa is short for Atlantic/Pacific. The building, a long rectangle across from the rocky Pacific shore, included a large hall, a smaller one, and a theater-like auditorium. In the large hall, tables were set up for boxed lunch (spaghetti noodles topped with scrambled hamburger, a flavorful banana, and McDonalds barrels of water). The smaller hall held a literature exhibition titled Expo 2000.
It was a good-natured party inside the auditorium, as people hollered, waved, and clapped to get their hermanos y hermanas attention, then sidled up and down the rows to visit them. By 2:23 (LDT), the 2:00 plenary session was ready to begin. The lights blacked out and then revealed a row of dignitaries sitting sedately on stage. Hoots and whistles sounded like my high school assembly as everyone showed their appreciation.
Following the welcome speeches which found me fumbling with my translation gear, a drama set the tone for the day, and probably the week. The main character, a kind of Latin American Everyman, cogitates on a Sunday missions sermon. He reminds himself how busy he is earning a living and other commitments. Besides, he says to himself, missions are for North Americans, who are so very very nice. Yep, and they have what it takes to be missionaries (long pause) money (laughter).
In a song, which is repeated a couple of times, he is urged, like the cripple of Scripture, "silver and gold have you none, but what you have, you can give. You have the love of Christ. In the name of Jesus, stand up and walk." God challenges Everyman with the physical and spiritual needs of the 10/40 window through slides and actors. He replies "God you need to help them." God, of course, turns the finger back to him as the answer.
In a delightful lineup of various ethnic groups hawking their goods and services, God shows Everyman the "melting pot" that is Panama. Everyman realizes that perhaps he does have something special to offer in mission and decides to "stand up and walk." In the finale, a group of singers and dancers light up the stage in various native costumes and children carry signs bearing the name of each Latin American nation. The performance receives a standing ovation.
Mario Bloise, the LA2000 Executive Director, was up next. He reported that the idea of LA2000 began at GCOWE 95, when Latin Americans decided that they would like to design, fund and host a conference in and for Latin America. Since August, he reported, churches have been praying and fasting for this event. In order to earn their funds, many have done jobs such as washing cars or selling the Jesus video.
Luis Bush, International Director of the AD2000 and Beyond Movement, in the key-note address, emphasized the special moment in which we are living and how close to being able to achieve the goal of the movement: "a church for every people and the gospel for every person in Latin America and the world by the year 2000." While in Latin America manana is often the best time to accomplish a big task, now is the time for Latin America to win the world for Christ. Creativity, a variety of ethnic groups, and explosive church growth, are all assets Latin Americans bring to the world of mission.
While church growth figures here are fantistico, the numbers are not an end in themselves. Vision without action is doomed to failure. Action without vision is doomed to insignificance, but with vision and action, you can change the world. Now is the time "Ya es la hora."
The next plenary speaker, Hector Prado, was from the country of Colombia, where darkness and light are in distinct contrast. Colombia is a center for witchcraft and drug trafficking, known recently also as the site of missionary kidnapping. But there is another face to the coin, that of a move of God. Hector Prado, pastor of Faith Tabernacle in Bogota leads a movement called "Man of Courage," designed to counteract the evil in the country. He is also the President of the Evangelical Confraternity of Churches for Latin America (CONELA).
Reverend Prado related the spread of the gospel in Colombia, from 27,000 evangelicals in the 1960's to 3-4 million today. But how has this statistic affected the society? Several years ago, a constitutional convention was convened to rewrite the constitution While before the constitutional changes, there was bare toleration of biblical values, today there is real equality and freedom for Christians. Christians need to penetrate the arts, business, values and government.
But in order to impact the society, there must be unity. In the 1960s there was bare toleration between Pentecostals and non-Pentecostals. Now they are becoming one Body. Ephesians 4 reveals that many gifts can work in unity. He quoted a Jewish man who observed that one of the reasons Jews do not want Christians evangelizing in Israel, is because "If we open the door to Israel, you would divide us by bringing in a zoo of Baptists, Pentecostals, and so forth." Our greatest sin is our division. When we go to share the gospel, are we taking the flag of Christ or the flag of our denomination? We want Jesus known as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Just as Martin Luther King had a dream that one day black and white children would eat and study together, Rev. Prado dreams that someday the church will live as one.
In a story, the bugler was killed during heavy fighting. The commanding officer called for retreat, but there was no one to sound the horn. Finally a youth is located who can play a little. But he does not know how to sound "retreat", only "charge!" So, he blows "charge!" and the battle is won.
After dinner (another delicious banana and boxed noodles, this time Chinese, fried with a chicken breast and vegetables).
The speaker after dinner was Valentin Gonzalez, Director of the AD2000 & Beyond Movement for the Hispanic World, and while I missed part of the first half due to a failed translation headset, the last half had the house interrupting with applause. While beginning with an appeal for accurate research to ascertain what work remains undone, Rev. Gonzalez went on to tell of a drama he had seen in Tijuana depicting an angry crowd calling "Out Evangelicals!" When the pastor asks why, he is told "because you spend too much time inside the church building. You must get out where the people who need the message are, into the square, into the secular realm. The gospel needs to be focused on communities, not just individuals.
One criticism of evangelicalism is the concern that it undermines an important part of Latin American culture: the Catholic church. It is crucial that Latin American Evangelicals work to maintain their identity by using dance, drama, and music in worship and ministry. In the past, Latin America received missionaries from North America and Europe. "But now we are grown up." (Loud applause). We will cooperate with other missions and work together to do our share in world evangelization.
The worship and praise time following was loud and full of enthusiasm, from the 10-year-old in front of me wearing a t-shirt and baseball hat, to the middle-aged bald man hopping and dancing in the aisle. When the decibels mounted and the video displays flashed with special effects, the song requested "Awake me Lord!" I'd say they succeeded.
The last and arguably the most famous speaker of the evening was Dr. Bill Bright, president and founder of Campus Crusade for Christ. He affirmed what Luis Bush had said earlier, about the exciting times in which we live. While Rev. Bush's excitement stemmed from nearing the completion of "a church for every people," Dr. Bright's emphasis was more on "the gospel for every person." He proclaimed that we are in the greatest spiritual harvest of all time.
"Life is too short," he said, "to waste it on political issues." Only work for Christ is worthy of our investment of time. He invited the delegates to be willing to move to another country to bring the gospel to one of 5,000 Million Person Target Areas (MPTA's) for the next 48 months until the end of AD2000. Latin America, for instance, has 500 million people, or 500 MPTA's. He asked people to bow and tell God that they will be willing to go wherever called. Campus Crusade is involved in 135 partnerships with other organizations. So far over 75 million have seen the Jesus film.
The second half of his talk was based on a show of hands. "How many believe the Great Commission will be fulfilled?" (everyone). "How many believe it will be fulfilled before AD2000 ends? (somewhat over half).
He challenged the audience to think supernaturally, pray supernaturally, plan supernaturally, and walk supernaturally in love. God is saying "according to your faith be it unto you." Without faith it is impossible to please God. We will see the Great Commission fulfilled when we add the strong ingredient of faith.
He told about his 48 year marriage, and how he is now still on the road 300 days per year. But even in adversity, there is no such thing as sacrifice, only privilege. When he asked delegates to stand if they would be willing to go wherever called for the next 48 months, nearly everyone stood. His parting challenge was to claim the continent of South and Central America by the end of AD2000.
The evening ended with a brief report and prayer for the Logos II ship and the three men still being held hostage in Colombia.
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