More than 2000 missions leaders, pastors, missionaries and mission board members gathered at the beautiful Acapulco Convention Center from October 27 to 31 to assess the work of missions over the last ten years in Ibero-America, to learn from the many lessons, and to project the mission effort into the new millennium with renewed understanding and energy. This was an historic gathering.
Ten years ago, at COMIBAM 87, Latin America was reported as moving from a mission field to a mission force. The goals of COMIBAM 97 were to assess whether Latin America had, in fact, produced a mission force, and if so, how effective it is.
Acapulco, the site of COMIBAM 97, had just experienced a devastating hurricane, "Pauline," only two weeks prior. The first evening, COMIBAM participants took up a generous offering for the poorer people who had suffered the most in the hurricane. Some people were still wearing face masks from the dust build-up. Work crews were still trying to clean and mainatain the streets. Three hundred participants personally took fresh water and encouraging testimonies to the areas most devastated by the storm. On the last evening of the conference, the Mayor of Acapulco addressed the conference, thanking the participants for their positive contribution to the city. Rather than working against the conference, Hurricane Pauline provided a setting that allowed for a compassionate mission expression to enhance it.
Several words/phrases capture the essence of the assessment of the mission movement in Latin America:
Today there are 4000 Ibero-American cross-cultural missionaries serving around the world, 40% of whom serve in Latin America itself.
Each country was requested to hold a Pre-COMIBAM 97 assessment consultation in their own country. The declarations made as a result of this country-by-country assessment, reflected that different countries are at different stages of commitment to cross-cultural missions. Brazil, affectionately referred to as "the older brother," represents about half the mission's effort and activity. In almost every Ibero-American country, there are not only missionary churches and agencies, but one national structure which represents the missionary activities of the various bodies in that country.
Perseverance in the task was the story not only for the Ibero-American missions movement itself, but many individual stories within the movement, revealing a growing maturity in the vision.
One morning at breakfast, a Guatemalan missionary shared about his seven years in one of the most restrictive countries of North Africa. As an engineer, he had contributed to providing a much-needed resource within that country, and has been commended for his work by the government. When he and his wife arrived, they learned the culture by staying in the private homes of peoples whom they met at the local market. Their children are becoming acculturated, and they have no intent of returning to live in their native country. His joy, depth of conviction, and ministry commitment touched me deeply and caused me to rejoice, particularly because he was in the group of twelve which I had facilitated in Guatemala more than ten years ago. His wife had served faithfully as my secretary for five years in El Salvador.
Another personal joy was to see a second of this small discipleship group involved in strategic ministry. Architect Rudy Giron, had just completed his ten year term as President of COMIBAM International with great blessing. . It was a moving moment when he and his family were consecrated to the next phase of their ministry: as missionaries to Russia.
On a happy note, a recent study conducted on missionary attrition, revealed that, not only is missionary attrition among Brazilians not all that high, it is better than some of the traditional missionary-sending countries, including the USA!
As part of the COMIBAM/AD2000 joint national effort, Christian leaders in Brazil committed to engaging, adopting (taking cooperative responsibility for planting churches among): 139 of Brazil's unreached aboriginal groups, 173 of the unreached groups on the AD2000 list of the 1739 least-reached peoples of the world the Joshua Project 2000 list).
El Salvador took the challenge of engaging 69 unreached peoples. A carefully elaborated plan has been set in motion to involve 100 churches in adopting these peoples, initially for prayer. A nation-wide adopt-a-people consultation increased the awareness of the need and opportunity for churches to become involved in reaching the unreached peoples of the world.
In Venezuela, the Las Acacias church adopted eight peoples (ethnolinguistic groups) in their last missionary conference.
In Colombia, the Charismatic Mission International is pastored by Cesar and Claudia Castellanos. The two are walking miracles, having both been shot on the streets of Bogota just a few months ago. They took 500 profiles of unreached peoples for prayer in the weekly meetings of their over-10,000 intercessory cell groups in the church. They have committed to increase the mission budget of the huge church to ten percent.
The last evening of the meeting, Bertil Ekstrom, the new President of COMIBAM International, outlined the vision for the future. COMIBAM seeks to be a facilitator and a catalyst, working to strengthen existing mission efforts in Latin America and to start new ones.
Praise God for His faithfulness in calling the Ibero-American church as a full partner in completing the unfinished task. Undoubtedly, because of the Ibero-American missions movement, there will be many peoples in the heavenly celebration, acknowledging that salvation belongs to the One who sits upon the throne and to the Lamb.
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