The Gathering of the Latin American Mission Force
It was a privilege to join nearly two thousand church and mission leaders from forty Latin American nations 13-17 November 2006 at the third international gathering of the missions association of Latin America, COMIBAM (Cooperation of Missions of Iberia and Americas), in Grenada, Spain. Previous gatherings were in Sao Paulo, Brazil in 1986 and in Acapulco, Mexico in 1997.
Nearly three hundred attendees were Latin missionaries serving in sixty countries in Asia, Africa and Europe. About 150 volunteers, from places such as Chile, Peru, Mexico and Canada, came on their own expense. They helped with details such as transporting participants to and from the airport and acting as security at the conference centre.
According to David Ruiz, president of COMIBAM, “Grenada was chosen not only for its conference facilities, but also to bring the meeting closer to the missionaries,” most of whom are serving in the Indian Subcontinent, Europe, Central Asia, Middle East and North Africa. “This also enabled many of the participants from Latin America to visit their missionaries before or after the conference,” he added.
The conference included a series of five messages entitled the “Message to the Church,” during which missionaries reflected on the Latin America Church as a sending church. One missionary who had served for twenty years in North Africa pleaded, “Put Christ in the centre of the Church!”
Nearly twenty-five years ago Latin America formally joined the world missions force; today there are four hundred mission agencies sending out nine thousand Latinos.
One Egyptian encouraged those at the conference to work closely and in consultation with the national Church. “It is a lie of the devil that we can do it alone,” he said. A married couple from Morocco and a pastor from Albania were converted through Latin missionaries, and are now serving the Lord full-time, one through radio ministries, the other pastoring a significant mission-minded church in Albania. Experienced mission leaders such as Bill Taylor, Samuel Escobar, David Ruiz and Bertil Ekstrom led the panels. They spoke on themes such as training, sending and missionary care.
Two experienced researchers working with COMIBAM spoke on the history and future of Latin American missions. Their findings formed the basis for discussion of the work groups which met daily. Each group had Latin missionaries in them. The research is available in Spanish, Portuguese and English at www.comibam.org.
Latin America in Global Missions
Nearly twenty-five years ago Latin America formally joined the world missions force; today there are four hundred mission agencies sending out nine thousand Latinos. Another three thousand are thought to have gone out without a sending structure. Of the nine thousand missionaries, only two thousand are serving outside of Latin America. This is partly because many must serve cross-culturally in Latin America before they are considered for Asia or Africa. Below are some statistics:
- 780 serve among Muslims
- 246 serve in India
- 128 among the Buddhist people
- 1440 serve in the 10/40 Window
Pastor Waldimar from Brazil said that his mission, Kairos, is celebrating its twentieth anniversary in 2008. He began his career in missions with the Operation Mobilization ship M. V. Doulos in the early 1980s.
American missionary Don McCurry was a missionary to Pakistan and has spent much of his life serving among Muslims. He is currently training Latinos to be more effective in missions to the Muslim world. He has conducted programmes in every nation in Latin America. He assured me that his counterparts are also training Latinos for the Hindu and Buddhist worlds.
One couple had come from a small church of only sixty members in Brazil to work in Spain. They shared with me their long and difficult journey into missions as a young couple and as new converts with no financial or other support. Their difficulties included a six-month separation from their little boy who was sent back to the grandparents (to spare him the troubles on the mission field). When the wife had a miscarriage, the husband could not afford the bus fare and so had to walk eight kilometres daily to see her in the hospital. According to the wife, God’s hand was upon them. “All the difficulties have drawn us together to each other and to the Lord,” she said. They have begun a small church plant in Spain and enjoy part-time employment which puts bread on the table. Their son is back with them and enjoys life in Spain.
Ending the Conference and Stepping Out with Renewed Passion
Dr. Bob Fu of China spoke on “Missions in the Midst of Martyrdom.” He had three points: stand up (for the gospel), speak up and shut up. There are sixty million Christians in China who are not persecuted because they toe governmental lines. However, if you stand up for the whole truth you will be persecuted, Fu said. For the third point, Fu gave the illustration of a young lady who was imprisoned and tortured, but refused to betray her pastors or other believers. Fu shared that “people are giving thanks to God, not for their second car or something similar, but for the honour of suffering for Christ.” His message was based on 2 Timothy 3:12: “Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”
Latin missions is not only a movement of the Iberia-American Church, but more importantly, it is a movement of the Holy Spirit.
The closing ceremony included flags of many nations and a speech by Ruiz, who passed the leadership of COMIBAM on to Carlos Scott from Argentina. Ruiz has been president of the movement for nearly seven years. “The Latin American missions movement will continue,” he reminded his audience. As a pastor with a heart for the unreached, he has left his mark on the missions movement.
Scott gave a fiery message entitled “A New Chapter of the Acts of the Holy Spirit.” He made it clear that Latin missions is not only a movement of the Iberia-American Church, but more importantly, it is a movement of the Holy Spirit. Missions, he said, is centred on God and obedience.
Perhaps the reflection of one Korean mission leader when he was asked what he would take back from the conference speaks for all of us: “Koreans are not the only ones doing missions.” We all, including Latinos, can add the name of our nation to this reply. While “standing on the shoulders of giants” who have gone before them, Latin missionaries have their own distinct identity. Latino churches are blessing the world by the design and power of the Holy Spirit. With more than eighty-five million evangelical in this region, Latinos have a major role to play in missions.
May the huge Church growth in Latin America spill over and overflow into the rest of the world. Let us rejoice for the Latin flavour entering world missions today. The whole Church taking the whole gospel to the whole world is becoming a reality.