Latin America: A Continent on Fire - Valentin Gonzalez-Bohorquez


Economic and Political Realities

During the last ten years, Latin America has definitely begun establishing democratic governments and political liberties, as well as the exercising of human rights. Such things were, until recently, unimaginable in some countries subjugated during long decades by military dictatorship or oppressive governments. Today, every government in Latin America, except for Cuba, has been elected by popular vote, even though in countries like Mexico and the Dominican Republic there has been alleged fraud.

Despite such positive changes in this region, social injustice and economic differences still affect much of the population and poverty continues to rise, weakening mainly the middle classes. Drug-dealing, the gap between the rich and the poor, and the rapid increase in population are some of the many unsolved problems of this region. The decrease of Marxist revolutionary guerrillas is one of the characteristics of these last years, due to the worldwide downfall of communism. Only in Peru, and in a lesser degree in Guatemala and Colombia, are the guerrillas wars continuing. In Mexico there has been an outburst of violence and assassinations of prominent politicians, while in El Salvador and Nicaragua peace is still vulnerable. The drug-dealing empires have become powerful and have openly challenged national and local governments and have also performed terrorist acts. This is still one of the biggest problems in Colombia, Panama and Peru.

One of the strongest trends in economics has been the establishment of alliances, viewed by some with skepticism, since some favor the strongest or those who have the most products to export. Others, however, consider that they contribute to an integral and balanced development of the region. Some of these alliances are the Free Trade Treaty (FTT) between Mexico, the United States and Canada; MERCOSUR, which includes the nations of South Cone, and the first of all these alliances, the Andean Pact, in which the nations of the Andes participate. One of Latin America's main resources is probably the optimism of its people, their sense of self-improvement as they face adversity, as well as the enormous potential of their natural and human resources. These factors cause the Latin Americans to view their immediate future positively and to hope for a better social well-being for which every must strive to achieve.

Religious Realities

At the beginning of this century, almost all of the Latin American population was Roman Catholic. However, one of the most dramatic religious transformations in history has taken place during this century. Despite the systematic opposition coming from the Catholic Church, missionary activity as well as national initiative were some of the factors that allowed a rapid increase among the evangelicals, reaching about 50 million people up to this moment and expecting an increase up to 80 or 90 million by the AD 2000. It is estimated that 11% of the Latin Americans nowadays are evangelical. Economic struggles, war among the guerrillas, earthquakes and dictatorships have been crucial factors that have helped to accelerate the people's response to the proclamation of the Gospel. The growth among the Pentecostals has been extraordinary. It is estimated that 40% of all the members of Pentecostal denominations are in Latin America. As they have read God's Word, many Catholics have opened their hearts to have a personal encounter with Jesus and many of them have turned into zealous evangelicals or have stayed within the Catholic Church, mainly with the Charismatic Movement.

Generally speaking, the Evangelical Church is also growing among the isolated Indian communities of the continent which have been resisting the Gospel for a long time. The Bible translation task as well as the Summer Institute of Linguistics has greatly contributed to greater breakthroughs among the Indian peoples in Latin America. The upper classes, the college students and the immigrant minorities are still unreached. During the past decades a strong movement to encourage the Latin American churches to get involved in cross-cultural missions has risen. Between 1980 to 1988, the Latin American missionary agencies increased by 84% and the number of missionaries by 243%. Since 1987 up to the present much of the cross-cultural missionary zeal has been launched by the Ibero-american Missionary Cooperation (COMIBAM), and it continues encourage and train Latin American missionaries to go to the unreached. Some of the pioneers in this task are Brazil, Peru, Chile, Costa Rica, Puerto Rico, El Salvador and Mexico.

AD 2000 in Latin America: A Regional Model

Antecedents

The structure and the steady growth of the evangelical church in Latin America provided for the vision of global mobilization and the world's evangelistic saturation to be rapidly adopted in the Hispanic continent. From the beginning of this decade, different denominations, missionary and evangelistic organizations, as well as entities involved with work at both national and regional levels, began to design projects within their areas of ministry focused on the year 2000. Aside from the World Missions Congresses sponsored by COMIBAM in different Hispanics countries, other ministries such as the Alberto Motessi, Luis Palau and Billy Graham evangelistic associations, Campus Crusade, and Vela Ministries among others, began to make plans concerning their ministries focusing on the 90's, while denominations like the Assemblies of God launched the Harvest Decade and the Church of God (Cleveland) created an army of one million intercessors to pray for world evangelization.

Creation and Development of the Regional Resources Network

Luis Bush, who has played a decisive role in the creation of COMIBAM and the development of the vision for cross-cultural missions in Latin America, now as International Director of AD 2000 & Beyond Movement, began the creation of AD 2000 National Committees in every Hispanic country. He emphasized GCOWE to take place in May 1995 in Korea as a key moment in the development of the AD 2000 & Beyond Movement. With the help of many leaders who are familiar with the Latin America reality as well as with its leadership, National Coordinators were appointed and the process to choose those who will participate in GCOWE and as network representatives of their countries was begun. Since then, the Movement has found a quick and deep response, support, understanding and participation on the part of many organizations and churches in the continent, since they were longing for a project with such characteristics.

In 1993, in San Juan Capistrano, California, an important meeting took place where Hispanic evangelical leaders agreed to launch a program know as Partnership 2000, which at first was to represent all of the AD 2000 Movement in Latin America. However, it was later understood through the subsequent process, that Partnership 2000 actually emphasized the evangelistic saturation of the Latin American countries, therefore. AD 2000 and the leaders of Partnership 2000 understood that the main interest of the latter was evangelization. It was thus decided for Partnership 2000 to represent the AD 2000 Evangelism Network for Latin America. At present, Partnership 2000, led by the evangelist Alberto Motessi, groups more than 30 missionary agencies and international evangelical organizations working in Latin America and helps to develop national evangelistic initiatives in different countries of the continent such as Costa Rica 2000, Peru for Christ, Central America 2000, and Colombia Today and Tomorrow. Until now, Partnership 2000 is one of the most developed AD 2000 networks in L.A.

COMIBAM -Ibero-american Missionary Cooperation, represents the Unreached Peoples Regional Network, developing a steady task of encouraging, training and sending Latin American missionaries into the world's least evangelized peoples. COMIBAM has created an Adopt-A-People Department to contribute to the investigation, research and to teach the Hispanic churches how to adopt unreached peoples. The original goal proposed by COMIBAM was to launch the adoption of 3,000 unreached peoples. Many countries in this region are participating in this missionary strategy. Costa Rica, Puerto Rico, Brazil, El Salvador, Argentina among others, have already selected the amount of unreached peoples for them to reach and these countries are sending missionaries to Northern Africa, the Middle East, Asia, Southern Europe, the former Soviet Union and to the Indian communities within the Hispanic region.

Another area that has been greatly mobilized within AD 2000 Networks is that of Saturation Church Planting, represented by DAWN Ministries for Latin America and led by the Colombian pastor Bernardo Salcedo along with a group of leaders from this region. DAWN has more than 40 national church planting projects, virtually in every L.A. country. This network is also in charge of the Research Network, which precedes both the evangelist and the church planting efforts. Actually DAWN has developed excellent research concerning the national realities of countries such as El Salvador, Peru and Colombia, which are a valuable resource to visualize the task and develop long and short term planning strategies.

The Cities Resources Network is represented by the project Christ for the City, from the Latin American Mission (LAM), led by Paul Landrey. The purpose of Christ for the City is to reach all the different social spheres of the major cities in L.A. through pastoral training and strategies planning. Due to the fact that this region has huge cities such as Mexico City (the largest in the world), Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo, Buenos Aires, Bogota, Caracas, Lima, Santiago, Quito, the Christ for the City project is seen as one of the most important attempts in the job of Latin American evangelization and integral transformation.

For many years, in the area of Bible translation, production and distribution, two organizations have played a decisive role in L.A.: United Bible Societies (UBS) and the Summer Institute of Linguistic (SIL). The AD 2000 God's Word and Literature Resource Network for L.A. is represented by Dr. Jaime Goytia from Bolivia, who is the Regional Director of UBS. Together with SIL, those two organizations have translated the Word of God into many dialects and indigenous communities in the Hispanic continent, on many occasions with the opposition of secular organizations that are unable to understand the sacrificial work that the linguistics and other supportive personal of these missionary agencies have to undergo.

The Women's Regional Network, directed by Maria Cabrera, from Argentina, is organizing seminars and conferences in each country of Latin America in order to promote the participation of the evangelical woman in the praying efforts as well as in all the areas of evangelization. In spite of the historical resistance to involve the L.A. women in ministries associated only with men (such as pastoring and preaching), Latin American women have been able to gain recognition based on very fruitful and successful ministries.

Another very productive Regional Network at this moment is the Radio Task Force, represented by organizations such as Transworld Radio (TWR), HCJB and Alas, who have main bases in Latin American countries and are among the most potent radio transmitters in the world. As part of the strategy of AD 2000, these evangelical radio-transmitters are producing programs in the various indigenous languages of the region or in languages of unreached peoples from different continents.

The Regional Prayer Network, directed by Harold Caballeros, a pastor from Guatemala, is advancing a plan to establish prayer networks in each country of L.A., called "Jesus is Lord," under close coordination with Dr. Peter Wagner, focusing on spiritual warfare in behalf of the evangelization of unreached peoples. Pastor Hector Torres, National Coordinator of AD 2000 U S Hispanics, has two valuable books concerning missionary intercessory prayer which are widely used as training tools in the Spanish-speaking world.

Finally, we mention the Regional Pastors Network which is in charge of coordinating the March for Jesus, under the continental direction of Dr. Ruben Proietti, who is also Executive Secretary of Latin American Evangelical Fellowship (CONELA) and Director for L.A. of Luis Palau Association. Last year, more than four million people participated in the MFJ in almost every country of the Hispanic world. The only three countries where the MFJ was not held (Colombia, Panama and Cuba) for political reasons, opened their churches for continuous prayer the very same day of the March for Jesus on June 24, 1994. It was in this region of the world where most Christians participated in the MFJ last year!

AD 2000 National Initiatives in Latin American Countries

One of the most exciting elements in the development of the AD 2000 & Beyond Movement in the L.A. world is the springing up of national initiatives in various countries of the region. Among the best organized national projects are Costa Rica 2000, in which more than 90% of the evangelical Costa Rican churches are involved in an evangelistic saturation program, church planting in every province of this Central American country, and in the mobilization of Costa Rican missionaries to over 60 unreached peoples for the year 2000.

Colombia Today and Tomorrow (whose report will be presented in GCOWE) is the most complete and ambitious project ever developed in the history of this country, involving the participation of the vast majority of evangelical churches with all AD 2000 networks activated. Peru for Christ is another initiative for the year 2000 in which the majority of the evangelical denominations and organizations of the country are participating along with the participation of Partnership 2000 and DAWN for the development of a total program for the Gospel. More recently, Venezuela and Mexico have integrated national initiatives in the AD 2000 context, and other L.A. countries are in the process of developing national strategies.

During the course of the last three years, the AD 2000 Movement, at the regional level, has participated in many Congresses, seminars and encounters such as COICOM, the Latin American Congress on Communicators and Media, the Training Institute of Partnership 2000 in Costa Rica, the Quadrennial Assembly of the CONELA and EXPOLIT '95 World Mission Congress, where the vision has been shared with the regional leadership and with thousands of believers from all Hispanics countries.

Perspectives

It is the hope of the AD 2000 Movement for the Hispanic World that from the end of GCOWE up to January 1996 each Spanish-speaking country would be able to structure a national project in which each of the working networks are functioning and to have made a notable contribution to the task of the evangelization of the world by December 31, 2000.

In the Pre-GCOWE meeting held from November 28 to December 3, in Colorado Springs, 17 National Coordinators and representatives of AD 2000 for L.A., participated in the editing of the Regional Profile and committed themselves to work with enthusiasm toward the complete saturation with the Gospel in their countries and the ongoing mobilization of a new cross-cultural missionary force from each country to the unreached world. In said document it was declared that the goal of the L.A. evangelical church was to establish "A church for every people and the Gospel for every person in Latin America and the world by AD 2000." At the same time they committed themselves to encourage, train and send L.A. missionaries to the unreached by the year 2000. The passage of Scripture adopted by the L.A. leadership for this prophetic perspective was Hab. 2: 14, "For the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea."

This is our goal and our prayer.


-- Valentin Gonzalez-Bohorquez
AD 2000 Director for the Hispanic World